Sounds - December 12, 1987
ROWLAND S. HOWARD turns singer and leads his cohorts from crime and the city to become THESE IMMORTAL SOULS. Then he meets...RALPH TRAITOR
"But if memories could walk
Boy I'd lie awake nights
Now I can't go home anymore little one
Now I don't mind chopping wood
But the memory don't do no one no good..."
- 'Marry Me (Lie! Lie!)'
THESE IMMORTAL SOULS' first album, 'Get Lost (Don't Lie!)', flows in on you with the above lyrics, Rowland S. Howard's previously unheard sonorous bray sounding like some rundown trumpet.
The melody, its texture trampled and careworn, runs into the cracks many groups can only peer into and despair at never prising.
It's strong, weird stuff, the kind of unforseeable soul scraping that only Howard, accompanied by brother Harry, Epic Soundtracks and Genevieve McGuckin, could manufacture.
After the unravelling of Crime And The City Solution, to which Rowland, Harry and Epic were pledged through two mostly extraordinary records, the next step had to be sideways and wide.
Rowland brought in keyboardist Genevieve, absconded with drummer Epic and bassist Harry and undertook to finish a set of songs he had been gathering for over a year. Recorded in bits, 'Get Lost (Don't Lie!)' hangs together like a patchwork rag, able to withstand a hard pull but showing many jagged fringes.
Featuring Rowland's songs and his debut as a lead vocalist, the record sets some personal precedents for a fellow who, through his Birthday Party work and Crime collaborations with Mick Harvey and Simon Bonney, has helped sculpt one of independent music's most striking styles.
"I had lots of songs I really liked," says Rowland, "songs that would never have been done if I hadn't said, Right, I'm going to sing them, because you just can't give somebody a set of lyrics and tell them what to sing, if you want any kind of sincerity. The record sums up a particular type of thing that I've been wanting to do for a long time; a record of really good, concise songs."
While Rowland says that he isn't overly influenced by the blues - he does like that real stark, incredibly intimate thing with just a voice and guitar", though - the album does have a powerful blues element to it, an antagonism between fatalistic despair and defiant optimism.
"Most groups seem to have a really one-dimensional approach to things, they either present everything as being really base and vile or they're completely the opposite. You really have to try to have a song with all those elements, then you can have a song that's incredibly evocative of sadness and still has optimism in it as well. Otherwise, ultimately, it's one-dimensional.
"A lot of the record is about faithfulness and deception. It's got a lot about my friends in it and things like that... there's just a basic theme about different states of relationships and so forth, all the complex things that can go on. 'Marry Me', for example, is about how you reach a point in a relationship where you ignore aspects of the truth and pretend everything is alright, at the same time trying to find optimism.
"All the songs are really confused lyrically; I start off writing about one thing, what's happening to me, and then add stuff because words sound good, until it's a whole mish mash of fiction and fact."
'Get Lost (Don't Lie!)' also has a certain, elusive deliberation about it, a sceptical impatience with everyday lives and rituals. This essence gives the proceedings an edge that is as sharp as it is subtle.
"It's really important to have some kind of irreverence about things, to have a sense of your own enthusiasm. One of the most important things about rock music, as cliched as it is, is the sense of rebellion against something, particularly what's expected of you."
The most upfront melody on 'Get Lost (Don't Lie!)' is that of 'Marry Me'; a melody that is definitely commercial. In a career that has had the appearances of one dedicated to spurning conventions of the pop machine, I asked Rowland how he felt his music related to Top 50 fodder.
"To me, the way we've done 'Marry Me' is commercial and I see no reason why it couldn't be seen that way... and this is why I'll probably never make a commercial record per se - I've been working in this field for so long that I can no longer really see the difference between the way that record sounds and a lot of daytime radio does...
"It's also a lot to do with what people expect. It would be difficult for Nick Cave to have a hit because they don't expect him to make a record that's playable on daytime radio.
"The original concept of the record was to have really great, incredibly basic in their form, melodic songs with the energy that kind of thing generally lacks.
"'Marry Me' was the song that started off the whole idea," Rowland explains, then smiles and pauses meaningfully, "and then I digressed..."