|Life Is Good / Dennis Casey / Matthew Hensley / Dave King / Nathen Maxwell / Bridget Regan / Robert Schmidt||Flogging Molly||4:02|
Having sold a few hundred thousand copies of each of their most recent albums in the U.S.
alone (quite rarefied levels of unit-shifting for an independent heavy metal label like Century Media), Lacuna Coil was undoubtedly under pressure to deliver another winner while preparing 2009's Shallow Life -- the Italians' fifth full-length in a decade-plus career. With so much riding on the results, a promising preview single called "Spellbound" was released a few months ahead of the album, and it suggested a determined return to the dramatic, if ever concise, brand of goth-metal (tickled by reserved symphonics and electronics) of the band's breakthrough opus, Comalies. But instead, it turned out to be one of just a few exceptions (see also "Not Enough" and "I Like It") amid Shallow Life's concerted push towards ever more accessible, radio-friendly, and, despite the band's best efforts, homogenized electro-rock. For starters, there's the dizzying array of electronics absolutely dousing the album's initial couplet of "Survive" and "I Won't Tell You," and later the vaguely Depeche Mode-like "The Pain" and the title track's tepid balladry, to the point of subduing the higher and most sustained reaches of Cristina Scabbia's vocals -- or else layering them with counterpoint soccer chants in a bid to replicate Karmacode's top single, "Our Truth." And then there's the prevalent guitar tone utilized throughout, which will have listeners scrambling for their CD booklets to see if nu-metal's most infamous producer, Ross Robinson, was involved in the sessions.
He wasn't, but most all of his trademark textures sure were (see the particularly painful "The Maze"), courtesy of his disciple Don Gilmore, who is best known for his work with Linkin Park and certainly earned his paycheck for these sessions if the directive was transforming Lacuna Coil into Evanescence.
The primary conclusion being that songwriting versatility alone does not risk-taking music make, if those disparate elements have all of their edges sanded down, rather than serrated enough to leave indelible scars on the listener's memory banks. (Having said that, we should mention the gorgeous, densely orchestrated ballad, "Wide Awake," which will hardly convince the extreme metal masses to lay down their torches, but definitely harks back to Lacuna's most celebrated releases.) In all fairness, Shallow Life, does come on very much as expected based on Lacuna Coil's preceding career arc, and many observers would argue that backtracking isn't the solution either if a band is to prosper in the long run -- but it may have to be here, given the underwhelming sales and vociferous critical backlash bestowed upon the album.
Like the CD reissue of Document and Eyewitness, Turns and Strokes is comprised largely of material gathered from live performances Wire gave in 1979 and 1980 before embarking on a five-year hiatus. Although they didn't appear on Document and Eyewitness, six of the 12 tracks on Turns and Strokes date from the Notre Dame Hall and Electric Ballroom gigs, which provided the bulk of that earlier CD. Also featured are three songs recorded by an audience member at one of Wire's Jeanette Cochrane Theatre concerts in 1979. The sound quality on these numbers is inferior even to the Electric Ballroom material, itself taped on an eight-track machine that delivered only a distorted two-track recording. Low-fidelity reproduction notwithstanding, the live tracks on Turns and Strokes are of considerable interest to fans insofar as they hint at the direction Wire might have taken, had the band continued recording together at that point. (Instead, Wire did not release another full album until 1987's The Ideal Copy.) In that regard, the noisy, mid-paced menace of cuts like "Over My Head" harks back to Chairs Missing, while the more down-tempo tracks like "The Spare One" and "Part of Our History" suggest a continued exploration of textures and tensions in the spirit of 154.
Turns and Strokes is particularly attractive to Wire completists in that it offers a glimpse of several works-in-progress. At the time of its original performance, the live material featured on Turns and Strokes was unreleased -- with the exception of "12XU," present here in a tongue-in-cheek version -- and would have been unfamiliar to audiences. However, certain of these numbers will now be recognizable to aficionados, not as Wire songs per se but as tracks ultimately recorded by Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and Bruce Gilbert for their various side projects of the early '80s. "Inventory," for instance, appeared on Newman's first solo effort A-Z in 1980, while "Remove for Improvement" and completely revised versions of "Safe" and "Lorries" found their way on to his 1982 album Not To.
In contrast with its slower, cleaner rendering on Not To, the speedy, no-nonsense performance of "Safe" on Turns and Strokes is closer to Wire's sound on Pink Flag and more symptomatic of the band's punk roots. "Lorries," on the other hand, has a mournful tenor quite antithetical to its eventual incarnation as an up-tempo pop song that could have been a huge hit for Newman, but of course never was. While Lewis and Gilbert would convert the frenetic "Ritual View" into an austere piece of pulsing minimalism on Dome 2, a couple of the studio recordings included on Turns and Strokes map out the future sound of Dome most clearly. Originally released on the B-side of the 12" single "Crazy About Love" (1983), the tape-loop bricolage of "Catapult 30" prefigures some of Dome's sonic experimentation. The same can be said of Lewis' "A Panamanian Craze?," a 16-minute excursion into droning ambience with a squalling, dissonant sax, drum machine, and sporadic muttering. Much like Document and Eyewitness, Turns and Strokes is essential listening only for serious devotees of Wire.
Those who are not committed to an archaeology of all things Wire but who are simply interested in discovering the band's most fertile period are better off with the first three studio albums, or the excellent compilation On Returning (1977-1979).