The recently reconstituted Crime and the City Solution first entered into the consciousness of “alternative” rock fans in the 1980s, around the same time as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and, perhaps because of the scene-stealing personal habits of ex-Birthday Party vocalist Mr. Cave more than anything musical, often suffered in comparison.
Also confusing matters was the fact that the two outfits shared some personnel. Cave’s musical main man at the time, Mick Harvey, toiled in both groups, and to confuse things a bit more, Crime and the City Solution also featured former Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard (R.I.P.) on its underground classic Room of Lights (1986) album.
Both C&TCS and the Bad Seeds hailed from Australia originally, and both shared a certain affinity for what I’ve called “spaghetti goth”—gloomy musical atmospheres suffused by a love for Baudelaire and for the blues, as well as for the film soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. Though former junkie-goth icon Cave has gone on to be feted by middle class society as a Leonard Cohen-type bard, it is C&TCS that has arguably produced the better music overall.
That fact must gall Simon Bonney, the Jim Morrison-esque singer who has manned the helm through all incarnations of C&TCS. This new release highlights the post-Howard period of the band, when it shifted from a “The Doors on heroin instead of acid” feel toward something more sweeping and epic.
Songs from it like “All Must Be Love” are permeated by a sense of romantic fatalism, while “Hunter” rocks hard and sways heavy as Bonney warns, “If you can’t do the time / Don’t do the crime.”
The ethereal “On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain)” could have been a hit single in a better world, as Bonney, against all odds, stubbornly holds on to the artistic (superior?) world he’s created with his art within a crassly commercial society: “I will always be in love with that idea,” he croons, “the thought is a treasure through all time.”
The brooding “Home Is Far From Here” evokes a dark sense of longing, with Bonney and crew (including wife Bronwyn Adams on violin) as the weary vagabond artists who can never quite feel at home wherever in the world they may be.
That sense of restless unease and the desire to keep moving pervades the rest of the tracks here, as indicated by titles like “The Bride Ship,” “Free World,” and “New World.”
The ambitious “I Have the Gun” features an uncharacteristically rollicking country-pop intro, with a bright chorus: “This road is my road, this road is your road, this road is … our road.” Then the song shifts into a dark middle section with jagged riffing and some declamatory vocals by Bonney: “I screamed I have I have I have the gun / With this hand I can blot out the sun!” Then the sonic terrain shifts back to the song’s sunny opening chorus before coming to an abrupt halt.
“Dolphins and Sharks” churns relentlessly and addictively, highlighted by Adams’ mournful violin and Bonney’s insistence that “there’s nothing you need to say / You’ve been with me all my days.” The sound of tablas opens “Sun Before Darkness,” a song which soon envelops the listener with its powerful dramatic flourishes.
The four parts of “The Last Dictator” showcase the band at its creative apex, creating a complex prog-goth epic including Jim Morrison-styled spoken word sections from Bonney and Doorsy, carnival-esque keyboards. While the suite is never less than engaging, there also isn’t much further the band could go in this particular direction.
The final track, “The Adversary,” with its cautionary chorus of, “run to me, run to me, run to me … I am the adversary,” thus gets back to more straightforward stylistic terrain, perhaps pointing the way toward the next version of the band we’ll get on a new release in 2013.
Overall, this is fine introduction for newcomers to one of rock’s most deserving and “criminally” underrated outfits.
Hopefully this time around, Crime and the City Solution will get the recognition it deserves.
–Johnny “Gutter” Walker