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Lizard Pool "She Took The Colours" (Upart-Prod/Brachialpop) by Phil Shoenfelt

The name Lizard Pool immediately makes me think of those weird, sub-aquatic scenes in Hollywood bungalows that Jim Morrison wrote about on the album LA Woman. It also conjures pictures of Manson Family assassins prowling through the back garden of Roman Polanski’s house, just prior to slaughtering his beautiful and glamorous wife, Sharon Tate. Or then again, what about the opening scene of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with William Holden as Joe Gillis floating face down in Gloria Swanson’s swimming pool? Whatever the case, it certainly is an evocative and iconic name, rich in sinister undertones and dark whispers from the edges of the unconscious. 

It also reminds me of “gene pool”. And not in the sense of pissing in it, either (to quote another denizen of the Californian night, Henry Rollins). No, this album comes from an exceptionally pure and unadulterated musical gene pool – which isn’t exactly surprising when you learn that the singer and main songwriter of Lizard Pool is one Vincent Oley, son of the estimable Makarios of German post-punkers, Die Art. This isn’t to say that Lizard Pool’s music is in any way similar to Die Art (other than that both bands are high calibre art projects with an international reach). But if music be the food of love, and artistic excellence can somehow be inherited, it may go some way towards explaining this phenomenal debut album, which seems to have sprung fully formed from its creators’ collective brow.

The album starts with the crystalline guitar figure of “Give Me Your Anger”,  before a dark and heavy bass line enters the fray, conjuring classic UK post punk bands such as Joy Division, The Sound, The Chameleons, Magazine and The Cure. Or maybe Crispy Ambulance, that little known and underrated Manchester band which released a few classic albums and singles at the dawn of the 1980s (Tony Wilson of Factory Records once said that while Crispy Ambulance was a great band, they had the worst name of all time – an accusation that certainly can’t be levelled at Lizard Pool). As the slightly Bowie-esque vocals come in, Mr Oley asks the listener to “Give me your anger/I’ll cool it down/Give me your demons to drown/Show me your nightmares/I’ll get you out” – which are ambiguous sentiments, to say the least. Is this romantic empathising, or an invitation to something much darker, a possibly self-destructive and self-immolating flirtation with unconscious forces that may just prove to be too much to handle? As the momentum of the song increases and builds to a climax, the listener is again reminded of the classic era of UK post-punk. But at the same time the lyrics and  atmosphere of this song (and those that follow it) has something peculiarly Deutsch about it, not at all like the atmosphere that pervades works such as Secondhand Daylight or Three Imaginary Boys. I would characterise this feeling as one of “heroic melancholy”: the desire to reach and attain the highest ideals in love and in life, and the simultaneous realisation that any such attempts are finally and irrevocably doomed to failure. I think this feeling is what the Germans themselves call Weltschmerz – which is a very un-English sentiment, in spite of Ian Curtis’s existential despair (now I think about it, Joy Division was probably the most Germanic of UK post-punk bands, notwithstanding the very Mancunian sense of black humour that pervades their outlook).

The Lizard Pool movie continues with “Movie House”, which again has me thinking of Hollywood and the Morrison Hotel. But the robotic drum beat conjures Joy Division and The Cure, who in turn took a lot of their musical inspiration from the “Kraut Rock” bands of the early 70s, trail-blazers such as Can, Kraftwerk and Amon Düül II. At the same time, the vocals emote Syd Barret era Pink Floyd, or maybe Robin Hitchcock of The Soft Boys – at any rate the lyrical vibe here reminds me of classic English psychedelia, filtered through late 70s poets of the perverse such as Paul Roland and the aforementioned Mr. Hitchcock. All of which makes for fascinating listening, as one tries to get a grip on where exactly these imaginary German boys are coming from.

And the whole album is like this, a kaleidoscope of musical reference points that finally evades any easy categorization (though it’s fun to try). Other standout tracks are “A Gloomy Day”, “Faceless King” and “Nacht In Scherben”, with its deliciously shredded guitars. The only reservation I have is the final track, “I Will Not Dance”, which mines the Joy Division seam a bit too deeply for comfort. But this is a small complaint, and it certainly does nothing to detract from the overall excellence of “She Took The Colours”. And the feeling of melancholy which pervades the whole thing, the existential striving-for-the-stars-and-falling-back-to-earth, is a seductive and heady drug, a trance-inducing invitation to collapse into la petite morte and abandon oneself to the vortex of self-annihilating (but elevating) despair. A classic album of poésie maudite with music that evokes the high water mark of post punk experimental rock, while maintaining an atmosphere and approach all its own. A fantastic and inspiring debut album.

Phil Shoenfelt    


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