Saturday, January 10, 2009

Crispy Ambulance - The Plateau Phase

With so much stuff sloshing around in our culture these days it has been remarkably easy to find new avenues for exploration.  It must have been so different for earlier generations, without TV, without cinema, without the enormous printed media, without the Internet.  Sometimes finding stuff so easily does seem like cheating in a way, there is the small thrill of the initial discovery and then it becomes just another bit of stuff along with all the rest.  I try to gravitate towards those albums which have a story behind them, a story that I have often concocted to 'tell' the way in which they were found.  As it is with Crispy Ambulance (a name which seems revealing somehow even though it is nonsense) who first came to my attention whilst watching the film Control about the life of Ian Curtis (I ended up not learning much more really than what the NME has told me).  The singer of Crispy Ambulance, Alan Hempsall, stood in for Ian Curtis once when the latter was unable to perform.  I thought then, what a bizarre name for a band.  I remembered it though, which is how I came to listen to their one and only 'proper' album, The Plateau Phase.  At the time of release in 1982 (I am coming to the conclusion that 1982 was one of the greatest years for music) Crispy Ambulance seem to have been unduly affected by the music media's continuing obsession with Joy Division and were condemned for 'slavishly' copying said band.  I have always thought the praise for Joy Division was somewhat fanatical; Joy Division, to me, on record come across as distant and aloof, rather bleak (live it seems they were far more aggressive), Crispy Ambulance on the other hand feel so much more alive, even if their subjects are as melancholy, and the album throbs at times with a primal power.  Take Are you Ready? which builds slowly and slowly into a mantra, developing the suspense... then unfortunately things falls flat with the dirge-y Travel Time but never mind, they tried.  We are back on track with The Force and the Wisdom, Hempsall howling over minimal keyboards, the bass echoing eerily in and out, conjuring visions of dark forests and night-time.  Although inspired by Sex Pistols and Magazine like most bands at that time, Crispy Ambulance also seem to be closet hippies, I am not sure exactly why I think this but there is something far looser in their sound than the jerky rhythms of the post-punk leaders; that they take their inspiration from nature as well as from the Modern.  Hempsall's voice, whilst flat at times, is unaffected and 'real.'  The repetitive, driving rhythms echo hypnotic 'tribal' rituals (but might also be where the charge of being 'turgid' came from depending upon whether you like that kind of thing).  Take The Wind Season which, close to the end, breaks down into chants of 'oo ah oo', and We move through the Plateau with its refrain 'Nature attacks you and Nature heals you.'  Whilst Death from Above sounds like they were trying to capture the feel of the Arctic, something which Joy Division also excelled at, however Crispy Ambulance's effort comes across as slightly wistful, suggesting there is some optimism beneath the froideur.  

No comments: