OK, so who is on this album that makes it worth listening to? Firstly Hugh Cornwell, still in the Stranglers at this point, and secondly Robert Wiiliams, an ex-Capt. Beefheart drummer, then Ian Underwood, a Zappa band contributor on three tracks, the Motherbaugh Brothers, DEVOtees on one track and an uncredited Ian Dury as a voice in the background.
So an eclectic bunch to get together to make an album. With an ex Beefheart drummer and an ex Zappa sideman do not expect a straight 4/4 set of tunes. These are quirky and offbeat songs that point towards the Stranglers "Men in Black" album. It is full of invention and musical risk taking that rewards with repeated listening. The playing by all involved is first class. Hugh is an underrated guitar player, a McLaughlin or Page he is not, but a great player none the less.
The loose theme holding it all together is Max Schrecks Nosferatu and a love of old hokey, not gore fests, horror movies in general. A gothic dread seems to hang over the whole album, which starts at the cover. A real gem of an image!
There is a superb cover of White Room, yep the Jack Bruce/Pete Brown song, arguably better than the original. Hugh has a most distinct voice that just suits this one down to the ground.
It sounds as good now as it did when it first came out over 30 years ago. The remastering has been done well, everything is clear and not at all over driven or compressed to death. The booklet is an interesting and informative, if not a tad eye straining, read.
This soundtrack was written especially for the UK Channel 4 restoration of FW Murnau's 1922 silent classic by James bernard, veteran of of any number of Hammer horror and other film scores, including nearly all the classic Dracula films produced by that studio. The style of off key dissonant themes for those earl;ier films is employed here,but with rather less melodrama, due undoubtedly to the comparatively fulsome melodramam onscreen. Full bore Hammer theatricals would certainly have been inappropriate here and what we have is another delightful score from Mr Bernard. Just as he had created a Dracula theme based on the syllables of Dra-cu-la, he similarly composes a definite Nos-fer-at-u theme which is every bit as good as the earlier efforts. I am judging the material on the basis of being an admirer of James Bernard's earlier work, and am not making any comment on how well or otherwise it fits the film, firstly because it is several years since I saw the film, and secondly I want to emphasisie the musical experience, which is a great deal of fun. I realise that Bernard's music can be an acquired taste, so if you don't like it, avoid the disc, if you enjoy it, snap it up while it can be got at a reasonable price. Playing time is a generous 63mins
On the neurotic, choppy ride that the song "Wired" is there is a refrain of " So what are you on?". It is both frantic and frightening, moody and melancholy at different times and as such, is a wonderful collection of ideas and songs that come together in a 'kind of ' theme for the famous FW Murnau film. It's tenuous though. The whole thing clatters in the door with the title track. And I mean clatters. At just over a minute it is an incredible assault on the ear - it almost dazes you as it charges past and off into the night. "Losers in a lost land" is a good song to kill yourself to. It doesn't get much darker than this. Like an inert mass, barely kept alive by a revolving bass line it becomes both hypnotic and sullen. It makes you want to slump in the corner and fall asleep. The cover of ' White Room' is nice but unnecessary ( a single forced on Cornwell by worried record execs?) but then comes the superb "Irate Caterpillar" - like many of the Stranglers songs circa " The Raven" it shifts rhythms at the drop of a hat and is cloaked in a melodic,electronic meaness that is the setting for a wonderful poem about a man who mistakes a lifting crane for an insect. Sounds crap but it works. Further in there is a paen to Trotsky's famous train tour of the old USSR in "Big bug", which again uses the insect analogy to tell it's story. Cornwell was fascinated by the man at this time. Errr...and insects. The best song, apart from the aforementioned musical tantrum "Wired", that melange of strange rhythms amd spikey, chilling guitar grunts, is "Wrong Way Round". Essentially a song about a circus freak, it is a wonderfully engaging and humourous song built around a very prominent Burnel-esque bass line. It sports very clever lyrics and when the song breaks out near the end you don't want it to stop. "Puppets" ends the cd in a dizzy, manic manner, collapsing into mock-psychedelia at the end. Overall this cd is challenging, engaging and characterfull.......... Strangely wonderful.
Nosferatu is a truly extraordinary album. In its scope and breadth, musicianship, production and its sheer ambition. It is very firmly on my desert island discs. I have never heard any other album that sounds like it since the day I bought in 1982. No doubt the copious amounts of drugs being consumed at the time assisted. It is a very Hugh Cornwell album. Bristling with intellectual ideas, concepts, literary references and an amazing use of sound to create a sonic landscape long before the likes of Radiohead and Doves were doing it. For once, Hugh's guitars are not buried in the mix nor fighting the bass and demonstrate he is a very fine and innovative guitarist, as well as a decent bassist and able to make some useful noises on the keyboards. However, if you like a decent bottom end on your music you won't be disappointed. Even though this is a heavy album, the production manages to allow every thing to breathe and be heard. A lesson The Stranglers should have taken on-board for future reference. The drumming is a revelation and frankly Robert Williams, on this album, provides the most amazing percussion. It is truly awe inspiring.
The album does very successfully conjures up an atmosphere akin to the film 'The Elephant Man'. The track 'Wrong Way Round' should have been that film's signature tune. Gloomy, Gothic, mist filled Victorian streets frequented by murderers, freaks and the constant threat of sinister goings ons in the shadows. Perhaps the producers of the current BBC show 'Ripper Street', should give this CD a listen?
Which brings me very nicely to the Stranglers. This album, along with Burnel's 'Euroman Cometh', provides a clear bridge between the nihilism, paranoia and murk of 'Black & White' and the artistry of 'The Raven'. You can clearly hear and, judging by the contributions of others: east and west coast new wave rock - Wire, Televison, Talking Heads & Devo etc, what was stimulating Hugh's ear in late 1978 and 1979. It is a bit of a mystery why the only single, a stonking version of Cream's 'White Room'didn't make more of an impression on the charts. Perhaps that was due to Hugh's association with the music press baiting Stranglers? It is also a great shame he never toured it.
This album is a paradox. It manages to be a very English record, yet sounds as if it came from another planet and yes, I could waffle on and discuss each track in finite detail, but I won't. Find out for yourself. Try and work out who 'Duncan Poundcake' is. I laboured under the impression it was Mike 'Run Around' Reid for thirty years. It is not.
No doubt like Marmite, you'll either love it or hate it and if you like it, you are probably a bit odd! Regardless this album is an absolute hidden gem and a true work of well..genius
The first solo album from former Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell, accomponied by Captain Beefheart drummer Robert Williams sees a mix of the surreal and Stranglers contempary from that time. The uptempo opening title track would not be out of place on 'The Raven' album, 'Irate Caterpiller and 'Wrong way round' have echoings of 'Genetix', 'Rhythmic itch ' has simmilar connections to 'Ice' and premonitions of 'The Meninblack' album are also catered for (Mothra = 'Just like nothing on earth' perhaps). Also a (greatly improved in my opinion !) version of Cream's 'White room' also features - it is worth buying just for this ! Even earlier Stranglers tracks get a look in, with 'Puppets' having links with 'Enough time'. But nothing here is an EXACT replica, listen to it and every track sounds as original as every other Cornwell has penned.