Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Killing Joke

Following the acrimonious and very public dissolution of the Sex Pistols, John Lydon claimed that his new project, Public Image Ltd, would reject the notions of punk, instead replacing them with the bass-heavy throb of dub, frantic polyrhythms, and unstable frenetic guitars; in short, Public Image Ltd were going to deal in little short of anti-music. Unfortunately, no matter how good the rhetoric behind PiL, their first album still sounds that bit unfocussed and disappointing.

“This morning, shortly after eleven o’clock, comedy struck this little house in Dibley Road. Sudden, violent, comedy. Police have sealed off the area, and Scotland Yard’s crack inspector is with me now.”

Which is where Killing Joke come in. Formed by singer and keyboardist Jaz Coleman and drummer Paul Ferguson in early 1978, eventually filling the line up with Geordie and Youth (no real names around here), on guitar and bass respectively, Killing Joke sonically sat that much closer to Lydon’s concept of the death-disco, brutal beats pregnant with ominous pulsating keyboards and a snarling desperate vocal that carried lyrics that painted a grim view of the present and an even darker prediction of the future.

“I shall be aided by the sound of sombre music, played on gramophone records and also by the chanting of laments by the men of Q division. The atmosphere thus created should protect me in the eventuality of me reading the joke.”

Originally released in 1979 and 1981, Killing Joke’s self-produced first albums – the eponymous debut and the sophomore ‘What’s This For…!’ – laid out their uncompromising blueprint for all to see and hear. Often credited with being one of the instigators behind the nascent Goth scene of the early ‘80s, Killing Joke transcended the movement before it began, becoming ever more vicious and punishing while their black-clad peers slid towards humourless self-parody.

In fact, ‘What’s This For…!’ saw Killing Joke refining the post-punk elements of their sound. ‘The Fall Of Because’ is the aural embodiment of PiL’s ‘Metal Box’, ‘Tension’ is the bleakly claustrophobic cousin of the Knack’s ‘My Sharona’, the effervescence joy of the latter supplanted with paranoid sense of alienation and despair, while ‘Follow The Leaders’ sounds like nothing less than a dub version of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’.

“It was not long before the army became interested in the military potential of the killing joke. Under top security, the joke was hurried to a meeting of allied commanders at the ministry of war.”

Not being a band to mess with a winning formula, 1982’s ‘Revelations’ takes up where ‘What’s This For…!’ leaves off, but benefits from a much cleaner, and therefore more readily accessible, sound courtesy of producer Connie Plank. Although it’s essentially business as usual, much of ‘Revelations’ hints at a new found urgency and a desire to heard, a feeling in part created by the simple fact that the vocals were just that much clearer in the mix.

“In 1945, peace broke out. It was the end of the joke. Joke warfare was banned at a special session of the Geneva Convention, and in 1950 the last remaining joke was laid to rest here in the Berkshire countryside, never to be told again.”

Around the time of ‘Revelations’, relationships in the band started to go awry, prompting Youth to abscond, leaving the way clear for Paul Raven to take his place. ‘Ha!’ – Killing Joke’s fourth album – was recorded shortly after, pieced together from live recordings taken from a number of shows in Canada. From here on in, infamy beckoned, but it was during this period in their early days that Killing Joke most mattered.

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