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A barbed-wire rainbow...,
This review is from: Daunt Square To Elsewhere: Anthology 1982-88 (Audio CD)
Thank god for this release, is all I can say, given that Microdisney's actual back catalogue remains shamefully obscure, and the second-hand copies of the studio releases that do pop up appear to be currently fetching stupid prices. And heaven forbid I should descend into the netherworld of "things aren't as good as they used to be" grumbling, but it's a pretty poor judgement on the current state of indie music if the best indie songs I've heard for donkeys' years (heck, maybe ever) come from an outfit that split up twenty years ago.
I know full well that Cathal Coughlan's solo albums are things of brooding beauty, and I know full well that the Fatima Mansions were the finest scathing jagged rock band of their generation (and I know that Bubonique could have given early-era Ween a run for their money), but I managed to surprise myself by realising that Microdisney were the best thing he was ever involved with. And this is coming from someone who cannot stand the Smiths, or Steely Dan, or the Divine Comedy - three groups I've heard bandied about as comparisons.
Shred the comparisons. Microdisney had something quite unique and special going on - rich musical backdrops drawing from American country-rock, hints of soul, and the more haunting and crepuscular corners of wispy early-'80s indie (courtesy of Sean O'Hagan), in startling juxtaposition with CC's deep, rich croon, not as ominous as Nick Cave's, but a smoother and technically, stronger voice. And those lyrics...
It's true that the second disc here is likely better than the first, which is maybe too underproduced for its own good at times, though it still contains gems like 'This Liberal Love', the venomous 'Love Your Enemies', '464' (wherein Cathal channels his inner Henry Rollins for a minute of vein-bulging screaming, then winks "Oh dearie me, I'm in a state" as the music subsides to an insouciant lollop) and the standout 'Loftholdingswood', a gorgeous slice of dark outlaw country-cum-jangle-pop with a menacing accusatory chorus that swings in like a pendulum.
CD2 is a tour de force. Cathal sings like a god throughout. The occasional cheese-laden '80s production touches somehow accentuate the stark, lonely yet desperately angry 'Past' and the despairing anthem 'Birthday Girl'. 'Rack' showed the band to possess balls of steel in being one of the very few straight bands from that era to address AIDS (albeit obliquely and poetically), and the increasingly inventive string arrangements on this song and 'Mrs Simpson' turn them into glowering lounge-lizard numbers. Then throw in the jaunty-but-deadly post-nuclear fantasy 'Town To Town' (a certain type of ego mocked for its self-obsession amid "the sick winter for a thousand years"), a couple of barbed attacks on yuppiedom nowhere near as crude and obvious as some bands would make such songs, and the grand finale 'Gale Force Wind', which was more or less the greatest single of the 1980s. Yes, really.
Enough rhapsodising. If you're at all into intelligent guitar music and you're not au fait with Microdisney, you really, really don't know what you're missing.