Sunday, November 30, 2014

Singing To The Sunshine: In Which I Get Reacquainted With Richard Davies (The Moles/Cardinal)

I came at Richard Davies because of Eric Matthews. Much like I stumbled onto the work of Bill Nelson largely 'cause of his association with David Sylvian, I started at one crucial point in an artist's career and went backward unlike those fans who were there from the beginning. With Davies and his Moles, that job of hearing this stuff was difficult 'cause in the era of the release of Davies' collaboration with Eric Matthews as Cardinal, the Moles albums were notoriously hard to find, especially on CD.

They were the sort of thing that one would buy and tape 'cause they were so rare they were getting big bucks on eBay. I know that's a horrible thing to say but one Moles CD could pay for a week of lunches and some gas fill-ups about 15 years ago.

Well no more of that. The fine folks at Fire Records have done the world a favor and put out the Cardinal album as well as pretty much everything from Richard Davies' earlier career as The Moles. Cardinal and Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles are both out now. They are both essential purchases and your life as a listener will be immensely better for owning these 2 superb and smartly produced reissues.

Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of the Moles collects the 2 Moles albums. Disc 1 has 1991's Untune the Sky and 1994's Instinct, while Disc 2 of this 2-CD set then offers up another hour or so of rarities.

So if you are reading this you probably already know about the studio albums. I don't need to beat you over the head by telling you how great "Nailing Jesus to the Cross" is, do I? And you surely know about the title cut from "Instinct" and its many charms? And you don't need me to remind you what a splendid piece of chamber pop exists in the form of "Raymond, Did You See The Red Queen?", do you? And of course you know that "Bury Me Happy" sounds like the best thing that The Clean never recorded?

Well, yeah, you know all that if you've heard these 2 official studio albums at least once. So what about the rarities?

There's the marvelous "We Need An Electric Guitar" which would win points for that title alone even if it was not a great tune. A mention should be made of the sinister "The Crown Souls" which charges like Straitjacket Fits doing a Sabbath classic. A real treat is also found in the inclusion of the Propeller (1990) 7-inch single. "With Body Wifes Seven Days" mashes up the Mekons and The Fall delightfully while the title cut from the single soars like The Chills from their own classic Brave Words era.

And then there are the 4 songs from The Moles EP. I may have heard it somewhere before years ago but I was delighted to hear again "What's the New Mary Jane?", the band's Beatles homage. Taking a title from a then unreleased Beatles cut without actually hearing the song (according to the liner notes), Richard Davies and his crew expanded on their idea of the lost Beatles classic and made something closer to the blissed-out feedback-drenched melodicism favored by Dinosaur Jr. The tune oddly works in an organ figure that wouldn't have sounded entirely out of place on an Inspiral Carpets record. A transcendent single, this one is worth the price of this whole set, frankly. "Saint Jack", from the same EP, charges forward with a Joy Division-style rhythm. If it turns out that the song is named after the Bogdanovich film, it will earn even more points in my book.

The Tendrils and Paracetamol EP is here too. Look, these 2 discs are awesome. You don't need me to tell you that. You need me to tell you that Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles is worth the money. Collecting pretty much everything The Moles recorded in their heyday, the 2-disc set is an essential refresher course in what made The Moles so special and ahead of their time. Get it now from Fire Records.

And now on to Cardinal.

In late 1995 I got the first Eric Matthews album and then quickly found the Cardinal album. I knew nothing about Richard Davies at the time. I got into his stuff a year or so later. On first listen, I liked Cardinal more than any solo Matthews record. The clash between the sensibilities of Davies and Matthews was like listening to the clash between Lennon and McCartney. And rather than try to unravel who did what on this record, let's just say that these 2 worked perfectly together as a recording act. If Cardinal succeeds it succeeds first and foremost as one of those records -- like the best of The Left Banke or The Zombies -- that a listener absorbs totally. It's a perfect album. It sounds amazing on headphones and it sounds like something that could never be replicated live. And I dig stuff like that.

But it also bears the traces of conflict, albeit healthy conflict. It's apparent on first listen that Richard Davies and Eric Matthews come from different places in the musical world. They overlap in some shared loves -- "Singing to the Sunshine" remains hard to pin down as a wholly Davies cut or a wholly Matthews cut much like Help!-era Beatles stuff sometimes blurs the Lennon and McCartney bits so seamlessly -- but there's also a sense that these two songwriters are also trying to one-up each other on every cut. That Cardinal works so well is testament to the strengths of this Welsh guy from down in Australia and the American guy who was in thrall to classic British songwriters.

"Dream Figure" seems like mostly Matthews but then you've got a hint of punk in the guitar which was surely the result of Richard Davies, right? "Angel Darling" has a lopsided melody like the best stuff of The Moles but it also has the familiar elements of Eric Matthews' stuff -- those horns and piano chords -- that would make his 2 Sub Pop albums such refreshing records in the bleak days of the post-grunge era.

Highlights of the 10 bonus cuts here are "Willow Willow" with its echoes of The Zombies and "Tribute to a Cow" which rocks like Beefheart being streamlined at the hands of Van Dyke Parks.

Demos of note on this reissue are the Felt-like "You've Lost Me There", more relaxed in its earlier form, and "Tough Guy Tactics" which sounds like The Velvet Underground as a demo.

A final joy is found in the 10cc-like B-side "Say The Words Impossible" where Matthews and Davies trade off in a tune that is equal parts Nick Drake and Robert Wyatt. A revelation for any fan of this band compared to the more upbeat chamber pop of the official Cardinal album, this is the tune that makes this whole set worth a purchase even if you already have the simple 10-track edition of Cardinal.

I think I can appreciate Cardinal more now than I did 20 years ago. Having heard more stuff from Eric Matthews and Richard Davies, I think I now better understand what went into the making of this one. If anything, the record sounds even more remarkable now especially when considering the era in which it was recorded.

Cardinal (1994) is out now via Fire Records. It has 10 bonus cuts and expertly written liner notes. It is one of the most important reissues of 2014 and you need it now.

Not convinced? Spin again this song, one of the best things ever written in the 1990s as far as I'm concerned.