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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Sisters of Mercy - Vision Thing

Released November 1990
Merciful Release/EastWest

"Flowers on the razor wire..."

Of all The Sisters of Mercy's releases, Vision Thing is probably the hardest to truly grasp. Andrew Eldritch must surely have learnt his lesson when his witty, vitriolic attack on American politics was taken by many as the kind of cock-rock guitar anthem record it was supposed to be making fun of. The man's quote about "I don't believe in freedom of interpretation" makes all the more sense in light of this fact. It's WAY too easy to listen to this album and superficially pass it off as hair metal or just another American sounding heavy rock album. Dig deeper and you find some of the best and most powerful songwriting from our man in the Ray-bans.

The other main issue is of course, the production. The story goes that, after labouring away intensely for around 9 months, Eldritch reverted to earlier "monitor mixes" which according to him, retained the "immediate feel" of the songs. This is not entirely true. Being that monitor mixes are supposed to sound good on studio monitors (which are supposed to be transparent sounding so as to allow unbiased evaluation of a mix), the resulting final product sounds a little bit...flat. It could have been rawer and still have more impact. I have often wondered what the "finished" version of this album would have sounded like, also. Of course, nobody will ever know.

Oh, and for the first time since 1985, The Sisters of Mercy are a proper band again. Enter the German riffmeister Andreas Bruhn, Sigue Sigue Sputnik's Tony James on bass and top hat, and flower power goths All About Eve's Tim Bricheno providing additional swirly acoustic guitars. This meant that they were able to go out on the road again at long last and fan recordings from the 90/91 "Tour Thing" offer some real highlights for collectors of Sisters bootlegs. They even did Wembley Arena two nights in a row around this time, so clearly they were doing something right. It was also during the tour cycle for this album that the ill fated Public Enemy co-headline American dates were planned and cancelled before they could get off the ground, due to promoter's reservations about large congregations of mixed race audiences in the same venue. It would have been a groundbreaking event in music history, had it been allowed to go ahead.

So what about the songs? Lyrically, Andrew was never sharper. This album is a treasure trove of weapons-grade lyrical incisions. The two musical highlights of the album, the wonderful "Ribbons" (a detailed analysis of the theory of love being equatable to a minefield) and "I Was Wrong" are probably the best lyrically as well. Others such as "Doctor Jeep" and the title track are full to the brim with clever and cutting rhymes of the kind Eldritch specializes in. "Something Fast" and "When You Don't See Me" ("Rainbow In the Dark", anyone?) offer some powerfully emotional musings on longing and control. "More" marks the return of Mr. Steinman to the co-producer's chair for a bombastic slice of power rock, complete with soul backing vocals, that doesn't quite measure up to his previous collaborations with Eldritch, the epic "This Corrosion" and even more epic "Dominion". Nonetheless it remains a live favourite for many fans during concerts of the band's own equivalent of Dylan's "Never Ending Tour", with newer songs but no new studio output to promote, which has been going on in various forms since about 1996.

Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a rubbish album. Far from it. Ultimately however, "Vision Thing" falls slightly flat. It is probably the best example of Eldritch (arguably the most intelligent songwriter of his field) overreaching and overestimating his audience's ability to "get the joke". Those of us who have been deeply in love with The Sisters for years know full well the dichotomy of the dark and po-faced with the tongue in cheek. It's part of what makes their work so endearing and truly, all the more powerful at times. The riffing on Vision Thing is catchy, and sometimes amusing, but its hardly the magic of "First and Last...". The basslines are mostly so nondescript that they might as well not be there, don't expect anything like "Possession" or "Lucretia" where the bass truly drives the song. Doktor Avalanche sounds fine, just a little dry. Andrew's vocals are mostly more of a snarl which does fit the music just fine,
though he occasionally bursts into that famous baritone wail of his.

So, for better or worse, this is the most recent work by which to judge The Sisters. Don't tell me you're still pretending there's going be another one (I personally gave up sometime around 2012, and I've only been into this band for about 8 years to date). Minus 1993's minor classic "Under The Gun" released to coincide with the "Overbombing" singles collection, it has now been almost 25 years since this last proper album. In a way I'm OK with that. I would rather the legacy of Eldritch rested on a mostly stellar body of work than him continually releasing albums that probably wouldn't be as good as the classic ones. As it stands, I think Vision Thing is a worthy final chapter. Recommend the remastered edition with bonus live tracks, including a hair raising performance of "Ribbons" that sounds like the apocalypse of the heart set to a dance beat.

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