In what is surely going to be regarded as one of the most important and necessary releases of 2019, the fine folks at 4AD are set to offer up the lost debut full-length album from Rema-Rema on Friday. And for those of us, like myself, who grew up knowing this band mainly because of the cover of "Fond Reflections" by This Mortal Coil, the real revelation is how radical and bracing the music is here.
Fond Reflections is the name of this record, and while it sort of recreates what would have been the band's live set from the early 1980's in an attempt to create what would have been their debut full-length, it also serves up alternate versions of the songs on the group's seminal Wheel in the Roses EP from 1980. That this all works so well is sort of surprising considering the sources of some of these tracks. A rehearsal version of "Rema-Rema" is rough genius, the sound of the best sort of sonic explorations taking place in the post-punk era long before that era even had a label, while the tougher "Lost My Way" is brutal and caveman-like, equal parts Stooges and Sonics, with a real faint hint of early Joy Division about it too. One plays this and marvels at how entirely different this is from what would later be called the 4AD sound.
The players here are worth mentioning up front: Gary Asquith (guitar and vocals), Marco Pirroni (guitar), Mick Allen (bass and vocals), Mark Cox (keyboards) and Dorothy Max Prior (drums). Asquith would, of course, join Renegade Soundwave, and Pirroni would become an integral part of Adam and the Ants, and Prior would wind up in Psychic TV, while Mick Allen and Mark Cox would form Mass (also with Asquith) and then The Wolfgang Press, a seminal pair of 4AD acts. And part of the fun of playing Fond Reflections is in attempting to hear hints of those subsequent bands in the noisy riffs here. It's a futile endeavor, really, as so much of what's on Fond Reflections reveals a band every bit outside the norm as was The Birthday Party or Joy Division, really. Rema-Rema were charting territory here that was, at the time, so far removed from what was on the radio, and even what was marketed as New Wave then, that the group may as well have been playing on the moon. Sure, the first rough Portobello Road version of "Fond Reflections" here is recognizable as the song that'd be made famous by This Mortal Coil later, but it's also closer to what could be found, for example, on Side 2 of Closer. Far more invigorating is something like "Why Ask Why", a song that's closer to early Siouxsie and the Banshees, or maybe The Pop Group, than it is to anything else, Prior's drumming here purposely barbaric under the grating guitar-wall.
Following the tracks here that make up what would have been the band's debut full-length, we get the alternate versions of those on the Wheel in the Roses EP, along with a few other rarities. The live rehearsal version of "Instrumental" is unlearned wonderfulness, the band attempting to strip everything down to its essence, while the epic "Entry" from the same session is more focused and disturbing. Here, the rhythm carries this into the void, Asquith's vocals merely guiding the way. When Ian Curtis sang, "This is the way, step inside", Rema-Rema understood and made what seems now the sort of music that was the natural follow-up. The other versions of these two tunes later on Fond Reflections are just as good, if a bit more polished. Similarly, the final version of the title cut on Fond Reflections suggests that this band found a way to harness the primal fury from their live sets and rehearsals into something more sharply-focused and just as bludgeoning. And if "No Applause" suggests the kind of thing that would have been possible had this band stayed together, it also seems to have laid the groundwork for future acts as disparate as Spacemen 3 and Crime and The City Solution.
What's here on Fond Reflections is absolutely essential for anyone who loves 4AD records, for fans of any of the bands these players would end up in, and, simply, for even the most casual fan of the entire post-punk era. A necessary corrective to the favoritism shown synth-pop acts from the same era, Fond Reflections unearths the corrosive deconstruction of rock-and-roll that was happening in London in 1980 and earlier. Even before The Birthday Party ended up on the label, there was another 4AD act burning things down only to piece them together again. The end of the mainstream is here, Fond Reflections is so accidentally visionary when heard now that a listener is sort of stunned; it would be another 10 years or so before American acts, and a few Brit ones, could attempt this sort of thing with any real success. What's here is, frankly, extraordinary in spots, and the release of this set is a highlight of this season.
Fond Reflections is out on Friday, March 1, via 4AD.
More details on Rema-Rema via the band's official Facebook page.
[Photo: Paul Stahl aka Peanuts]