A New Tale to Tell

Love and Rockets has achieved an almost unheard-of feat with its new album Sweet F.A.: The three-man band has created a near-perfect alternative makeout record. Sweet F.A. boasts sensual, shimmery soundscapes punctuated by twangy, languid guitar lines and ultra-sultry rhythms. Listening to the hourlong set is like taking a swim in a warm sea on a moonlit night; its musical currents caress your legs and torso and head, while its words engulf the listener in matters of love, lust, and need.

Over the past seventeen years, Love and Rockets -- guitarist/vocalist Daniel Ash, bassist/vocalist David J, and drummer Kevin Haskins (David J's brother) -- has undergone numerous musical transformations, moving from the striking, Gothic dirges of Bauhaus (the British band from which L&R evolved) to the pumping, conventional hard rock of 1989's self-titled album (which boasted the primal megahit "So Alive") to the moody, glimmering Sweet F.A. And while the new album certainly marks yet another musical departure for the band, perhaps just as important it finds Love and Rockets at a career crossroads, testing its relevance with the Nineties record-buying public.

"We don't know if we have a future at this moment, because the album isn't doing that great," Daniel Ash confesses in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Toronto. "It's nothing like it was in '89; we have to climb up that hill again. We don't know if we're going to be considered something that was happening in the Eighties and have had our day or not. It's not a case of proving ourselves, really, but of surviving and carrying on, because you have to sell X amount of records to have a deal, to be a viable product. And there's also the way you are perceived by the audience: There's the possibility we are perceived as something that happened in the Eighties and are no longer relevant."

Although sales for Sweet F.A., which hit stores two months ago, have been slow so far, Ash notes that the band has enjoyed excellent attendance at shows during the current leg of its U.S. club tour, which began in Pensacola on May 11 and wraps up on June 23 in Salt Lake City. This tromp follows a 28-gig, four-week tour in April, during which almost all dates were sold out. Additionally the band played two sold-out shows last month in Mexico City, where Love and Rockets are considered legends among the denizens of that city's thriving Goth-music scene. The band is also looking forward to playing a number of festivals in the U.S., Canada, and Japan over the summer.

Sweet F.A. represents a departure for Love and Rockets in that the group stripped down everything musically. "We went right back to bass, drums, and guitar," Ash explains, "and for us that was really refreshing, going in and recording everything, sometimes even the vocals, in one take. It's probably our most honest record.

"If anything, the songs on this album are more simplistic. The lyrics are much simpler, as direct as possible. In the past we've done a lot of philosophizing, but on this one the subject matter is mainly about lust and love. Some of the other records have been more spiritual, more religious, whereas this one is more in-your-face, more of a direct rock and roll album, with sex as a core that follows through. I've always been a big lover of Fifties rock and roll and the simplicity of the lyrics at that time. We tried to do that with this record, and whether that's going to connect or not, we don't know."

The disc opens with the title track, a delicate, acoustic meditation on the significance of an individual life, then gives way to the dark guitar blasts and bleak strummings of "Judgement Day," which looks at materialism and spiritual loss. "Use Me" is a spare, moody number reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, while "Fever" and "Sweet Lover Hangover" (the first single) are finger-snapping numbers with snaky guitar lines. The shimmery love ballad "Pearl" borrows its cool, choral vocals from the Church, while "Natacha" is a psychedelic, Beatlesesque dirge. A distinctive Southwestern twang runs through "Sad and Beautiful World," and "Shelf Life," while the techno-industrial "Here Comes the Comedown" and the dissonant, Gothic "Spiked" close the disc with a burst of intense energy. Throughout, Ash's sultry whisperings and languid wailings convey sexy images that rise out of thumping dance rhythms, coiling electric guitars, and lush acoustic strummings.

While the music may move from folkie pop to dance-y grooves to postindustrial grind, it still retains the influential Goth flourishes that Ash and David J virtually invented as members of Bauhaus (Ash, J, Haskins, and vocalist Peter Murphy), which recorded four full-length studio albums between 1979 and 1983. Shortly after Bauhaus dissolved, Ash and Haskins formed the artsy Tones on Tail with former Bauhaus roadie Glenn Campling on bass, releasing three albums (Pop, Night Music, Tones on Tail), while J put in a stint with English pop eccentrics the Jazz Butcher and pursued a solo career. Before long the three musicians reunited to form Love and Rockets, releasing the diverse, melodic Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven in 1985. That was followed by the atmospheric Express (it featured their dance-hit remake of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion") in '86, and '87's dance-y, acoustic-based Earth Sun Moon, which included a remake of Jethro Tull's "No New Tale to Tell." The three albums were well-received and spawned a sizable cult following.

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Georgina Cardenas