Singer/guitarist Phil Parfitt and guitarist Dan Cross have been the only constants in this fascinating and prolific English band’s intricate genealogy. (Part of an early incarnation transmuted into Fields of the Nephilim; ex-bassist Josephine Wiggs joined the Breeders and made a solo record in 1996.) Typified by constant artistic tension and a habit of shifting direction as frequently as possible, the Perfect Disaster is a strange bird, but one worth keeping an ear on.
The restrained and debonair (but far from slick) suave-pop on Perfect Disaster gently builds alluring, occasionally rocking (with a bit of sax and even feedback), arrangements around Parfitt’s deep, character-laden voice. With a cover of Lou Reed’s “Over You” to underscore affection for the Velvets’ pretty side and such tunefully neurotic Parfitt originals as “What’s Happening to Me” and “Hiding from Frank,” this stylelessly inventive collection — easily commendable to fans of Aztec Camera — is a most auspicious debut.
Two of the four new songs (including a weird Vietnam-war number entitled “The Night Belongs to Charlie” that later turned up, in a different recording, on Asylum Road) on the 1987 12-inch firm up the Perfect Disaster’s pop backbone with more guitar intensity; the other two keep things light and airy. After previewing another album track — this one with Wiggs’ cello and string bass providing an eerie aura — on the T.V. (Girl on Fire) EP, the band released its second LP, Asylum Road. A shifting sky of cloudy moods, the songs run from somber (“All the Stars”) to rushing enthusiasm (“The Crack Up”) to Velvety drone (“In Conference Again”), all punched up by Cross’ incisively diverse guitar work. In a typical contradiction of sound and content, “What’s the Use of Trying?” voices disgust over a delightful pop melody.
The band brought its stylistic approach more in line with Parfitt’s increasingly bitter and cynical lyrics on Up, kicking up a bracing Velvets-derived noise. (Although, of course, one segment of a lengthy three-parter named “Down” is a mock-baroque cello/acoustic guitar instrumental.) While the rhythm section sets a driving “Sister Ray” backbeat in motion, Cross goes to town, overlaying distortion, feedback, toggle-switching, noise-rock aggression and all the other good things he could only hint at on prior records. (On the few quiet songs — like “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Go Away” — he satisfies himself with veiled threats.) For his part, Parfitt unveils a suitably roughened-up voice on the louder tunes.
From there, it was only a small step to the strong Madchester-oriented rock of “Mood Elevators” (available in two versions, plus a pair of non-LP songs, on a 12-inch) and the nearly Jesus & Mary Chain pop roar of the wonderful “Rise.” All three additional tracks on the Rise EP — a fragile lullaby entitled “Lee” plus ’89 live versions of Up‘s “B52” (thirteen minutes’ worth) and an early single — reappear on the Heaven Scent CD as bonuses, along with the weaker mix of “Mood Elevators” from the preceding EP.
Other than “Rise,” which opens it, the kicky “Takin’ Over” and the dramatic “Sooner or Later,” the other two-thirds of Heaven Scent Wiggs’ last stand with the band) are claustrophobically subdued, deeply personal songs (“Father,” “Little Sister (If Ever Days),” “Where Will You Go with Me”) given sleepy, intimate performances. Even the songs with loud guitar bits (e.g., “Wires” and “It’s Gonna Come to You”) are played at such a woozy tempo and with so much sonic room that an occasional bit of window-rattling doesn’t really upset the gentle mood.