Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

  • Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
  • This Today EP (Red Rhino) 1984 
  • Talk About the Weather (Red Rhino) 1985 
  • Paint Your Wagon (Red Rhino) 1986 
  • Smashed Hits (Red Rhino/Fundamental) 1987 
  • Nothing Wrong (Beggars Banquet/RCA) 1988 
  • Blow (Beggars Banquet/RCA) 1989 
  • Lorries
  • Crawling Mantra EP (Homestead) 1987 

If you loved Joy Division, you’ll like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, who similarly inhabit a bleak world in which swirling guitar figures and pretentious, gloomy lyrics are the only comforts. While Joy Division was the unchallenged champ of these nether regions, Leeds’ Lorries work the territory with enough savvy and intelligence (not to mention a cool suppressed-acid-rock guitar sound) to make it work. Talk About the Weather ultimately succumbs to its own murky tunelessness, but not without a fight.

After that LP, they recorded a great single, “Chance.” With distorted organ drone and a rushed tempo, it sounded as if the band had located its own true voice. However, Paint Your Wagon borrows enough from Ian Curtis and Joy Division that you’d think it had been released by Factory (c. 1981), especially on cuts like “Head All Fire” and “Save My Soul.” A disappointing follow-up to such a promising debut.

The back cover of the Smashed Hits singles compilation is covered with flattering bits from newspaper clippings, and the tracks really do live up to most of the praise. Most of the band’s finest moments are included, such as “Hollow Eyes,” “Generation” and “Chance.” The guitar work is so good that it covers up the weak points, especially the vocal Curtisisms and the kickless, rudimentary rhythm section. (The CD adds two tracks.) They’ve changed their name back and forth between Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and the Lorries a few times recently, releasing one mini-LP (Crawling Mantra) as the latter.

Nothing Wrong is marked and almost marred by an unshifting swarm of buzzing guitar noise with just enough off-kilter harmonies to break up the drone. A developing melodic flair is apparent, but none of the material ranks with the band’s best, and Chris Reed’s bleak lyrics are straight out of an Existentialism 101 textbook. “Only Dreaming (Wide Awake)” is the most diverting effort, with an acoustic guitar intro and outro, a bass riveting enough to please J.J. Burnel and even a tambourine in the chorus; only Reed’s deep bellowing prevents it from being a genuine pop song (maybe that’s the idea).

Blow sports Ecstasy/rave cover art (after the Lorries’ usual black, gray and brown, bright colors are a breakthrough). Half-jumping on the acid house bandwagon, Blow takes the band a giant step forward in terms of melodicism and diversity of sound. Staying clear of the old monochromatic wall of noise, the production gives them plenty of punch and much more warmth; the space between instruments (more keyboards and background vocals this time) helps clarify the sound more than ever before. The Joy Division comparisons can finally be put to rest.

[John Leland / David Sheridan]