Guitarist/keyboardist Riley was booted out of the Fall in 1982, reportedly over an unseemly penchant for pop. His prolific output as a solo artist and bandleader, however, only slightly warrants such categorization. Although Riley shares his former group’s taste for deadpan vocals and distorted guitar and keyboard sounds, freed of Mark E. Smith’s clutches he exhibits more melodic, structured songwriting and has one foot firmly rooted in the garage punk tradition.
All three EPs are taken from sessions for John Peel’s radio program and feature one of Riley’s favorite lyrical gambits — taking the piss out of other groups. Creeping at Maida Vale is a great little record, with four strong songs, including “Location Bangladesh,” a clever stab at bands who travel the world for exotic video locales. Four A’s, equally enjoyable, contains “Bard of Woking,” aimed at the people’s-poet pretensions of one Style Councillor. The Cull compilation fills one side with Creeping and the other with reprises of prior, vaguely Velvets-ish singles.
Gross Out, while not breaking any new musical ground, does contain one of Riley’s finest moments, “Gross.” Fancy Meeting God! is an energetic, sometimes catchy and often hilarious LP, which unfortunately loses a little zip towards the end. Had it been edited together with Gross Out‘s highlights, the sum would have been much greater than the parts.
Warts ‘n’ All is a fun greatest-hits run-through recorded live in Amsterdam. As entertaining for Riley’s between-song banter as it is for great songs (including Eno’s pre-ambience “Baby’s on Fire”), it can serve as a very good introduction to the uninitiated.
Miserable Sinners and Rock’n’Roll Liquorice Flavour both drop Riley’s name (even though he’s still obviously the leader) and employ Mekon/Three John Jon Langford in the producer’s chair. It is on these two LPs that the Creepers are at their peak. The sound on Miserable Sinners is a dense swirl of guitars, but the real change is in the lyrical approach, which has gone from satiric fun-making to introspective and self- referencing. “I strive to be original/have my own sound/I don’t run my VU records/into the ground,” sings Riley.
Liquorice Flavour follows suit with clever but serious self-examination, again tipping a hat to influences (and including a brilliant cover of the Pretty Things’ ’64 classic, “Rosalyn”). The Tom Waits-like piano ballad “Sweet Retreat” states “You don’t have to listen to Swordfishtrombone [sic]…but it helps.” The LP has a down-home feel — not unlike the Mekons — on several tracks, giving it more textural and stylistic variety than its predecessors. (The artsy, spoken “Derbyshire” almost sounds like Sonic Youth.) It’s only reasonable that the group should dissolve after releasing its finest record.
After the breakup, Riley contributed to the 1988 Johnny Cash tribute, ‘Til Things Are Brighter, playing with his Mekon pals. The following year, Sleeper: A Retrospective was released, a four-sided, history- spanning collection reprising material from all the studio records save one (Fancy Meeting God!). With such highlights as all of Shadow Figure, three of the Four A’s and about half each of the final two albums, Sleeper is a very useful sampler, and an effective demonstration of Riley and company’s musical development. Of late, he’s had a radio program on the BBC.