Coil
Selvaggina, Go Back Into The Woods (Threshold House)
~review by Uncle Nemesis

Here we have a self-released live CD from Coil, documenting a gig in Italy on June 11 2004. This CD provides a snapshot of the band’s current live set (give or take a few songs) while at the same time providing a record of a unique event - for Coil famously never play their songs the same way twice.

As it happens, I saw Coil play an essentially similar set the other week in London, during which the band appeared manic and fired up, investing the songs with a flavour of danger that was strangely exhilarating. Here, they seem in a more mellow mood: this is, to an extent, a ‘Coil lite’ set. Songs which, in London, were baleful, yellow-eyed beasts, all electronic snarls and jaundiced, sardonic vocals, are here rendered with a curious kind of polite restraint. There are, fortunately, flashes of the true fire along the way, but there are also moments here where it seems as if Coil are on cruise control.

Perhaps the feeling of restraint is caused by the fact that, apparently pushed for time at this gig, Coil play shortened versions of their songs.  John Balance remarks at one point ‘We’re truncating things tonight because we haven’t got enough time to do the long versions...but maybe you’re being saved from our indulgences.’  It’s certainly noticeable, for example, that ‘The Gimp/Sometimes’, which relies for much of its power on a long, slow, build-up that just keeps winding up the tension, and an equally long outro that frequently continues to the point where you just don’t know if the song has actually ended or not, is here disposed of with almost indecent haste. The vocal - ‘Sometimes I help myself/And sometimes I just hurt myself’ - really should be (and usually is) a self-absorbed musing which gradually, disturbingly, turns into a bug-eyed rant. On this version John Balance starts off sounding quite matter of fact, and then goes up to eleven so quickly that it’s almost as if Coil have put themselves on emotional fast forward.

The songs upon which Coil bring their marimba to the fore have a jazzy, supper-club feel, the kind of Coil numbers which you could play to your beatnik uncle who likes the Modern Jazz Quartet and get him stroking his goatee in appreciation. I confess these are not my favourite songs from the Coil repertoire - I tend to prefer Coil when they cut loose with the freaky electronics, man - and here, played with the restraint which informs much of this set, they pass pleasantly, but without great impact. ‘Sex With Sun-Ra’ is a smooth croon, the surreal lyrics (which, I don’t doubt, make perfect sense to John Balance himself) calling for attention in a way that the music itself doesn’t. ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’ is a nice little jazzy ballad, which is all well and good, but frankly it’s the ‘nice, little’ bit that bothers me. Fortunately, ‘Tattooed Man’ (the best torch song-noir Jaques Brel never wrote) ups the ante somewhat as Peter Christopherson and Thighpaulsandra bring in great shuddering swoops of multicoloured noise, while John Balance agonises his way through one of his trademark love/hate lyrics. Classic Coil, in a way, and a song in which all the elements of the band’s sound are neatly brought together.

‘Teenage Lightning’ - ‘A natural phenomenon where you get two teenagers and you rub them together’ - sounds like the aforementioned Modern Jazz Quartet being strapped to a James Bond villain’s ray gun, while ‘Wraiths and Strays’ has a miasmic soundtrack groove to it, as if Coil are trip-hopping through ectoplasam. After this, the band ease into the greatest hits sequence, as ‘Black Antlers’ fires up - and here, again, it’s a shortened version of a song which is usually allowed to unwind with a slow, threatening menace. However, although drastically re-arranged, this one actually works rather well as a no-messing, punchy slice of prog-punk. It kicks off almost immediately, with John Balance getting dangerously funky on the vocal, putting in little Michael Jackson yelps - ‘Where’s your child-owww!’ - as the whole thing rushes to a climax of free-form electronic-mangling. Following this, ‘Bang Bang’ is all overwrought emotion and assertive piano, Coil’s idea of a power ballad, if that’s not too much of a frightening thought. And then, right at the end, Coil finally allow themselves a little time to extend themselves, as ‘Amethyst Deceivers’ slinks into our ears on a warm, mid-tempo marimba rhythm, and stretches out into a long, haunting lope. It’s a slightly odd way to end a live show, perhaps, as the song doesn’t really come to any proper climax, the surges of electronic noize that muscle in towards the end notwithstanding, but the audience cheers the band to the echo, and even John Balance’s slightly apologetic sign-off - ‘Thank you for coming - we’ve had quite a few difficulties - don’t know what we’ve done with them...’ - can’t dampen their enthusiasm.

This CD is obviously intended as an optional extra for the fans, rather than the latest ‘proper’ release in the Coil oeuvre, and on that level it works. I dare say this gig probably didn’t go down as the greatest Coil show ever: the time restrictions, the unspecified technical hassles, and the (understandable, in the circumstances) cautious feel of the performance blunts a little of Coil’s usual edge. But there are some good moments here, and the first recordings of some new songs, too, which will make this CD a must-have for the diehards. But personally, I rather wish Coil had opted to record the London show. Who knows? Perhaps they - or someone - did. If so, let me know...

The tunestack;
The Gimp/Sometimes
Sex With Sun-Ra
All The Pretty Little Horses
Tattooed Man
Teenage Lightning
Wraiths and Strays
Black Antlers
Bang Bang
Amethyst Deceivers

The players:
John Balance: vocals
Peter Christopherson: Electronix
Thighpaulsandra: Electronix
Plus others not credited...

Coil's own website: http://www.thresholdhouse.com

The Coil pages at the Brainwashed site (most comprehensive info, but not necessarily up to date): http://www.brainwashed.com/coil

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

08/12/04