What I Need To Get Off My Chest: The Sisters Of Mercy - First And Last And Always

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26 Feb 2012, 12:44


I was fourteen when I discovered new wave music in general. I'd been into metal and hardrock music for a couple of years, and my interest widened to other types of music that went against the grain of what was in the pop charts at the time. This was back in 1989.
The Sisters of Mercy were all over the place. I had a little network of record stores, t-shirt vendors, wave parties and concert venues where I went to discover new underground music and saw images of the Sisters' artwork and logo everywhere. The first album I actually bought and owned was 1987's Floodland.
The one I'm writing about here, however, is First and Last and Always (1985), which remains a definitive and lasting piece of work, as far as I'm concerned. It's a magnificently bleak and dark affair, yet possessing of a primal drive and clear sense of purpose that makes it compelling and alluring.
I love how the songs are short, sharp and to-the-point. There's no space for excess, flab or filler. Each track has a clear trajectory from beginning to end, which creates a tension and urgency that is maintained throughout the entire length of the album.
Musically, it has a lot going for it, too. On the murky surface of things, the stark and minimal rhythmical arrangements create a suitable backdrop for Andrew Eldritch, with his instantly recognizable deep and desperate vocal delivery, to articulate his blackly obsessive lyrical preoccupations. Look further and there's even more to unearth. Guitarists Wayne Hussey and Gary Marx fully flesh out the overall sound and add some colour and texture to the overall gloom and doom of the whole affair. Just listen to the subtle embellishments they contribute to each song as the thunderous basslines and drum patterns plow ahead in the foreground. The use of acoustic twelve-string guitars and mandolin is especially effective in counterbalancing Eldritch’s feverish and ponderous vocals, resulting in a mix of individual influences and styles that far exceeds the sum of its parts.
Call their music goth-rock and you would have been shot down by the band at the time, who loathed the use of this common denominator for a clutch of contemporary, emerging rock acts, such as The Cult and Fields of the Nephilim, or not much later, following his departure from the Sisters, Hussey’s own The Mission. How to pigeonhole this unique sound, then?
Whatever the case, First And Last And Always stands as a lasting testament to the potential of the underground and independent rock music of that particular time, as the 80’s were slowling drawing to a close and the commercial and artistic reign of new wave was ending.
In closing, I could mention a couple of album highlights, were it not that, in my opinion, each track merits being defined as such. So I won’t go down that path. The album as a whole is a (black) planet unto its own, which deserves to be approached and appreciated in its entirety.

Essential listening.

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