NME - July 6, 1985
Crime & The City Solution
Easter - and from the fragments of The Birthday Party comes a new resurrection called Crime & the City Solution. Biba Kopf in Holland finds them in sore need of Dutch courage.
It's Ascension Day in Amsterdam. To celebrate it Everton supporters are bouncing beery chants round the city's rat-tail tangle of tiny streets. Their holy day disturbed, the Dutch might be forgiven for thinking that now God's got His boy Jesus back in Heaven, He no longer gives a damn about the world.
At the Paradiso, a converted church across town, Crime & the City Solution might feel similarly deserted. Here they are attempting a resurrection of sorts and leading guitar player Rowland S Howard is still in London, lost in the rigmarole of renewing his Australian passport.
The concert a matter of hours away, stoic organist, utility musician and organiser Mick Harvey starts running over the lead guitar parts in his mind. Vocalist Simon Bonney, the group's founder, turns a greyer shade of white, though probably as much at the prospect of taking the stage sober; and the rhythm section of Rowland's brother Harry (bass) and drummer Epic Soundtracks, once a Swell Map, seemingly trust to providence that everything will work out in the end.
Their faith pays off; Rowland gets to the gig on time and it looks like God is on their side after all.
The inquisitive audience, however, is not so sure. Having recognised two of The Birthday Party onstage, they're probably expecting more of the same. But Crime & the City Solution drink from a different well of despair. Simon's gaunt, deep voice articulates a loneliness only made bearable by distant love longings, even if these are hardly likely to be requited. His is a fatalistic blues romanticism lightened by the glimmer of hope afforded to the hanging man who believes the rope will snap before his neck breaks.
His moods are alternately buoyed on organ swells or placed in tandem with a cold cackling delirium triggered by Rowland's lancing guitar melodies. As yet their songs are a touch stiff overworked, having been rehearsed for some 18 months without exposure to the outside. But, as with Simon's rickety stagecraft, the stiffness will ease with further appearances.
If the resurrection must be delayed, it's only so it'll appear all the more miraculous when it happens.
So what's being brought back to life? Crime & the City Solution itself apparently.
A legendary Australian group that ploughed Sydney and Melbourne in '78 and '79, germinating bad seeds like The Birthday Party in its furrow, vocalist Simon fell into obscurity when they fell apart. The Birthday Party, meanwhile, going on to recognition in Europe and America.
In the back of Mick's mind during The Birthday Party's migration was the idea of doing something with Simon, whose group had so inspired them.
"The earlier Crime & the City Solution were very different, but both were to me really great," he recalls. "One was full of bad musicians, the other almost virtuoso, but something special carried over into both groups and that was obviously Simon. I' d been friends with him for a long time, but I was too busy with The Birthday Party to pull him out of the mire he'd slipped into when his group split"
His recollection is disturbed by heavy footfalls tumbling down the stairs of the group's Amsterdam hotel. Simon drunk on the relief of having gotten through the night, crashes into the room spluttering inanities.
What are these qualities in Simon co-writer Mick hopes to isolate in the present Crime? Stuffing a cushion in Simon's mouth and sitting on his head, Mick elucidates on his behalf.
"Seeing Simon's not in any fit state to talk about his songs sensibly we'll just make fun of them … I don't know if they're about loneliness so much as common complaints about paranoia, self-serving, common whinging … "
"He's obsessive," Rowland cuts in. "As a songwriter myself I've always found it much easier to write when you're miserable. When you're happy you have no reason to write. Just so with Simon. He writes about the less pleasant side of human nature, revealing all kinds of petty emotions."
"Which comes from close scrutiny," concludes Mick. "If on an immediate level he's writing about miserable things, he always takes an unusual angle on them, so he goes beyond renaming that state all the time, where most people writing in this area seem to simply revel in it."
'The Dangling Man', their debut 12 inch EP on Mute, bears his judgement out. Its quartet of songs nags at themes of loneliness and desertion; eternal themes to be sure, but here freshened with the sour breath of a vocalist haunted by earlier lost chances, yet strong enough to live with them. It also marks the happy return to recording of Rowland S Howard, after three years in the doldrums following The Birthday Party split.
"I was in a complete hiatus for three years," says Rowland, recalling the lost period. "I did nothing because I had nothing to do anything for. I'd lost a lot of confidence, I'd written all these songs, but nothing had happened to them. My life had become totally dull, and there seemed to be no real sense in writing songs about being dull. I'd stopped listening to music and forgot why I was playing it in the first place, why it was so good."
How did he pull himself out of such despondency? "Simple, I just stopped watching TV and started listening to music again."
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here. When the resurrection of Crime & the City Solution is finally televised, Rowland - participating in the miracle itself - will be happy not to be sitting this one out at home.
- Biba Kopf
(transcribed by Cat)