David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 307: Shriekback (Nemesis)

December 6, 2023

At some point during my last year in Morgantown, the college radio station started playing "Nemesis," by Shriekback. I had never heard of the band but the song was pretty intriguing. The song was clearly still alternative/new wave, but it was very danceable, with the kind of funk-influenced bass line that had been made popular by Duran Duran and Gang of Four. It also had a big chorus with singers crowing "priests and cannibals, prehistoric animals/everybody happy as the dead come home/big black nemesis, parthenogenesis/no one moves a muscle as the dead come home." Needless to say, I was hooked by the use of "parthenogenesis," the weirdest inclusion of a word in a rock song since Warren Zevon had used "brucellosis" in "Play It All Night Long."

While the song was disturbing, it seemed conscientiously alright, as it extols that "we are not monsters/we are moral people/and yet we have the strength to do this/this is the splendor of our achievement." "Nemesis" takes us to the abyss, but doesn't quite force us to stare into for very long. All in all, it was a very satisfying song. Rock and Roll needs that occasional dark song, punctuated with a trace of humor, to come along every once in awhile to blow the pretentious out of the water.

It took me awhile to buy the album "Nemesis" came from, Oil And Gold, purchased after I had moved to Bloomington and also started to like "Malaria," which got a little airplay. I was not prepared for what I was getting. An occasional dark song is great, but a whole album of dark songs, encased in an album design featuring snakes, is something much less desired (at least for me):

Not that the back was any better:

This is the stuff nightmares are made of. And the songs added fuel to the night tremors, especially in the way many capture the beasts among (and perhaps within) us. "Holding up on animal fear," we are told in "The Big Hush," something is "soaking up the waves underwater/turned to music no one can hear/forever in this half light." In "Faded Flowers," we are "shameful and naked, out there/in the great cold outdoors/we have to learn these things again/bathe in this incandescent glow/the leap to something I don't know/there is no doubt upon us when/the greasy men come back again." By the time we get to "Hammerheads," the album's penultimate song, we have become these greasy men: "purification by immersion in our filthy demon seed/We know the only things you like are paranoid sex and childish greed/our own worst enemy, they hollowed us out of wood/look at all the grease inside us, gonna get us this time but good."

All of these lyrics were surrounded by driving beats and/or spectral music, but they constantly made me want to take a shower. At some point, maybe after the fourth or fifth hearing, I decided to look into the band members. I shouldn't have been surprised that the band's singer, and de facto leader, was Barry Andrews, who had been a founding member of XTC before leaving after that band's second album, Go 2. That is Andrews in the video link below, enjoying himself a little too much if you ask me.

Andrews had written one song for XTC over those first two albums, the incredibly unsubtle "My Weapon" from Go 2. When the one songwriting credit is for the lines, "no telling where she learned the things she do to me/and I don't know what she done wrong/but I want to hurt her/wanna take it out on her/wanna take it out on her with my weapon," one has to wonder what songs of his didn't get recorded. Since XTC especially went on to carve a career in a kind of pastoral vision of the world, Andrews' departure probably was for the best for all parties involved.

I took some comfort that Andrews' obsessions seemed to have gone even more primordial than numbskull misogyny, but that didn't make the album that much easier to appreciate. Whereas my tendency has always been to play new music to death, Oil And Gold remained something to pull out on occasion, enough to remember what I like, but also to remember what I find disturbing.

Put it this way, when Michael Mann, filmmaker of The Keep, Heat, and The Insider, chooses two of your Oil And Gold songs ("The Big Hush" and "Coelecanth") for inclusion on Manhunter, his adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, the Hannibal Lecter prequel to The Silence of The Lambs, know that your darkness has been fully embraced. That film has no Clarice Starling as a moral center, certainly challenging viewers to wonder if, indeed, we are monsters. 

Shriekback. "Nemesis." Oil And Gold. Island, 1985. Link here.

Day 306: Pete Townshend "Face The Face"

Day 308: Al Stewart "The Year Of The Cat"

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