From near oblivion to solid stardom, Love and Rockets was a group that refused to die. Named after the Hernandez brothers’ underground comic, Love and Rockets reunited three-fourths of Bauhaus after that group ended in 1983. First, drummer Kevin Haskins joined guitarist Daniel Ash’s side-project-turned-serious Tones on Tail, which folded a year later. Then, Haskins’ brother, David J (following a stint with the Jazz Butcher), joined them in an aborted attempt to reform Bauhaus. When singer Peter Murphy put the kibosh to that idea, the three declared themselves Love and Rockets, with Ash and J splitting the vocals and songwriting.
Murphylessness allows his three former bandmates to avoid any trace of his poseur pretensions on Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, an odd, unnervingly varied album. There’s folk-rock, funk, ominous rock and a number that resembles the Moody Blues crossed with Bow Wow Wow — a huge, boomy drum sound smothered in close harmony vocals and what sounds to be a mellotron. “Saudade,” a similar- sounding nstrumental, blends aspects of New Order and the Dream Academy. The faintly Beatlesque, pretty “Haunted When the Minutes Drag” suggests an ’80s take on Donovan in a droney acoustic mode. Neat record — wonder what it all means. (The British CD adds three tracks.) The belated American issue added “Inside the Outside” and a remix of “Dog–End of a Day Gone By.” In Canada, the record includes a version of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and several other remixes.
There’s less stylistic dilettantism on the fine Express, although variety is still among the trio’s hallmarks. To wit, “All in My Mind” appears on one side as evanescent folk-rock and on the other as a dirgey sigh with echoed snare drum accents. “Kundalini Express” updates the old train gambit with modern ideas; “Yin and Yang the Flower Pot Man” puts another Moody Bluesy melody to a galloping beat; “Love Me” has dubwise backing and whispered vocals. Love and Rockets seem to be charting out their terrain ever more clearly, concentrating on genres that work for them. (The US edition adds “Ball of Confusion.”)
After two good records, Love and Rockets began lurching this way and that as Ash and J began asserting themselves individually, writing and singing their own lyrics in rarely intersecting styles. The self-produced Earth-Sun- Moon is an enigmatic bummer, a dull and often murky digression that buries its few promising ideas in echo and overdubbed guitar tracks. Ash comes up with flaky lyrics and flaky stylistic ideas; J’s work is less weird but no more effective. (He’s responsible for the album’s funniest track: a Jethro Tull parody titled “No New Tale to Tell.”) Earth-Sun-Moon has the earmarks of a record cut reluctantly and/or without benefit of ideas. A shame. (The CD adds a “slow version” of the LP’s lead-off track, “Mirror People.”)
Those who bought Love and Rockets on the strength of its coolly atmospheric Top 20 single (the faintly ’50sish “So Alive”) may have been surprised by the rest of this bizarre, distortion-heavy album. Ash has obviously been listening to a lot of Jesus and Mary Chain records (check out “No Big Deal” and “Motorcycle”); J seems to be entranced by the magic of vocal processing and string arrangements. Track by track, Love and Rockets is flimsy fun; considering it as a unified artistic statement, however, is utterly impossible.
David J’s first solo record is an indulgent one-man affair with lots of acoustic guitar, a little electronic percussion and occasional keyboards. While some of the songs have amusingly cinematic lyrics (“Joe Orton’s Wedding,” “With the Indians Permanent”), the music is trivial and the presentation underwhelming. Crocodile Tears is much better, an enjoyable singer-songwriter collection with simply effective and varied arrangements (acoustic guitar, string bass, occasional drums, sax accents) and well- developed songs with good melodies. The substantial lyrics strain the limits of poetic unpretentiousness but more often wind up engaging than off-putting. Not all of it works, but the title track is fine; a self-examination entitled “Too Clever by Half” is thoughtfully perceptive. “Stop This City” paints an urban landscape with care and precision; with guest flute by the Jazz Butcher, the fantasy romance of the mildly Dylanesque “Justine” is a treat. Elsewhere, however, the influence of Zim overpowers J’s good sense.
David J on Glass is an eclectic mess of little merit. The lyrics are ill-considered and overdone; the uneven material includes inferior examples of the previous LP’s faux-folk (“The Conjurers Hand”), effective rockers (“The Promised Land”), an atrocious piano-and-strings homage to Kurt Weill (“This Vicious Cabaret”), a Clock DVA cover (“4 Hours”) and a solo acoustic demo of “Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh.”
Love and Rockets kept him busy for several years, and J didn’t make another solo album until 1990. Songs from Another Season follows nicely from Crocodile Tears with accomplished and attractive light folky pop somewhere around Lloyd Cole or the Waterboys. With sax and Max (Eider, ex-Jazz Butcher) helping out, this is an enjoyable and — in light of L&R’s gross unpredictability — reassuringly low-key album.
Coming Down, Ash’s understated solo debut, takes off in a bunch of different directions, from sedate cocktail swing to low-key salsa (!) to somber atmospherics to jittering dance noise. Joined by singer Natacha Atlas and Haskins (doing a lot of the drum programming), Ash comes off as flaky as his band, with effective originals (“Coming Down Fast” and the pseudo-Velvet “Not So Fast” could easily be L&R tracks) and such bizarre detours as a nearly subliminal “Day Tripper” cover.
Few bands ever return from a five-year sabbatical, and fewer still come back to create something vital and new after such an extended hibernation. By the early 1990s, it appeared Love and Rockets had splintered irrevocably into solo careers, but the threesome weren’t quitters, having shown similar survival instincts when they initially founded their successor to Bauhaus. Beyond the simple surprise of resurrection, Love and Rockets’ Hot Trip to Heaven is a radical rethink, opening the trio’s sound to admit ambient and electronic influences. “Body and Soul,” the Orb-like opener — clocking in at fourteen-plus hypnotic minutes — signals the change with pulsing cycles of electrotones and whispered vocals, then reaches an endless, chiming main phase of repetitive psychedelic melodies that pay homage to two longstanding Love and Rockets touchstones, Brian Eno and the Beatles. A penchant for diversity works hand in hand with the band’s fresh, creative ideas, from the mysterious chugging dance beat of “Ugly” to the torchy, sitar-laden “No Worries” and the Bolan-meets-Seal atmospherics of “Trip and Glide” (gilded with wordless vocals by Natacha Atlas on loan from Transglobal Underground). Adorned with arousing samples and a distorted rap, “This Heaven” flirts with Stereo MCs-style alterna-house, while the brooding bassline and tingling keys of “Voodoo Baby” strongly recall David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti. With a vocal by bassist David J that is both wiry and wry, “Be the Revolution” circles itself mesmerizingly. Not until the title track, halfway through the album, does Daniel Ash even unholster his signature fuzz guitar (actually fuzz bass).
Directly preceded by a five-song 1996 EP — which includes, among other things, a Bauhaus tribute (the title track), an outtake from the band’s long-lost 1988 “Swing Sessions” (“Bad Monkey”) and an eighteen-minute improvisation (“Ritual Radio”) salvaged after a studio fire — Sweet F.A. is a return to such standard Rockets formulae as delicate acousticisms (“Pearl,” the title cut) and a revival of their Jesus and Mary Chain fetish (the dark drone “Use Me,” with its honeyed vocal melodies); the ambient/techno vein that ran through Hot Trip to Heaven is nowhere to be found. That said, it’s a fine album. “Here Come the Comedown” and the music-biz rumination “Shelf Life” give off Portisheady trip-hop vibes; “Natacha” (Atlas?) is alternately raw and expansive. Ash’s axe is back in the power saddle, too, spiking “Judgement Day” as well as the nicely tart “Sweet Lover Hangover,” which surprisingly gave Ash, Jay and Haskins another hit single.
As with Coming Down, Foolish Thing Desire is an enjoyable grab-bag of atmospheric post-mod rock, if less quirky and fragmented than its predecessor (and also without any of the Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz that fascinated him on Coming Down and Love and Rockets). The title track works as the sort of romantic Bowiefied ballad the Psychedelic Furs used to do so well; “Get Out of Control” and “The Hedonist” rock a bit harder, wielding muscular, noisy riffs. With its engine-revving effects and Spectorian jingle, “Roll On” — the disc’s best song — continues to flaunt Ash’s obsession with two- wheelers (previously noted on Love and Rockets’ rumbling 1988 single “Motorcycle”), powered by a tireless Velvet Underground drive.
Like Ash’s albums, the eclectic solo efforts by David J rarely ascend to the level the two achieve when paired. After a four-year layoff, the bassist restarted his extracurricular sideline in 1990 with Songs From Another Season. (He also continues to moonlight with the Jazz Butcher, whose associate, Max Eider, contributes to J’s endeavors.) The album follows nicely from Crocodile Tears with accomplished and attractive light folky pop somewhere around Lloyd Cole or the Waterboys. Urban Urbane occasionally leaves behind the earnest acoustics of his prior releases for an edgier, more, well, urbane approach. The funky traction, punchy horns and female soul vocal accents of “Some Big City” recall the Higsons or APB, while “A Man of Influential Taste” successfully shoots for an opaque late-night jazz aura. The album sags badly in the center — the slight “Space Cowboy” only proves Ash isn’t the only Rocket with a JAMC jones; “Tinseltown” and the countryfied “Serial Killer Blues” aren’t much solider — but several subsequent tracks (“Bouquets, Wreaths and Laurels” and the elegant “Hoagy Carmichael Never Went to New Orleans”) in his more familiar neo-folk vein save the day. Old cohort Peter Murphy puts in a guest vocal appearance on “Candy on the Cross.”