The artistic ethics debate about bands reforming long after their demise is one that will rage on for forever and a day (long after the likes of Oasis have eventually done umpteenth reunion tours to fleece creaky Britpop fans with Northern Uproar as a support act). It seems that even with past members slipping off this mortal coil not many bands can remain separated forever. Yet few might have been expecting Crime & The City Solution to reappear. Despite delivering a strong but unwieldy body of work between the late-‘70s and early-‘90s (partially anthologised on last year’s A History Of Crime: Berlin 1987-1991 compilation), to many the group – led by Australian Simon Bonney – may always be seen as more grizzly gothic also-rans alongside onetime peers Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. However, to those that have studied the group more closely there has always been far more to Crime & City Solution than might have met the ear. Moreover, there has arguably been a strong sense of unfinished business with onetime 1990 swansong Paradise Discotheque capturing the band on a creative high. Hence, the release of this all new Crime album has sparked more interest than most reunion sets have the right to.
For the newly-cut American Twilight, Bonney is joined by returning ‘Berlin-era’ members Bronwyn Adams and Alexander Hacke as well as new recruits David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower/Wovenhand), Jim White (Dirty Three), Matthew Smith and Troy Gregory. Whilst the absence of multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey (also a long-serving erstwhile member of The Bad Seeds) is certainly notable, the new line-up is surprisingly galvanised and muscular – if less subtle – without his arrangement skills. Bonney appears like an artist renewed in purpose with a surprising new swagger. Those expecting a straightforward extension of Paradise Discotheque might be taken aback by what – initially at least – feels like the band’s most rock-slanted album to date.
Certainly there are echoes of old Crime in the opening trio of tracks (perhaps akin to some of the most fluid and boisterous cuts from 1989’s Shine LP) but there is also much that feels significantly different. Thus, the prowling fast-paced “Goddess” with its hefty layers of guitars leading the way, the soaring yet jagged Mariachi-flavoured “My Love Takes Me There” and the funk-rocking “River Man,” all explore far more American-sounding aesthetics than ever before. Whilst this opening salvo may lack the sophistication and intelligence that some might have expected of Crime it’s hard to not be stirred by the new found gusto.
For die-hard fans that might find the album’s inaugural pieces a little too heavy-handed, the record hits a more elegant tone with the arrival of the epic “Domina,” a gorgeous widescreen gospel-centred ballad. The subsequent and equally lengthy “The Colonel (Doesn’t Call Anymore)” continues the more atmospheric approach, with eerie guitars recalling the band’s years with Rowland S. Howard in the ranks and Bonney in doomy desperate preacher mode. Another few about-turns occur over the three remaining songs, with “Beyond Good And Evil” unfurling as an elegiac slow-country number with balmy backing vocals, the stormy title-track kicking-up a giant dirty boogie groove with a choral coda and the closing “Streets Of West Memphis” retreating into graceful pedal steel and violin-framed world-weariness that builds up to a rousing conclusion.
Overall, American Twilight is a somewhat dizziness-inducing experience. It picks you up and down so many times that it’s hard to properly assess its true qualities. Nevertheless, through the blur there appears to be a comeback record far better than anyone might have expected after a more than twenty year break. A little less density and a higher level of self-restraint might have made for a more balanced collection admittedly but the irrepressible refreshed conviction is still impressive.