Crime & The City Solution – An Introduction To… A History of Crime: Berlin 1987-1991

Crime & The City Solution – An Introduction To… A History of Crime: Berlin 1987-1991

The Crime & The City Solution catalogue has long been an unwieldy body of work which even erstwhile long-serving member Mick Harvey (also of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds) acknowledged in a 2005 interview with this writer.  Although badly in need of anthologizing, Harvey mused that a retrospective compilation of the nomadic band, founded by Australian Simon Bonney, had been scuppered because Mute “couldn’t get some of the main members to actually talk to each other.”  Fast forward over half a decade and some members of the group are finally talking enough to return to Crime – albeit without Harvey sadly – for a new album to be released in 2013.  Moreover, an abridged ‘story so far’ compendium has finally been issued as part of Mute’s ongoing artist-compiled An Introduction To… series.

Let’s get the major gripes with this collection out of the way first.  Whilst vocalist/songwriter Simon Bonney and his returning colleagues have purposefully declared a focus on the 1987-1991 Berlin-era line-up of Crime, it does do the band’s history a noticeable disservice.  By excluding extracts from 1985’s Just South Of Heaven mini-album and 1986’s Room Of Lights full-length debut, as well as from contemporaneous EPs, the visceral London-based configuration that included innovative guitarist Rowland S. Howard (The Birthday Party and These Immortal Souls) and dextrous drummer Epic Soundtracks (Swell Maps and These Immortal Souls), is cruelly unrepresented.  It feels wrong – and indubitably disrespectful to these recently deceased former members – to not at least have the searing “Six Bells Chime” (once iconically performed in Wim Wenders’s 1987 film Wings Of Desire) or something from The Kentucky Click/Adventure EP (a tour de force presentation for Howard’s mesmeric dark six-string mood sculpting).  But as we know, some artists are often bad judges of their own material; lest we forget Neil Young’s rankling exclusions from his Decade anthology as a prime example.  Ultimately of course, we should primarily judge A History Of Crime on its actual contents, not what’s been left aside.

Indeed, the incarnation of Crime that produced the three albums represented here – namely 1988’s Shine, 1989’s The Bride Ship and 1990’s Paradise Discotheque – did deliver a distinctive impressive canon ripe for reappraisal.  With only the afore-quoted Harvey brought over from the London years, Bonney fashioned a more epic cinematic vision with the addition of guitarist Alex Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten), keyboard-player Chrislo Haas (DAF/Liaisons Dangereuses), violinist Bronwyn Adams and bassist Thomas Stern.  Via this roll-call shift, Bonney led Crime further into non-rock terrain that worked in parallel to but also deliberately apart from peers like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Triffids and These Immortal Souls.

It’s almost undisputable that the best of the chronologically-sequenced material is sat at either end of the collection, with a somewhat stodgy middle to trickily negotiate.  Cuts from Shine carry-over some of the soundscapes of the preceding excluded wares but also bring a more fluid and more open approach.  Hence, the cavernous unfurling “All Must Be Love” is a terrific scene-setter for this round-up, with Bonney’s deep booming tones sailing on steadily swelling studio-layered tides.  Other Shine pieces like the churning chugging “Hunter” and the uplifting electro-acoustic glide of “On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain)” bring a greater rhythmical flow and reveal gelling group democracy.  Within the eerie keyboard-led environs of “Home Is Far From Here” (the final track plucked from Shine) a filmic ambience is conjured carefully through Bonney shrewdly submerging his sometimes intimidating pipes amongst the band’s rich sonic tapestries.  After the Shine remembrances comes a weighty cargo from The Bride Ship.  Whilst the rolling “Keepsake” retains the sense of movement from Shine, the remaining recordings from the LP (“The Bride Ship” itself, “The Free World” and “New World”) veer far too close to sluggish gothic portentousness with some of Bonney’s most tiring vocal excesses and somewhat dated ‘80s gloomscapes.

The compilation is turned-around for the better with seven of the nine songs from the onetime studio album swansong, Paradise Discotheque – arguably Crime’s finest and most digestible LP to date.  Whilst it’s a shame that the sublime slinky jazzy prowl of “The Sly Persuaders” has been left out of the mix, its sibling songs have grown even stronger with age and crisper remastering.  Thus we’re treated to the country-like shuffle of “I Have The Gun,” the throbbing shimmering prowl of “The Dolphins And The Sharks,” the tropical atmospherics of “The Sun Before The Darkness” and the ambitious multi-suited “Last Dictator” (split into four connected songs).  On the Paradise Discotheque cuts the role of Harvey as a multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist is even more noticeable than elsewhere, suggesting that musically the album was very much under his direction.

The success of Harvey’s directing role is reinforced with the inclusion of the band’s final pre-reformation studio recording, from Wim Wenders’s Until The End Of The World film soundtrack.  A mysterious mesmerising duet between Harvey and Bonney, “The Adversary” is arguably Crime’s finest five or so minutes, full of low-key yet intricate instrumental interlacing and hushed meshed-together vocals.  The track documents a band ending on both a creative peak and with a sense of unfinished business.  Which does make the imminent reunion tour and next year’s American Twilight long-player tantalising prospects; as long as Harvey’s now vacant catalytic role is sufficiently covered by new members such as David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower/Wovenhand) and Jim White (Dirty Three).  Until then though, this truncated history of Crime & The City Solution is a flawed but still impressive primer that might help pave the way for an also much-needed upgrade of the band’s full discography.

Mute

Crime and the City Solution – On Every Train from crimeandthecitysolution on Vimeo.