Dublin weirdoes with androgynous names and a predilection for semi-melodic rock and conceptual lyrics, the Virgin Prunes (one of whom, original guitarist Dik Evans, is the Edge’s brother) released two intriguing 45s before embarking on the ambitious “A New Form of Beauty” project (the concept being the beauty of being different — and, by metaphor, sounding different). Following a 7-inch (part 1), the 10-inch A New Form of Beauty 2 contains two ominously dark and abrasive assaults (including incestuous classic “Come to Daddy”) plus a quieter abrasive doodle; the 12-inch Beauty 3 pairs a frightening occult opus “Beast (Seven Bastard Suck)” with a three-tune suite, “The Slow Children.” The “Din Glorious” cassette features highlights from a Dublin gallery performance, mixing early PiL-style semi-songs from the three previous EPs and all sorts of taped sounds to very unsettling effect. The Italian A New Form of Beauty 1 — 4 lays out the entire series on two albums, making it easier to grasp the gist of the concept.
Produced by Colin Newman, If I Die offers hard-edged but delicate pop (“Ballad of the Man”) and anthemic post-punk (“Walls of Jericho”) contrasting challenging, longwinded opuses with skewed, angular instrumentation and ponderous vocal recitations (“Baudachong,” “Caucasian Walk”). A complex band of many minds (not to mention three lead vocalists), the Prunes stake out unique ground, straddling art and mundanity with style and skill. Difficult but fascinating. The CD adds an ’82 goth-dance single, “Pagan Lovesong.”
Commissioned to create a work based around the theme of insanity, the Prunes came up with Heresie, a boxed set of two 10-inches. One disc shows the more experimental side of the band, varying from the dense, neo-industrial “Rhetoric” to a sing-song ditty (“Down the Memory Lane”); the other disc contains an excellent five-song set taped live in Paris. Over the Rainbow is an odds-and-ends compilation of previously unreleased and rare/compilation tracks up to 1983, highlighted by the awesome “Red Nettle” (which consists of a majestic, sampled chord movement repeated for two minutes). The CD version includes all of Heresie.
The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, produced rather unimaginatively by Dave Ball (ex-Soft Cell), is an unpalatable mishmash of Bowiesque glitter and music-hall camp. Gavin Friday’s vocals are overwrought; several songs plod along painfully, going nowhere and taking forever to get there. Jim (Foetus) Thirlwell guests to little effect.
A chasm soon grew between main singer Friday, who wished to explore more romantic cabaret music, and bassist Strongman and drummer-turned-guitarist Mary, who just wanted to be a rock band. Both sides got their wishes when the Virgin Prunes called it a day in mid-’86. The Hidden Lie is an unnecessary posthumous live album, although it does contain a large percentage of otherwise unissued material. Strongman and Mary continued to release records under the truncated Prunes moniker, but with little success and limited artistic viability.
Friday went down a much different road. After taking a breather to paint, open a nightclub, record a 12-inch single of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with buddy Simon Carmody and explore his new roots (the cabaret tradition of Brel, Piaf and Brecht/Weill), he began an extremely promising solo career. Taking cues from Tom Waits, the mercurial crooner and his piano sidekick the Man Seezer came up with Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves. Producer Hal Willner gets the most out of the skilled ensemble (which includes guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Fernando Saunders and drummer Michael Blair), the lush, timeless songs and Friday’s voice which, finally given the spotlight denied him by the democratic Prunes, has never revealed so much emotion. A highly recommended album with passion and drama to spare.
Going by the name Princess Tinymeat, early Virgin Prunes transvestite drummer Haa Lacka Bintii has made a number of singles, collected on the Herstory album, that rival his former band in the weirdness department.