by Magnus Shaw: Goth would appear to be tailor-made for ridicule. In many ways it’s music for those who like fancy dress, and the trend which ensured sales of Babyliss crimpers outperformed predictions for decades. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t produce some fantastic tracks from the most memorable of bands. And anyway, what’s wrong with fancy dress?
10. Alien Sex Fiend – Ignore The Machine
If you’re going to be goth, you might as well take the whole concept to the edge of parody. Such was the approach of Alien Sex Fiend, led by husband and wife team Nik and Christine Wade (or Nik and Mrs. Fiend). Straight out of the legendary Batcave club, ‘Ignore The Machine’ was their debut single, culled from a demo tape recorded with Killing Joke’s Youth. It’s a splendid, clunking and wheezing ball of loops, samples and lunatic vocals – making one feel slightly unhinged. Which presumably is the point. Astonishingly, ASF are now onto their eighteenth album. Undead indeed.
9. Gene Loves Jezebel – Influenza
From Wales came the Aston brothers, Jay and Michael and their band. Initially (and worringly) named Slav Aryan, Gene Loves Jezebel were a little lighter and more commercial than some of their contemporaries (see above) and tended to be most popular with lady goths. ‘Infleunza’ is far from their best known song, but it’s probably their most original. Almost instrumental it’s a haunting blend of acoustic guitars and spectral voices, perfect for that post Batcave come down.
8. Sisters of Mercy – Emma
I’m sure Andrew Eldritch would tear my lungs out were he to discover I was calling his band ‘goth’. But y’know, he does call himself Eldritch. Anyway, whether they liked it or not the Sisters were considered the high priests of the movement by their legions of followers and were admired by others for their sense of drama and irony. Both sentiments are on show in this superbly slow and bleak rendition of the Hot Chocolate hit.
7. Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
If Mr. Eldritch had a rival for the goth crown, it was surely Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy. Striding out of Northampton in 1978, the band really drew the template for goth rock, fusing art, dub and punk to build a wall of suitably arch, baritone sound. ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ is goth’s Bohemian Rhapsody, nine minutes long with a rattling drum and primitive bass, its lyric mourns the passing of the American horror actor in a fine, deadpan couldn’t-be-more-gothic style.
6. The Cure – All Cats Are Grey
So incredibly successful, it’s easy to forget The Cure were once part of the gothic underground. But one look at Bob Smith’s trade-mark, raven black hairdo points right back to the band’s origins. No irony present on this album track from 1981’s frosty ‘Faith’ collection, just a genuinely mournful and wintery number, with a dreamily echoing percussion track washed by Smith’s aching voice. Close to being the perfect Cure song and a million miles from the horrible ‘Love Cats’.
5. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Playground Twist
At least three-quarters of the way through their career when goth took off, the Banshees had already trodden the territory in the late seventies. This was the third Banshees single and the only one released from their second album ‘Join Hands’. What makes ‘Playground Twist’ so unusual is its 3/4 time signature. The whole track has the feeling of a queasy lullaby, the guitars phasing over Siouxsie’s chilling references to ‘daisy chains’ and ‘falling on your knees’. Actually quite scary.
4. The Birthday Party – Release The Bats
Way before Nick Cave’s role as a vampiric crooner, he headed this band of crazy-assed Australian punks. If goth always toyed with madness, this extarordinary single plunged headlong into insanity. A relentless, primal noise pushes Nick to his most agonising screams and yelps, the whole experience leaving the listener assaulted and bruised. Completely and supremely manic, it’s best not listened to alone.
3. Southern Death Cult – Moya
Another outfit which never identified themselves as ‘goth’ (did anyone?), Southern Death Cult certainly drew many of their fans from the scene. Formed in Bradford in 1980, the band based much of their material – and their name – on singer Ian Astbury’s obsession with native American tribal culture. ‘Moya’ was their first single and immediately imprinted the group on the post-punk movements – ‘goth’ included. Astbury still fronts The Cult and occasionally takes the place of his hero, Jim Morrison, in The Doors.
2. All About Eve – Martha’s Harbour
Goth folk, anyone? Well, why not? Coventry’s Julianne Regan began her musical career as bass player with the aforementioned Gene Loves Jezebel but soon left to form All About Eve. One of the most commercially successful bands associated with ‘goth’, AAE’s material was full of references to white magic, paganism and mythical creatures. A little too ‘nice’ for hardcore Batcavers, ‘Martha’s Harbour’ took the group to Top of the Pops and a live vocal from Julianne, offered in compensation for a technical disaster the previous week. Even to those without a gothic bone in their body, this is a charmingly relaxing, beautiful and ethereal song.
1. Sisters of Mercy – This Corrosion
Try as I might, I couldn’t settle on a number one without returning to the mighty Sisters. And in all fairness, this is a different group in all but name and the mandatory presence of Andrew Eldritch. By the time of this merciful release, the rest of the band had decamped to become The Mission. In the meantime, Andrew had recruited the fragrant Patricia Morrison from Gun Club and roped in Jim ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ Steinman to produce. This Corrosion, the lead single from the resulting ‘Floodland’ album, is an awe-inspiring, multi-tracked, metallic opera of a song. Choirs, orchestras, pumping basslines, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, conspire to give us a supreme goth hairdryer treatment. And most exhilarating it is too.
Magnus Shaw, October 2012