Sunday, May 14, 2017

Grace: A Review Of The Essential New Look Blue Go Purple Reissue From Flying Nun Records

Look Blue Go Purple remain the ultimate neglected New Zealand band. That's not to deny the appeal of the group, or the fact that there are loads of us who are well aware of the greatness of this set of musicians. The problem has always been finding the material easily, but now that problem has been solved. The fine folks at Flying Nun have finally re-issued the band's work in a what could be termed a virtually-complete package called Still Bewitched. Out now, the compilation collects the band's earlier EPs: Bewitched (1985), LBGPEP2 (1986) and This is This (1987). Rounding out this collection are a whole bunch of live cuts too.

Look Blue Go Purple -- bassist Kathy Bull (now Francisca Griffin), keyboard player and vocalist Norma O’Malley, guitarists Denise Roughan and Kath Webster, and drummer Lesley Paris -- made music that veered into the territory of the kind of pop released by The Clean early on, while also offering up something that roughly corresponded to the post-punk being created by The Raincoats in other parts of the world. "Safety In Crosswords" rattles like early Chills classics, while the hypnotic "Grace" bears the slightest trace of the sort of rhythm-heavy alternative rock once created by The Slits. If the sound here was not quite as heavy, perhaps that's to be expected of a New Zealand band, especially one from this era of the boom in that region. Like their peers in The Verlaines and The Chills, Look Blue Go Purple were capable of crafting material that seemed bright and witty ("Cactus Cat"), or a bit more literate -- for lack of a better word -- than the sort of alt-rock gaining audiences elsewhere in the West. If "Circumspect Penelope" sounds like anything, it is indeed early Martin Phillipps-penned stuff but to simply peg this as somehow beholden to another big NZ band is to do a huge disservice to the musicians here. That song, like the superb and catchy "I Don't Want You Anyway", chimes with promise and a kind of brightness that even Martin Phillipps was not always capable of. If the guitarists in Look Blue Go Purple sometimes briefly got lost in a sort of neo-psychedelic jungle, the melodies remained strong, the focus sharp ("Winged Rumour"). Admittedly, there is something shambolic here, the cuts echoing in some weird way the sort being cranked out almost simultaneously up in England by the C86 and C87 bands. But, ultimately, the music of Look Blue Go Purple remains very much typical of the remarkably high standards of the acts signed to Flying Nun in the first few waves of the label's heyday.

If Still Bewitched only collected those 3 superb Look Blue Go Purple EPs, it would be an absolutely essential release. As it is, the compilation adds in a half-dozen rare live cuts that attest to the skills of these musicians in live settings. If the material in spots ("Spike") seems a bit unformed, there are other numbers here ("Ralta", "Eyes Are The Door") that compare favorably to the early tracks from The Clean, or even England's Felt. And what I appreciated as a listener was that Still Bewitched offers a rounded portrait of Look Blue Go Purple, the live cuts serving to show another sound of the band that is not so typically a Flying Nun records-sound.

Still Bewitched by Look Blue Go Purple is out now via Flying Nun Records.

[Photo: Uncredited label photo]