Et Mourir de Plaisir - Bob Short (Full On Noise)
"This album is dedicated to a small club: the squatters of Campbell Buildings in 1979/80. Every year our numbers get fewer but the story lives on," writes Bob Short on the LP cover.
Yeah. Just like the 100 Club and the Sex Pistols, occupants of the Campbell Buildings in London now number in their mythological thousands.
Yeah right. Some pasts attract wanna-be’s like flying bugs to apricot jam, others … well, let’s just say you’d give some pasts a wide berth.
But, because I can, ask Bob for more. “The album is a horror story. It’s about watching friends die, friends who lived stuff you thought it would be impossible to live through. And you get through that - and then you still die. And then you know you'll die. This is the punk rock most punks try to bullshit their way past. The bullshit lyrics that claim invincibility and superiority. This is an album about grief and I understand people not being able to tap their feet and smile. I understand no record company is going to let me use great musicians to realise this project. There is nothing for them here. So this is my great bloody scream as I go down the fucking gurgler. Because someone has to scream about it. You can't wait for permission.”
Imagine. Just imagine.
You are 17.
It is 1978.
You are Sydney’s first self-declared punk.
You’re in Sydney’s first punk rock band, Filth. Improbably, stupidly, you tour … Adelaide. With another bunch of idio- … sorry, that slipped out. Where’s the delete key when you really need it?
Anyway, after the gig, during which you have done your damnedest to produce a riot amongst a small crowd of confused disco trendies, himbos, bimbos, assorted trannies and possibly Don Dunstan (oh, and an even smaller crowd of the well-informed and curious), a rather brawny, scruffy looking dark-haired stranger with a few teeth missing approaches you. Unbeknownst to you,in between working at one of Adelaide’s hip record shops (the Record Factory) he is the drummer for local pop outfit The Dagoes. Not that that matters, I’m just showing off. Anyway, the exchange goes a little like this:
Turk: ‘D’you know such and such?’
Bob Short: ‘Yeah…’
Turk: Did you go to blah blah school?’
Bob Short: ‘…Yeah.’
Turk: ‘Is your mum so-and-so?’
Bob Short: ‘What the fuck is it to you?!’
Turk: ‘I’m your brother, knucklehead.’
I’m not if sure this story has a moral, but it should give you an idea of ‘where Bob’s coming from’, a man who titles his debut solo LP (several decades late) ‘And Die with Pleasure’. Presumably he’s felt that a few times, as have many of us who count ourselves amongst punk’s self-stolen generation.
Bob Short has been many things. When I met him he was running a band called The Dead Rabids, who have released about eight CDs, all of which are wonderful and danceable, and when I first spoke to him on the phone he was industrially engaged in shoving metal poles up the bottoms of puppets (I gather he was later paid a wage for this dubious service).
At this point I must confess two things; one, that the brother anecdote comes from neither the leaky memory of either Bob nor myself, but that indefatigable chronicler of Adelaide punk etc, Harry Butler; and that two, despite being a jolly fine chum of Bob’s you have my solemn word that I would never, ever give a "thumbs-up" review to a chum if his record was shit, shit-like, or merely indifferent. The rules I abide by are clear: unless I say otherwise, if it’s worth my time to review, it’s at least worth double the price of entrance to you.
Bob has always worked to be true to his punk ideal: this doesn’t mean he’s formed a straight-edge commune, or is always so wrecked he can barely remember his name (although … but I digress). I’ve never understood the prejudice people have about the early punks - somehow they’re not allowed to have a life, live in a nice house, eat and be like normal human beings. A few years ago there was an outcry among assorted dickheads when John Lydon’s house was up for sale for over a million. Apparently the man should’ve done the decent thing and lived in a squat in Deptford, or an old shoebox under a bridge or somewhere equally void of hope. But there seems to be two sorts of punk, really. The first lot are those who think it’s all about protest (for some reason these characters are always left-wing, like Mr Biafra) and wearing the right ‘shocking’ clothes.
The second lot are the ones who always pick up on the life-saving thrill of music, and imaginative possibility. I rate Dave Graney as being far more punk than, say, the upcoming "reunion" tour of the Exploited (which I won’t be seeing, by the way). The very least, indifferent efforts of Mark E. Smith are far more punk than the complete works of Green Day.
Bob is what old punks should be about. Reality, not bluster. This isn’t a record with 10 tracks, each guaranteed to make you dance and chant slogans. Mind you, there are a couple a bit like that. But there’s bitterness, ugliness here. We’ve all lost loved ones. I can’t think of anyone who was part of the music underground from the '70s through the '80s in Australia who doesn’t harbour a dreadful sense of grief (distinct from that chip-on-the-shoulder grievance). Punk gave many good things to the world, but beneath that there was a lot of misery, suffering and death. Sometimes we forget that. Like old army privates, we forget the bad stuff and get all misty-eyed over those shitty days and dreadful music.
Reassuringly, Bob Short can not only remember his name, but also the bad stuff. "I didn’t want to make an AC/DC record. [Nor] a Cosmic Psychos record. And if I’m too arty or camp or whatever … I don’t give a shit. … Hell. These days, if you don’t play third-rate rockabilly, you can’t get a gig. If you want to say you play punk, you have to play some retrogressive shouty shite. Boxes. Little boxes full of ticky tack." Bob’s belief that AC/DC and Cosmic Psychos play a sort of safe music which is easily digested is, of course, correct.
My copy of "Et Mourir de Plaisir" is one of only 150 copies; Bob swears that he will not re-press this little beauty, which is a terrible shame. Perhaps he’ll change his mind when Universal knock on his door. Perhaps not.
Either way, "Et Mourir de Plaisir" should be on your turntable, in your car, in your iPod or phone or whatever, and right now you should have this on full bore as you vacuum the house in your fluffy slippers and thong bikini (I’m talking about you, Craig Barman), or as you skateboard down the road in your board shorts and flip-flops (I’m talking about you, Mum).
The album’s title derives from the french title of the film we know in English as "Blood and Roses" (directed by Roger Vadim, 1960); which was also the name of the band Bob was in when many of these songs were written, which was the early to mid 1980s. This ghastly period was no different in many ways to now, except that genuinely unhinged people (often of dubious antecedent) could have a whopping hit and then develop a genuine career in the music biz.
Blood and Roses damn nearly made it, they put out two 12”s, a 7” and an lLP; Bob’s writing partner back then was Lisa Kirby (recently deceased). Then real life intervened, and the goal which the band had all been heaving toward, in between grappling poltergeists, starvation, beatings by skinheads and police, collapsed like a wet paper bag in its first encounter with a puppy.
Bob’s insert declares, "I hope you enjoy this record. It scares the crap out of me … It’s about a time and a place long gone but clearly not forgotten …" Well, that’s how it is to Bob. However, as they stand, both LPs are far more accessible than Bob realises.
A few words of caution; home recording pitfalls similar to those which afflicted the original ‘new wave’ D.i.Y-ers from Buzzcocks onwards; the sound quality has a few problems. In Bob’s case, I regret to say there is a slight airlessness which is noticeable if you’re accustomed to Big Name Recording Bands, and also you have to crack the volume up about 10 more notches than if you were playing a record by A Big Name Recording Band. Just like in the late '70s, then, you have to make allowances for these ishoos, and listen to the music by TURNING IT UP.
So. The first song should be familiar to all Shortists, "Love Under Will", particularly if you have the single. This powerful, crackling opener is one of punk’s great lost hit singles - one of the many which should’ve been recorded but never really was. This is party mixtape, sing along in the car stuff. "Love Under Will" dates back to Bob’s days with the above-mentioned Filth. "Love Under Will" holds up some 40 years later - partly due to how Bob’s recorded and produced it, and partly because, like I say, it’s a cracker.
We change pace with "South East One", a ballady thing where you listen to the lyrics more than the gently swinging band. On repeated listens it grows on you; Bob’s vocals throughout resemble, by the by, a combination of Spencer P. Jones and Rowland S. Howard. The reason for this is not that Short perches by these gent’s LPs, but that he shares many of their influences, and like Rowland and Spencer, feels that a certain stylisation works best for his voice.
While the whole of "Et Mourir…" is laden with personal, bittersweet (even bittersweat) nostalgia for a period of great turmoil and self-discovery for Our Humble Narrator, the truth is that many of us will recognise ourselves here. Quite unpleasant, really, although Bob does tinge his hand-to-mouth existence with romance. Couplets like "No pennies in our pockets/ This land was made for you and me", and "They say youth lasts forever/ We swear that it’s the truth’" I suspect Bob’s bloody lucky to be alive. Myself, I’m amazed I’m still here.
And I love the chorus, a list of Bob’s favourite haunts, ending "Westminster Abbey and the tower of Big Ben/ Do you have a quid that I could lend?" How the hell this man can still have romance in his soul I don’t know, but he does. Like all real punks, Bob Short howls against forces which threaten our own inner romanticism. Punks would’ve gone off to fight Franco in ’36, not because they were communists, but because it was the right thing to do.
"Radio Won" gets our attention with a wall of guitars, saying all the things which need to be said about the stifling diahorrea of commercial radio. The pun in the title (Radio One is a BBC station) is accurate (even if the song was originally about AM giant 2SM). "Summer’s here and the time is right/ But they’ve got the guns so no-one else can fight" You could be forgiven for thinking this is a cover of an old Clash song circa "London Calling". Dead groovy, in a fuck-you way. When I think about the mostly appalling songs on rotation in even ‘progressive’ commercial radio, it really makes me despair. It’s like a magician proffering cards; you always take the ones they want you to. There’s a lot more in the deck, and you always end up with the two of clubs.
Further proof that old punks who took the "let’s try this new thing" philosophy to heart, "Kings Cross Vampires" blends a rather lovely little organ piece and overlays it with a nasty, lazy heavy guitar. The depiction of the place is deceptive; Short’s lyrics are anything but place-based. Who else would begin a song with "The Makers Travel Fast"? The chorus; "Night must fall/ Upon us all/ In the thrall/ of Siren’s call" is so universal of everyone of us that we recoil in horror. The music of course, sucks us in.
"Curse on You" is another one Short devotees should recognise from Dead Rabids’ sets (a bit like early Damned), and it’s another punk hit most of us have never heard but should; his constant refrain ‘I put a curse on you’ is heavier than the type of rock I’ve heard touted as the greatest band in Australian history etc etc. The venomous implication of Bob Short’s lyrics (not to mention the lp) can only come from a life lived on the outside. Bearing in mind the limitations I mentioned earlier… "Et Mourir..." has no business sounding this good. It’s a great way to end Side One.
Side Two begins with "Willow’s Song" which you may not recognise, but you should. I didn’t. It’s that nasty little seduction number from "The Wicker Man" by Robin Hardy (1973). Lines like "Please come say, ‘how do?’. The things I’ll give to you" aren’t subtle, but it introduces the real world taking over punk’s squalid dead end; the last two lines are positively dirty, so I won’t spoil the surprise. What I will remark on is how much "Willow’s Song" reminds me of a bit of Blue Oyster Cult coming in from a blustery day; you might think you’ve put the wrong record on for a moment. Hell, is that a Monkees harmony? No, but… listen to how the nice sweet guitar swirls around us, the nasty, filling-melting guitar getting beneath our gums and … yeah.
What was I saying about old punks revelling in the saggy bums and bulging tums? "Ruins" re-emphasises what we should all acknowledge: no-one got here without making a choice; "this debris is what we chose". Lovely little rotating squirly bits get under our nails as Bob points out that poverty is the cost of being free … after all, it’s easy to "put things right", just go back on your self-definition. Bob might not know it, but he’s one of the lucky, still free humans. I disagree with him frequently, by the by, and that is how it should be. "And now there is no law/ There are no rules in place you can live for/ And now, when evil comes/ Do you stand your ground or run back home to Mum?"
As you can tell from the title, "She’s My Man" is a rather rueful consideration of Our Humble Narrator, which is almost a glam hit, but not quite. Where are the Glitter Band when you need them? Great song.
Big, poisonous track. "Days of Blood and Roses" is quite obviously about Bob’s - and many other Australian musical adventurers in Europe in the '80s - "We wanted love and we wanted fame/ Cut off our face despite our noses/ That was a future that never came" … a song which gave me abattoir flashbacks.
A rather lovely way to end the album, "We’re Not Dead Yet" lays emphasis to the idealistic punkers who launched themselves in a gloriously messy splat, fell grievously wounded, then got up and starved so they could make another record. Again. "We’re Not Dead Yet" is another Monkees/ Glitter Band moment, just pulled back a tad. You old softy, Short. Glorious.
I’ve heard far, far worse LPs pissfarting about in the Top 40 for what seemed like years. "Et Mouri de Plaisir" deserves wide recognition, and the likes of Alice Cooper covering at least two songs here, and a clutch of Hollywood film producers descending like latter-day moseses with tablets of gold.
There is a bonus album, available as a download directly from Bob. The feel for this LP is rather different and, no matter how enjoyable "Et Mourir …" is, you must, absolutely must have the bonus album. Why? Simply because it’s one of those unique, extraordinary records which is comprehensive from start to finish. "The bonus disc is closer to what Blood and Roses were striving towards," cautions Bob.
A friend put it on, loved the first two songs, and then … threw up his hands, commenting that he couldn’t listen to it anymore, though he’d love to see the band live.
Downloads don’t come with lyric sheets (apparently Gen Y think of lyrics as another untidy irrelevance) so I harassed Our Humble Narrator. So he sent me stuff, commenting; "I can't verify these are the final lyrics I used. But they're close enough. For my part. I believe they constitute some kind of real deal. For the record, I would rather be understood and hated than misunderstood and hated."
"Everyone has their own path to follow in life …"
"Scenario" follows the VU’s "The Gift" as, intentionally a bit buried, Short narrates a rather disturbing scenario in which we look back on our grey lives and realise we only have one, so we may as well follow our noses, rather than the tramlines laid down for us. Love the music, by the by, quite unsettling. What I said about film producers? Get Short, not Shorty. Drums and synths (I think) kick in and propel us forward. Reminds me a bit of Goblin.
How does "Scenario" end? "We want a myriad of possibilities and not enforced certainties. Let out sins be our salvation. The word compromise does not come in to it." Now that’s as punk as it’s going to get. No knife through some bozo’s head, no mystic chaps with golden pelmets or descents into Poesian whirlpools either … this is the real deal, facing ourselves and our weak little lives. From the first song, then, Short’s bonus LP is gutsy, sweep-you-off-your-stilettos stuff. And I don’t wear stilettos.
"Jesus" is, I am told, a much earlier song which band-members declined to enjoy. This version is sort of muscular, hairier Mute Records territory. I can just see this onstage. Love these gripping buildups, then we’re kept teetering on the brink of comprehension, feet busily bopping. Bob has a way with guitar solos, have I mentioned? He makes them sound relevant to the lyrics, rather than a helpful break in which to waggle the old six-stringed wang. Here’s a few lyrics: "Jesus must have loved me/ To put me in this place/ So nice that loving saviour/ He just kicks you in the face/ But still his teachings blossom/ Coz the money’s rolling in."
I’ll disagree, pointing out that it’s people, men mostly, who transformed the assorted Christian churches into money-making empires not far removed from slot-machine incorporated. But that is also, kind of Bob’s point; we have our choices, ‘love under will’, and we don’t make thoughtful ones, but choices which entrap us in habit and a belief that we’re safe.
A tough, mocking rocking thing reminiscent of some of Sweet’s LP tracks, or a musical out of Family Guy, "Bedlam" has what sounds like Mother Courage’s dad spewing out horror with the Short band slamming an assortment of heads against the wall. "She empties a bottle of pills in her mouth/ And she bites at our fingers as we pull them out/ And somebody's crying and somebody's dead/ I just want to sleep or get out of my head." Unnerving how familiar I am with this situation. Yeah, you’ll like this one as well.
Is that a drum? Really? or a synth? Fucked if I know. "A Winter’s Tale" has one of those lovely, sweet piano pieces which presage the huntsman leaping out to slaughter an innocent, the huntsman played in this case by Bob’s lazy, strangling guitar here. The subject? A decision to fall into heroin’s "blinding white oblivion". Uneasy listening.
The lyrics to "ShM YHShVH" are mostly by Lisa Kirby (of Blood and Roses); I assume the title is a disguised name; the lyrics attack a sadistic lover, the music shoves into us like a drunk at a party. I find myself wondering if Short is familiar with Brecht/ Weill at all; certainly the seesaw music lays emphasis to the lyrics, creating another world altogether. Baal will be along any minute… unless Short is playing Baal here.
In LP terms, I suppose we’re beginning the second side Two here. True to form, Short’s opening guitar and percussion gives our expectations a yank, as a slightly Banshees-eque ‘Crimson Dream’ (Lisa Kirby’s lyrics) brings us a blood-soaked fairytale (brutalised love and desire). There are sugary harmonies here, and I keep thinking of the Monkees, and the Archies, but you decide.
Remember when a feature of the '80s was bad metalesque synthpop? Remember all those crap bands out there who had careers when bands like this were surging up? Makes us wonder yet again, ‘What if…?’. Just how far up the ziggurat could Blood and Roses have gotten? "Could You Love me? Despite what's become of me/ I have a heart. You call me beast. The darkness rising from the East". "Sins of the Chimera" I can imagine in a film or TV show. I’d like to see this live, just see how much more powerful Short could make it.
Caroline must’ve been a rather nasty individual. Remember those manipulative women who play other women straight into traps. Straight out of one of those slash movies at the drive-in, "Party Time for Caroline" is like a missing link between the movies and those hateful fights which used to break out occasionally. Funny, a drive-in movie theatre could be so familiar and yet so isolating. ‘Ha Cha Cha - Ha Cha Cha!’
"Jesus (slight return)". "Hallelujah, God be saved/ A joke that the dead can’t tell". The gorgeous chimes and expansive, cathedral atmosphere re-open the old wound. "It’s not about salvation or the light, the truth, the way/ It’s keeping you down in your place/ And learning to obey’" I’ll leave it there. You’ll love it.
"Blood on Silver" (lyrics mostly by Lisa Kirby). Here’s the kicker: "The doctor’s ruin was a bottle and spoon but we all drew to blood on silver". Amazing how in the depths of despair we turn to a substance we know is not the answer, but because we can’t face the answer quite yet …
Yeah. This is a building, surfing, soaring, self-aware song. Lisa, I think, would be damned impressed with how Bob has brought her visions to realisation, and with how well his own compositions sit alongside hers.
Short again: "Some of the backing vocals had been done in advance. I was trying a different approach on my vocals. Some of the songs - particularly the first batch - weren’t in my favoured key, so I had to come at them a different way. I also wanted to try a more dramatic singing style [which I couldn’t develop with] The Dead Rabids; you make compromises when you play guitar hard… so.. yeah. I’ve moved a little out of my punk vocal comfort zone."
Note also that, on both "Et Mourir de Plaisir" and the bonus disc, Bob plays all the instruments; drums, tambourine, guitar (yeah, you knew that) and synthy-organ thing. Could you do it? Nope. I certainly couldn’t, not and pull it off remotely as well as this. These two LPs are a hell of an achievement.
For "Et Mourir de Plaisir" (and the bonus album), for the I-94 Bar crowd: Four stars. At least. For me: six stars.
In closing, I will say I prefer the bonus disc, but by a small margin; "Et Mourir de Plaisir" is more cohesive in its concept, and it’s a harmoniously finished whole. It also rocks, which is what you spent all that time reading the above to discover. But I still like the bonus a bit more, which is to say I’m peculiar, I suppose. Bob Short retains his sense of horror and outrage at the world, that it, he’s still that battered romantic.