BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL
THE SCAVENGER BRIDE
~review by Mick Mercer
I have mentioned several times I was about to put this review up, but then changed my mind, because I felt I might get closer to what this was really about. I have read what Sam has written about it, on their superb press release site, and have tried really hard to get to grips with its reality, but in the end, after endless listens, have decided it hasn’t clicked with me, which is a shame. I am only talking about the story aspect of the CD, not the music. It is by and far and away their mightiest work, and exceptionally inviting, so I recommend it to anyone. If you’ve never heard them before, and possibly been put off by the idea it may all be a bit delicate and twee, fear not. It is a beautifully artistic record, full of warmth, intrigue, and positively wetting the bed with its ideas.
We’ll get back to the failure aspect shortly, but first there’s the scope and names, because while you know Sam Rosenthal is there, and the main vocals come in fine style from Elysabeth Grant, there are a host of names to conjure with. Strings play a major part here, provided by Elsyabeth now and then, but mainly Vicki Richards and Julia Kent (Rasputina). All manner of musical oddities are infused with spirit by Michael Laird from Unto Ashes, Lisa Feuer plays a special role with her flute, and there’s even Christopher David from non-Gothsters Judith. You have major vocal contributions from Bret Helm, the lugubrious one from Audra, Athan Maroulis from Spahn Ranch and Martin Bowes.
It’s an extravaganza, wonderfully underplayed, packed with talent, and bewitchingly beautiful as a package, complete with subtly ornate artwork, and we should expect no less when you consider we’re being pitched into a concept album. That is enough to make me shudder. Having come of age with the volcanic experience of Punk, concept albums were The Devil, and that still holds today, so I was hugely sceptical about this. Fortunately, there isn’t anything pompous here, which was always the problem with concept albums. It used to be a band or individual pretending to be clever and showing off, and inevitably getting hopelessly lost up their own backside. This is more of a picturesque way to handle the usual lovelorn despair you might expect.
It’s basically a story of a bride, and the men who failed to tie her down. In theory. The booklet starts the story, in a very exciting manner. A man is telling the story, apparently mysterious enough to draw the listeners in. Through the booklet extra touches and revelations are added which don’t feature in the songs, and that held my attention. It also works well with the music, once you have the idea fixed in your mind, but ultimately falls apart.
Musically this is a dream. Not as in ‘dreamy’, because that’s an ethereal stereotype. This is a fabulous record, filled with moments of true beauty, and some which could clearly have been better, and that flawed aspect only helps it grow in stature, because it pulls on you.
It begins almost like a sunrise through the mist, and keeps light until the fabulous ‘All My Lovers’ which is the Middle Eastern thread given a touch of bounce, then you’ll be thrown by the odd drama of ‘Shadow Of a Doubt’, or a fleeting ‘The Doorkeeper’. With Athan on vocals, Elysabeth contributing ‘slight viola’ and Lisa on the flute, ‘Floats In The Updrafts’ is another enchanting encounter, and you are definitely swept up in everything, but still as a mystery. The lyrics seem a touch too modern and not placed in context with ‘The Lie Which Refuses To Die’ and for ’The Scavenger’s Daughter’, with Bowes and Grant singing, it is getting almost too weird towards the end. These songs all have a shadowy touch, and then the colour can burst through, dappled, like early hand-tinted postcards. Bret stumbles his way through what is supposed to be an ‘epic, tortured’ song, in ‘Like A Dog/Letter To Brod’ and the phrasing seems clumsy compared to Elsyabeth’s exquisite handling of a similar approach in the closing track. Then it ends.
So where does it go wrong? Well, it concerns a woman and her hopes, and doubts, and of certain men, and of herself, starting in Prague 1913, and ending in 1961, which is fine, except these are fragments, and the story doesn’t hang together. There simply isn’t enough clarity about who she doesn’t hook up with , or just why she regrets not being with someone, or why the men themselves either failed or passed her by. We aren’t given sufficient details, which we could then imagine might be facts. We get the feelings of some who are affected, but no substance. The main story of her life simply isn’t there at all! And when there is a strong vocal male presence that isn’t backed up by any sold lyrical twists.
Inspired by Kafka and Duchamp it may be, but they weren’t noticeably wispy. A narrative flow accompanied by a semblance of development would have helped, but it remains steadfastly oblique. Some of the images are certainly very strong, some of them mildly disturbing, and yet somewhere along the line what should have brought all of this vividly to life simply isn’t there. This is skin, minus skeleton.
I expected to find out what was so interesting about The Bride, to learn the reason for the use of Scavenger, but in the end the best you can really say is that The Bride could be anyone, as could the Bachelors. But in the end, while that is a disappointment, it doesn’t matter. I gave up searching for the story and went with the mood and transplanted my own thoughts.
Musically, you can’t fault this. It caresses you throughout the short story, and peaks with some of the vocal moods, until you finish with the realisation you have been immensely touched by it.
It genuinely is a work of art.