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A Life Less Lived - The Gothic Box


A Life Less Lived - The Gothic Box


Rhino Records

various artists 3xCD + DVD

A Life Less Lived - The Gothic Box coverGoth music and fashion was an inevitable style. The black leather, spikes mixed with the futile anger of punk and bleached or blackened new-wave hair styles gone mad. The androgyny stitched in the new romantic's swashbuckling long coats, flowing shirts and then donned by medieval vampires. Add to that the bleak outlook of the Thatcher/Reagan arms build-up keeping the world's denizens fearing annihilation and an apocalyptic nightmare.

Punk gave us the anger from fear and discontent.  New wave countered the act with an attitude of dance and love in the cold war. Goth was full  immersion into the darkness. No musical style had mined the dark. Folk artist's like Leonard Cohen and other folk artists made it acceptable to be dark and poetic. Blues was always related to sadness. Pop and soul derive their sadness from the heartache of unrequited and lost love.

Take all these elements and put them on a time line and Goth was an inevitable scion in the progression musical styles. Punk is still around. New wave, too. Each has contributed to a style of fashion and music that is now mainstream. Goth is no different. It still endures in fashion but the music clashed with the 90's wealth, swelling stock portfolio's, technology,  and a feel good attitude. Hope is not conducive to goth's success.

After turning the corner of a new century we are introduced to terror once again. The stocks went bust. Buildings collapsed. Claustrophobic technology condenses the world putting people under increasing stress. Security of our lifestyles are threatened. This may be the right time to reintroduce the world to Goth.

Rhino Records has released A Life Less Lived- The Gothic Box. A three CD, one DVD, collection of Goth nuggets. Rhino has complied another attempt at chronicling a musical style. They create a difficult task with any catalog of style. Debates will arise as to what is true to that style. Do you include hit music? Do you go for the lesser known, obscure rarities that inspired the hits? Goth is a broad musical style. The Goth crowd have dedicated, pure hearts and can easily be broken and Rhino takes on that risk.

Rhino has not packaged this set in its usual shoe box. This collection is tied up in a black leatherette bustier with  laces and eyelets  up the back. It is more funny than deep. It is cheesy and lite. It is Hot Topic at the mall. The packaging is  a black bound book with red type and graphics of an octapuss combined with a circular filigree icon wrapping from front to back.  Inside the  CDs and DVD are mounted on shiny black plastic. In the center is a paper sleeve with repeated Celt-like, filigree graphics in gray on black. In the sleeve is the the booklet that explores the history of Goth.

A Life Less Lived booklet is personal and not just cold facts. The graphics are a red antique book cover  scanned to give the impression of old text. The introduction is an essay on the difficulty of what to include and exclude. There is the cursory old style calligraphy. Old woodcut Scarab beetles and photos of  graveyard crosses accompany photos of some bands in the colection.  In the Rhino tradition, each song is explored its  lineage explained. Band members give pull-out quotes looking back at their position in Goth history. There are Hiss and Hearse (get it?) treatises on being a goth, then and now. The introduction and band quotes are a plea to go easy on the producers of this box. They recognize that this is a devoted and guileless group of fans that will be inevitably offended.

CD 1 starts with Joy Division who stumbled into the lord god position of Goth.  Joy Division was the inadvertent gateway band to musical darkness. No band had been simply so downcast. With Joy Division, Bauhaus, and  Siouxie and the Banshees you had the holy tryptych of Goth . They are all on CD 1. Dead Souls is not the best of Joy Division. I would have preferred Passover. But Souls fits the bill with the signature guitar and dark bass making a dreary progression. The Bauhaus song She's in Parties is third on one. What more can be said for a band that embraced the goth moniker and has its cloven hoof print all over this box. Between Love and Rockets, Dali's Car, Tones on Tail and Peter Murphy's and Daniel Ash's solo material,  Bauhaus is the apex of the goth trinity taking up more space than any others in the goth graveyard. Siouxie's Spellbound is last of the trilogy of true goth. What song of hers do you choose? 

The Cure's Charlotte Sometimes is a odd crossover song for them. They went from the raw and sparse Buzzcock-ney nerve rock to the Faith/Seventeen Seconds era of spare darkness. Being that this was the first incarnation of The Cure going Goth, the addition seems apt. Temple of  Love by Sisters of Mercy is a necessary, albeit excessively long, addition. The band is certainly Goth royalty. Tones on Tail's Christian says and Love and Rockets Mirror people are the second and third Bauhaus appearances on CD 1 shows how they are integral in the Goth web.

Southern Death Cult, Fields of the Nephilim have a countrified goth sound. I never considered The Cult to be more than dark, hard country style rock. Is the Gun Club Goth? They were dark?  The Fields song makes me wonder if The Cramps were Goth? They were dark, sexual, big haired, leathered and latex  and countrified. Alien Sex Fiend's Zombified is like The Cramps until it reaches a more experimental and eerie interlude.

Later tracks on the CD are from bands I never really associated wit the Goth movement. Hearing the March Violet's Snake Dance which is virtually the Sisters of Mercy song Temple of Love with extra guitar and female back-up. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry? Never considered them to be Goth but with the deadpan Joy Division drumming I can hear the point. They are certainly dark and negative. They have the Ian Curtis meets Andrew Eldritch vocal delivery. I can hear it as well. The Mission UK who broke off from Sisters of Mercy are also like RLYL and March Violets Goth-esque sounds. These bands are more a more danceable sound while being dark. There was too much guitar to be pure goth. Wasteland by Mission UK is too dancey, radio friendly and seems thin and new wave.

Is the Birthday Party Goth? What about Specimen's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I don't know if that is the label they put on themselves. Nick Cave is dark but the Birthday Party has more to do with noise and free Jazz than "goth. Dali's Car is Peter Murphy and Mick Karn of the band Japan doing one of the best of the songs, His Box. Is it Goth? I thought Dali's Car was to go away from goth. Once the audience gloms on, I guess, you are goth till your true death.

CD 2 confounds chronology by starting with Nick Cave's Weeping Song. Cave is goth by proxy.  Cave chose his own way and the crowd piled on. Next is The Creatures, Exterminating Angel,  from the spin off of Budgie and and Siouxie Sioux which is  much earlier in history track than Cave's. Heavy on percussion electronic rythym and Siouxsie it is true dark and goth. There can be little debate. She is goth-head.

Moments on CD 2  twist my concept of what is Goth. Gene Loves Jezebel? Flesh for Lulu? The Death Cult (formerly The Southern Death Cult)? Rose for Avalanche? Flesh for Lulu was a band that I never knew how they got anywhere and never considered them a goth band beyond a name that references cannibalism.  Most of these songs are goth-ish cousins far enough down the family tree to breed successfully.

Confounded further and trying to gain some foothold on the goth labeling is the introduction of Dance Society,  Clan of Xyomx and Jesus and Mary Chain. This  is the nexus where "shoe-gaze" becomes a frond mutating from goth. Echo and the Bunnymen's All My Colours is a song from a band that has wrestled with three labelings; goth, shoe-gaze and international pop band. From a style stand point, they are goth. All My Colours shows those roots. The song is  Bauhuas, Dead Can Dance and The Creatures mixing with the most goth part of Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian McCulloch's voice and delivery. He is always lost, hopeful yearning but knows what to expect from life.

The Chameleons? I saw the band and they were clad in flannel and jeans. The audience didn't seem goth?  Don't Fall's  lyrics are dark. The bands lyrics ode life's strifes yet I never associated them with goth. In Don't Fall I hear more Husker Du than goth. Did they set out aspiring  to be part of the goth style? I thought they were a rock band that was screaming, spitting mad at what we have done to paradise. It has the spirit but not the will of goth.

Daniel Ash and Peter Murphy put the Bauhaus mark on CD 2. Ash's Coming Down Fast is similar to Tones on Tail. There is a Eddie Cochran type rockin' similar Tones on Tail  with its feet in pop and R+B. Murphy's song Cut You Up shows how chronology  is not really the point of the box but to mix similar sounds and influences. Cuts You Up is so familiar, bordering on commercial, it show how far goth could rise while reflecting how low it went. The song does have hooks and Murphy's vocal's are at their finest.

The Lords of the New Church's Open Your Eyes is an earlier commercial hit than Cuts You Up and shouldn't even be on the comp. It devalues Murphy's more commercial solo track. I would just as soon have Eyes Without a Face by Billy Idol. This song is a bunch of washed up punk artists on their last leg and not the punk super group that they were billed as. The vocals have the sound of a drugged out past prime punker trying to stand and make it through the song. A concoction of A+R guys. That is not goth.

The ending tracks of CD two are band that leave no doubt that they are goth. The bands X-Mal Deutschland, Cranes, Miranda Sex Garden, Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance are staple goth bands. Cranes and Miranda had the look and sound of Goth. Cranes innocence gone bad, broken vocal delivery of singer Alison Shaw mixing with stark, throbbing, punching guitar and drums, it is true goth.

Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twin's confront the problem of being goth by association. The Cocteau Twin's Elizabeth Fraser's own words in the booklet show that they were never conscious of any kind of musical style. Fraser wonders in her pull quote if the song Blood Bitch was included in the box only because of the title. She conveys a feeling of being chained to a style that has been pinned upon the Cocteau Twins music. Dead Can Dance was not a band that sought to be goth. Their music ft into the goth trappings with its dark, lush, cathedral filing sounds that had more to do with medieval times than their own era. Dead Can Dance became a goth staple, like it, sought it, or not.

CD 3 begins with another song by the third named incarnation of The Cult (formerly The Death Cult and The Southern Death Cult) and are more of a rock band owning to Jim Morrison than goth and lending to Joy Division or Bauhaus. Their name is goth. The Bolshoi and Rubicon (containing members of Fields of the Nephilim) follow the cult and have similar guitar sounds vocal sounds. Part New Romantic, part Guns and Roses, part goth. I find it hard to grasp on to the goth label. They sound more Bullock Brothers rock to me. Why aren't they in this box?

There are other anomalies on CD 3. The Virgin Prunes, Einsturzende Neubuaten, Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy. They were adopted by the goth crowd but were they goth? The Virgin Prunes, with Dik Evans (aka Gavin Friday and brother of U2's The Edge) were a noisy and discordant band of dissonant energy. Neubauten clanged an banged dark music from power tools,  oil drums, metal stripping tools creating the industrial movement. Likewise for Skinny Puppy. With their dark lyrics and angry layers of found and electronic sounds which fit in the goth mindset but I  always assumed they were industrial. Throbbing Gristle was an eerie experimental group that gave the music world Genesis P. Orridge (the copfounder of Phsychic TV), Chris and Cozy Fantutti and Peter Christopherson of Psychic TV and later, Coil. Coil employed Gavin Friday and Foetus founder J.G. Thirlwell of industria/aggro musical fame. This grouping shows how discordant, angry and eerie experimentations which, although not intentionally goth, got adopted by the goths and hows how goth music's  darkness carved a path for industrial breed and to exist.

The Damned and Killing Joke are bands I never considered to be goth. The Damned were a punk band and Killing Joke was post punk. The doom and gloom in the name and the lyrics may have allowed these bands to be in the goth family but I am not convinced that they are goth. London After Midnight and Ministry are new romantic with extra layers of dark keyboards yet don't seem goth to me.

Christian Death (one of the most negative bands of all time), 45 Grave, The Misfits are more recognized as goth and novelty. Chritian Death was the truest of the goth in name, style and following. 45 Grave and The Misfits were American horror punk of graveyards. 45 Grave exploited their love of graves and darkness olny heightened by hair and fashion. The Misfits were the punk celelbratin of Halloween which is the title of there song on CD 3.

Sex Gang Children is a band that got its name from Boy George's Culture Club. It was the groups original name. Once they dropped it the name was scooped. With Kommunity FK and Sex Gang you get two of the better tracks in the most disjointed CD in the set. There is little to hold onto and challenges the concept of what is goth.

It is hard to pinpoint goth as a real musical style. Instead it is apparent that goth is an adoption. The goth crowd determines what is goth. Wether the music is considered industrial/aggro, experimental, New Wave, punk/post-punk or medieval, if the goth folks adopt it as an enhancement to their dark attitude cloaked in  beauty and pain then it is dubbed, goth. It is about a style council deciding if the music fits in their notion of acceptability and their credo.

Goth is a crowd. Goth is style and fashion. Like all cults of style, fashion and fantasy it has a council mentality that designates its accepted members. Goth is a club that you do not set out to part of but are accepted into, like it or not. Once that label is pasted on the  music. it sticks. What you are left with is  the sensitive and dark listener expecting you to please them. It makes for a complex task to grow creatively and not alienate your fan base. Must you make a pact to the darkness and your soul must be forever dark?

If your music is dark, if the lyrics are dark, if the band has the right hair and the right clothes they will be accepted as goth. If the band has a beauty that is frail and tragic. If the sound is religious, the name adopts religion or lyrically questions religion, it is goth. If tthere is a horror, silly or intense, if there is references to death, graves, and tragedy it is goth. But what really makes a group goth is if a group of fashion and style conscious listeners  decides that you. You must get an invite to feast with them. It  has little to do with the artist intentions. For some, goth is an angle or selling tool. For some, goth is a label and uniform that has been put on them and they will be cloaked with and may never be able to shed. Like vampires, forced to walk the earth as the undead.

---James F Kraus, October 14, 2006