After a series of increasingly intense and haunting albums that explored deeper and deeper realms of emotional torment, outre singer Diamanda Galas released “The Singer” a relatively restrained collection of piano and vocal covers that showed her debt to blues, jazz, standards and other roots oriented music. It was perhaps her most easily listenable album she had released up to that point and although it received some confused reviews (this was before she had established the cover routine as part of her repertoire) it can be seen as somewhat “lighter” style which may have helped lead her to the nearly accessible John Paul Jones collaboration “This Sporting Life.”
This Sporting Life…needs organizing…
Such a collaboration may seem incredibly bizarre on first glance: the First Woman of Avant Guard Shrieks collaborating with John Paul Jones, bassist of a DEDLY DUM heavy metal group with blues under pinning? A disaster.
…living on a knife’s edge…
However, it actually makes sense once one realizes that Jones is a restless musical soul who has done more for good music than Jimmy Page ever did once he left the over rated bloat monster of Zeppelin. Sorry, I can’t rate “The Firm” or the “Death Wish II” soundtrack as anything more than the tattered idiocy of a former junkie who wasted all his talent at a young age, chasing 13 year old girls while on tour.
And please say ANYTHING of his pathetic collaborations with Plant (no quarter given to pleading, poorly thought out nostalgic cash grabs) or his praising Puff Daddy ever for any reason at all.
This Sporting Life’s forever changing…
Enough Zep bashing though: it’s boring and designed to shock. I do have a lot of respect for certain aspects of Zeppelin but Jones has long been my favorite member as he seemed more prone to…change and experiment. His solo album “Zooma” sounds a lot like prime Primus while he produced such great works as “Independent Worm Saloon” by the Butthole Sufers.
Plus he’s a king of bass I always forget about because I never, ever listen to Zed Leppelin.
Are you bored? Are you jaded?
Easy questions with obvious answers: what does this album sound like? Well, the first track “Skotoseme” sets the mood immediately: Diamanda chants underneath a light drone and then Jones comes in playing his dunderheaded metal bass line while Pete Thomas of the Attractions bashes out “Better than Bonham” drums. Galas shrieks over top, babbles, raves and screams in her best tradition.
It sounds a little goofy sometimes but I feel that’s the effect: Galas showcasing her wonderful sense of humor…wonderful in the sense that it’s darker than the darkest gallows humor. You know, the kind of jokes that make staring at the dead body of your once beloved swinging from a gallows pole while you’re being buried alive seem light hearted in comparison.
As light hearted as the album cover which has Galas splayed across the front of a car driven by Jones with a crazed expression on her face and a knife in her hand as if she was moments away from either murdering Jones, holding him up for cash or demanding crazy, crazy sex.
Is it hot? You bet but a special kind of hot that perhaps reflects more about me than the album cover.
Has all enthusiasm faded?…
Not yet but that’s because I like this album. Not a LOT a lot as it’s not really too emotionally moving like Galas’ best work but it’s simply a gas. That’s right, a gas. Even in song’s like “This Sporting Life” which sounds like a gang of mad woman plotting somebodies rap and murder (if contemporary interviews are to be believed, it’s Snoop Dogg) of some dude.
Then “Baby’s Insane” comes on and you know Galas is having a laugh: it’s much too over the top to be serious. In fact, when performing this song, she’d always tell a story about how some critic slammed her for the song at which point she climaxes the story with “he’s trying to ruin my fun.”
Are you one of those people?
And then “Hex” comes on and you really feel like THIS is the moment the whole album’s been building up to (appropriate as it’s the last song) as it really combines the furious rock and roll drive of Jones and Thomas into an enchanting groove while Galas puts on her best performance yet: chanting, shrieking, improvising and building, building, building to a climax that puts much of the rest of the album to shame.
This is the bad Samaritan…
One should take a minute to appreciate the diversity of this album: Galas sometimes hitches a ride on a metal monster bass riff groove and sometimes babbles and babbles on top of each other in songs like “Do You Take This Man” that feel like streamlined version of past hits. Sometimes she seems to nearly croon only to remind listeners of the fact that she is perhaps the finest and most daring vocalist of her generation.
Make sure there’s a crowd below…give a little when you go…
One last thought: this is as close to a pop album as Galas ever produced. Of course, it’s as pop as water but it features a focus on simpler song structures, actual melodies and diversity in a way she never really approached throughout her career.
This makes it a good album with which to introduce her to your friends but it lacks the emotional punch of her best work. It’s fun and has great musical ideas but never stuns or surprises you.
Perhaps the best way to approach the album is the way Galas and Jones obviously are on the back cover: driving a convertible care free through the streets of a big city, roof down, laughing your ass off and blasting the strange noises to annoy the city folk.
Songs to YouTube
“Skotoseme” will tell you all you need to know but find the live version on David Letterman or Jay Leno or whatever show it’s on. It’s surreal seeing her there.
Tomorrow we’ll look at something as equally avant-guard and accessible. Stay tuned!
Now, to break up the monotony of reviews on either a) classic 60’s pop bands or b) classic 80’s-00’s era pop bands I will review one of the most avant guard performers to ever get a deal with a reasonably big record label and who pushed the boundaries with her vocal and instrumental intensity.
I am, of course, taking about Amy Grant.
Wait! No. I’m talking about Diamanda Galas. Does the name not ring a bell? That’s okay: her peak period was in the early 80’s to about the mid 90’s and she never hit any sort of commercial success.
That isn’t so say that she wasn’t infamous: former drug addict, prostitute, classically trained pianist who wrote album length mourning pieces to AIDS victims, the insane, beaten down women, marginalized prisoners and more she was also arrested for blasphemy for performing “The Plague Mass” nude from the waist up, shrieking “Sono L’Antichristo!” and being bathed in sheep’s blood in a CHURCH.
However shocking Galas may have been (she once remarked she wanted to “rape Snoop Dogg” in an interview and wrote a (playful and light hearted) song about women ganging up to kill a rapist male) she has always stood out amongst the crowd for her sense of righteous MORALITY not immorality. She cavorts, shrieks and shocks to bludgeon her audience with a stunning sense of right and wrong and of the amorality of the treatment of the victimized.
In other words, there’s always a POINT to her work beyond simple noise making. She’s saying something.
I realize I’ve gone 300 words without mentioning her singing voice. Galas was actually forbidden by her parents to study vocal work in college so she would perform her own unique style when she had the chance.
Basically, Galas has something like a four octave vocal range: she goes for the deep, dark spots when singing the kind of heart wrenching blues that make up her numerous cover albums. But she can also shriek (and I mean shriek) in a high, high soprano tone that should send shivers up and down the spine of even the toughest man.
And her vocalization goes beyond simple singing: she babbles, stretches out her vowels, strains her vibrato to the stretching point, gasps, grunts, mumbles and chants all for the sake of expressing the inner torment that lies not only in the heart of all of her work but within heart own heart.
That’s 408 words without mentioning the album, her debut album called “Litanies of Satan.” This album, released in 1982, was released before the moment that helped focus and define her career for decades: the AIDS related death of her brother, renowned playwright Philip-Dimitri Galas in 1986.
Diamanda and her brother were intensely close and influenced each others work and his death (the painful, dementia suffering wasting away that took early AIDS victims) shocked, troubled and appalled her in that nobody seemed interested in helping; millions of people turned their backs, plugged their ears and sang hymns as thousands and millions died agonizing deaths, murmuring under their breaths that perhaps these victims “deserved” their fates for their sexual deviancies (remember, AIDS was primarily thought of as a ‘homosexual’ problem at the time).
Okay, okay fine: that’s all great to know but what about this album? What is IT’S concept? Well, honestly, it’s basically an adaptation of “Litanies of Satan” by Charles Baudelaire, the celebrated decadent poet and semi-satanist. Naturally, he was Galas favorite poet.
This adaption is a 17 minute (not 12 as indicated on the CD reissue which messes up the titles of the TWO tracks on the album) tone-poem that…well, it truly sounds like the Demons of Hell are crawling out to Kill You.
It starts out with muted, looped Diamanda babble-screams that slowly build in intensity, overlaid with other sounds. Incredibly, she did this type of material live (with multiple microphones linked to various effects, leading to the incredible sight of her clutching three microphones and screeching) but one wonders about this particular track.
As it builds in intensity it eventually stops with a percussive “THUD” as a loud, slow, slow percussive beat begins. Galas begins reciting the poem in a mock demonic tone as if she is, indeed Satan Him (or Her) self.
Then she begins chanting a specific passage (I don’t know French) over and over again as deep, deep, bowel moving, pitch shifted voices layer underneath her basic chants as a synthesizer swirls in the background, low, deep and moaning.
Yes, there are variations throughout the track but this is its basic pitch: hellish, twisted, boiling, turning and sounding like a particularly GREAT horror movie soundtrack (as there are times when it locks into a truly scary groove) that mimics the ideas of the power of chants (Galas spends minutes at a time repeating key phrases) the hair raising power of a true, guttural shriek and the seemingly instinctual revulsion at deep, deep bass tones.
It keeps doing this till the end.
The second track, “Wild Women With Steak-Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)” (seriously) couldn’t possibly live up to that as the looking effects are minimal and its mostly just Diamanda screeching out insane lyrics about wanting “steak! Steak steak steak steak steak” and exploring the furthest possible limits of her voice.
So is this worth hearing? I think so but with some serious reservations. If you’re a religious person this may somewhat offend you (but I think you’d have to be pretty fundamentalist for that to occur) or may even truly terrorize you as a truly satanic work.
It may also give you a headache.
But if you’re looking to get into some of the most “out there” music released in the last 40 years, you could hardly go wrong with ANYTHING by Galas. Later albums bring in more music, more composing and even a weird flirtation with “rock” starring John Paul-Jones that got her onto late night television.
However, her basic sound, approach and singing styles are completely realized on this debut. Listen it with the lights off.
Tracks to YouTube:
Honestly, you can find the whole album on YouTube. Give it a listen. You can even find her performing this LIVE though the quality is shoddy at best.