You probably haven’t heard of this album. If you haven’t and you like your rock music full of reverb, delay, genius psychedelic guitar playing, sweet female vocals and far-out atmospheres, then prepare to have mind blown. I’ve been listening to this album for 20 years and in my opinion it’s a real classic. And I mean, I have literally thousands of albums, and this is in the top 100, if not top 50.
All About Eve was a band that came out of the neo-psychedelic/Goth scene in the UK, and I’m talking bands like the Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim, etc. The difference between this classic-rock loving bunch and the rest was the presence of female vocalist and songwriter Julianne Regan, possessed of a wonderfully pure voice that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a British electric folk combo in 1971. Many readers will remember their acoustic favourite, “Martha’s Harbour”. The first two AAE albums are quite nice, but maybe sound a touch dated now with their melodrama and classic rock motifs. Not to knock the band’s first guitarist, Tim Bricheno, who is a fine player, but the band really took off artistically when Marty Willson-Piper joined. Willson-Piper is best known as one half of The Church’s guitar duo, and he brought his trademark Rickenbacker noise sweetness to AAE. Ironically, the band’s fortunes started to decline around that time, but then we know often the better a band gets, the less people pay attention. Such is art.
The first album with Willson-Piper, Touched by Jesus, sits stylistically in between the early Goth stylings and the sudden change in direction that Ultraviolet represents. It’s actually another of my favourites, so I’ll save it for a rainy day for a post. It features guest appearances by David Gilmour and an incredibly melodic batch of songs, but still retains some shades of that early melodrama.
Now, Ultraviolet is a different kettle of fish. Evidently the band members had been enjoying the early days of shoegaze, meaning of course My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, so they decided to take their own stab at this new sound. Frankly, they couldn’t have had a better axeman than Willson-Piper for the job, since The Church had already been successfully ploughing the hazy psych rock furrow for quite some time. Upon its release, this album was very divisive amongst the band’s fans (thus demonstrating once more that fans are usually not very open-minded) and I’m not sure it was even very well reviewed.
Well, anyone who didn’t “get” this album is sooooo beyond full of it, for AAE has accomplished something very rare here: they pushed a genre forward. Shoegaze bands spent so much time gazing at their shoes and making walls of sound that they very often forgot the basic principle of rock music, which is great songwriting. Regan and the gang here present a memorable suite of sweet songs with the vocals up front, albeit drenched in the kind of reverb associated with the shoegaze genre. The fusion of the band’s previous neo-hippie trappings with an aggressively out-there dedication to exploring haze and murk led to extraordinary results.
Opener “Phased” bravely declares the manifesto from the first moment, opening with a keyboard sound that rings out like a moon beacon as Willson-Piper introduces his first ominous tremolo notes. The drums kick in like thunder before Regan starts to sing. And yes, this is different. She sounds as seductive as a siren calling from the depths. Things get kicked up a notch further in the chorus as the axeman pounds out a repetitive three-chord barrage of psychedelic madness. Fine, yes, you can see I like this a lot.
Some lightness is introduced in track 2, “Yesterday Goodbye”, a sweet psych-pop song, but again driven by Willson-Piper’s aggressive effects-drenched Rickenbacker. It’s massive.
The Pink Floydian “Mine” (think early Gilmour Floyd) is followed by the erotic ballad “Freeze”, and though I’m somewhat monastic in my tastes, even I get a little hot under the collar as Regan describes her tongue “dripping and curling”. Ohhh, ahh. Willson-Piper really works the whammy bar on this one.
On track 6, “Infrared”, things get heavily psychedelic again with some “Echoes”-esque piano and an outro deliberately recalling “Astronomy Domine” as MWP wrenches sounds out of his wailing guitar.
OK, well, it proceeds as such until the album closer and the money shot, the eight-and-a-half-minute “Outshine the Sun”, in which AAE truly provides the missing link between the best of progressive rock and the new era of shoegaze. Regan presents an overblown but unpretentious set of lyrics questioning the very nature of the future of the human condition as the band thunders ominously underneath her angelic voice from beyond. It’s all very nice, but you’re not expecting what happens from 5:00 on. Hereon, Willson-Piper cuts loose as he never has before (and may not have since) in one of the most creative and powerful guitar solos I’ve ever heard, strangling the neck of his guitar to wrench every last piece of drama out of the piece. It gets so huge that you really can achieve a state of ecstasy letting this wash over you. If you listen and disagree, man, what the hell are you listening to this kind of music for?
Phew. This album is good. It’s GREAT. Get yourself a copy any way you can. I don’t think it’s in print, which is a goddamn travesty.