Thursday, March 25, 2010

The sultry, surly sexiness of Lydia Lunch, 'Queen of Siam'.

As I go through this phase in my life where, it seems, all musical roads lead to (or, more often, from) Einstürzende Neubauten, it is perhaps not surprising that it was while listening to Kalte Stern, their compilation album of early recordings, that I first discovered Lydia Lunch, providing the weird and wacky declamatory vocals for ‘Thirsty Animal’.

It was an interesting enough voice, yelling and tottering on the edge between music and speech, to inspire me to seek out her debut solo album, Queen of Siam, released in 1980, amidst the New York aftershocks of underground no wave post-punk.

It’s hard to describe this music – identifiable perhaps more by what it isn’t than by what it is. In some ways it’s a kind of anti-music: slightly off-key, spoken more than sung, flirting with jazz and blues without actually really embracing them, let alone committing to them, while still holding onto its love/hate affair with punk, pretending to be its subservient, compliant slave, while all the time cheating behind its back.

You get the best sense of where this album is taking you in its opening track, ‘Mechanical Flattery’, sultry and steamy, where a kind of drug-fuzzed sexuality stretches itself out in front of you, seducing you and repelling you at the same time.

She whispers her way through ‘Gloomy Sunday’, making it sound utterly freaky, as if she is already halfway dead, leaving ‘Tied and Twist’, with its dirge-like pace and a melody that always falls off the note, to play at the funeral.

Things become a little more upbeat with ‘Spooky’, seductive and playful, but you can’t entirely escape the feeling that you’re playing with the devil and, by ‘Los Banditos’, you get the sense that the music is feeding you poison while it's swinging its hips in front of you.

So even when the music is lazing along in the doldrums, like in the menacing, strolling, omni-hating ‘Knives in the Drain’, it has a sordid sexiness to it, but it’s a sexiness that, even in its most energetic moments, like in the purely instrumental, jazz-tinged ‘A Cruise to the Moon’, is always more than just a little surly or, like in ‘Carnival Fat Man’, jaunty and grotesque, even downright rude.

The album closes with ‘Blood of Tin’, a short, crazed stream of (un)musical consciousness that goes nowhere, leaving the music, and you, hanging, wondering where you’ve been and where you are, unsettled and yet strangely lured into this weird, glazed-over world.

Queen of Siam is music that deliberately doesn’t fit in. It’s music that stands on dark street corners, on its own, homeless, half-dressed, half-naked. But don’t dare assume that it’s for sale or it’s likely to sock you in the mouth.

No comments:

Post a Comment