"If you don't listen up, you're asking to be told. If you had a walk like mine, you'd crown it the king of soul." Boom, clank. Boom boom, clank.
Since the early 80's, the Wolfgang Press have been making challenging, often darkly funny records that occasionally feature lovely symphonic and/or synthesized moments, and have always defied the expectations of dance music. You can dance to a Wolfgang Press record, but it may take you a second to catch on to the groove--usually because you're too busy thinking about the lyrics or that weird synthesizer noise that sounds kind of like a rusty door hinge...but not quite.
The Wolfgang Press were contemporaries of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Cocteau Twins, and the dance-noise sampling team of Colourbox, whose Martyn Young played on and helped produce several TWP albums. The Cocteaus' Robin Guthrie also helped produce several early albums, and Liz Fraser provided backing vocals on TWP's hilarious cover of "Respect" (yes, the one Aretha made famous), and the haunting "I Am the Crime," from 1983's "Standing Up Straight."
After a cavernous compilation of early EPs, "The Legendary Wolfgang Press...," and the darker, more mysterious "Standing Up Straight," TWP's "Birdwood Cage" (featuring a hilarious, Warhol-like photo of an antique toilet in a field of grass) was the most accessible, cohesive thing they'd done. There are hints of Jim Thirlwell's Foetus and twisted Motown soul in the instrumentation. Mick Allen's thick Londoner's accent, whether he's mumbling, "rapping," singing, or howling, has always reminded me a little of Nick Cave or, to use a more recent example, the Tindersticks' Stuart Staples.
"Birdwood Cage" features the hilarious, booty-shaking "Kansas," a minor hit for TWP, skirting the issue of the Kennedy assasinations--and the particular American affliction of assasinations in general. "Raintime" is a prime example of TWP's twisted Motown soul. "See My Wife" and "Bottom Drawer" are bilious, blackly humorous "love songs," of a sort ("She's got a middle sewn up in roses/She's got a middle wrapped up in hoses/You check the facts, you check the facts/You taste my sheets, and you read my back"). "Shut That Door" is a corrugated, cavernous example of the kind of industrial noise TWP can generate when so inspired.
It was several years later before The Wolfgang Press returned with "Queer," a response of sorts to the kind of dance music being generated in the U.K. at that time by bands like the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets. "Queer" was more overtly danceable than anything TWP had previously done, greeted with more critical acclaim than audience appreciation. But that was par for the course with TWP. "Funky Little Demons," released in 1995, saw TWP on the soulful trail of self-exploration. They were still producing challenging dance sounds--"Executioner" shakes and wiggles like French disco and "Going South" is another great example of TWP's white boy soul. But, once again, the critics loved it more than the kids. TWP disappeared and were dropped from both 4A.D. Records in the U.K. and Electra Records in the U.S. Andrew Grey, one third of TWP, started his own band, Limehouse Outlaw.
As of 1998, it was rumored that TWP had been signed to Trent Reznor's label, Nothing Records...but nothing solid has come of that. It's too bad. Like black liquorice, TWP are an acquired taste. But there's no question that they made challenging music for your booty, brain and soul. "Birdwood Cage" is a great place to start for anyone who wants to learn about this band who were one of the first signed to the influential 4A.D. Records. I'm sure you'll find all their records are worth checking out.