Unashamedly funky, unashamedly 80s, Shriekback finally approached something resembling the mainstream with their 1985 effort, Oil and Gold. Boasting former XTC keyboard player Barry Andrews, as well as ex-Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen, Shriekback lurch from dancefloor freakout to menacing synth-laden chillouts with ease, even managing to survive lead singer Carl Marsh’s exit halfway through recording.
One of their earlier hits was titled My Spine (Is The Bassline) and it’s clear that the bass is the instrument of choice here, with the snarling opener Malaria propelled by a funky riff and female backing vocals that get more and more hysterical as the song progresses. The next track, Everything That Rises Must Converge, borrows its title from a short story by Flannery O’Connor, and is perhaps the only track on the album that is relentlessly upbeat. “She said “one day soon, you and I will merge”/Everything that rises must converge” Allen sings, apparently advocating the spiritual union of two souls, though it could just be about fucking (see Andrews’ ‘hilarious’ My Weapon from XTC’s Go 2 album).
First-time listeners might be forgiven at this point for thinking that Oil and Gold is a bodacious funk-fest, but Shriekback get all atmospheric on us with This Big Hush, which obscure horror fans (that’s a website waiting to happen) will be fascinated to hear appeared in the film Manhunter. Without the weird, hushed vocals it could even pass for Avalon-era Roxy Music. At 6 minutes it drags a bit, but it’s still a decent tune. Faded Flowers is typical 80s, drenched in synths, but with a strangely chirpy tapping sound in the background – I’m sure Peter Gabriel fans will get a kick out of it, but it does nothing for me.
Luckily Nemesis comes along to save the day, with its eminently danceable chorus and inclusion of the word ‘parthenogenesis.’ It’s kind of how I expect Talking Heads would sound if they were fronted by Marilyn Manson, and also shows that the decision to add drums to the Shriekback sound was justified. With Hammerheads, Andrews even manages to outsnarl Marsh, and though I’m not sure what a Hammerhead is (some kind of Dalek?) I sure wouldn’t like to meet one in a dark alley. Spiky, funky and brooding in equal measure, the world needs more bands like Shriekback.