Coil, "The Ape of Naples"

Saturday, 17 December 2005 21:02 Jon Whitney Reviews - Albums and Singles
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I can't think of any experience in the world more emotionally painful than a parent losing a child.  No matter the circumstances (accident, disease, etc,... ), one experience is common to all survivors: the need to seek some kind of closure, which nothing can bring.  A gaping emotional void remains.  Fans and friends looking for closure with the final studio album from Coil are not going to find it here.
Threshold House

Only recently have I realized how appropriate the name John Balance really was. Geff/John undeniably brought an equal (and extreme) amount of joy and pain all those he touched. He was extreme, and although his death was blamed on his alcoholism, if it wasn't that it would have been the drugs, and if it wasn't that it would have been something else: he was an extreme person who with manifested extremes of personality.

The Ape of Naples is a very painful album: it was conceived in pain, it was recorded in pain, it was completed in pain. Many of its songs date back over a decade to when the working title was Backwards. Peter Christopherson—along with the supporting cast of Thighpaulsandra, Ossian Brown, Cliff Stapleton, Mike Yorke, and others—has pulled together songs from different sessions, recorded at different times and different parts of the world to piece this together. The packaging is lavish but delicate. A glued insert folds out into a poster, containing lyrics and images by Ian Johnstone, but the card stock in which it is conatined is not something to be left in places where it can be damaged easily.

One of the intentions seems to have been not to make something like an Unnatural History (Coil's compilation series of previously issued singles and other non-LP tracks), so everything here is previously unreleased, more or less. The songs chosen, or the versions presented have never been issued. Fans will appreciate finally having the music recorded in that infamous New Orleans session and earmarked for that Trent Reznor-curated imprint of Interscope Records long ago. Six of the 11 songs come from there.

"Fire of the Mind," which was also a working title of this album at one point, opens the record with the rich choral and organ based beauty reminiscent of the Musick to Play in the Dark series. It's accented with the hurdy gurdy playing of Cliff Stapleton, who was a relatively new addition to Coil. (The other new additions to the ensemble are the marimba and vibraphone playing of Tom Edwards and the pipe and duduk playing from Mike York, both of which feature prominently on other tracks.)

The first line is striking for coming from a recently departed man's mouth: "Does Death come alone or with eager reinforcements?" Along with other lines like "I don't expect I'll understand how life just trickled through my hand" on the equally touching "Amber Rain" hint that Balance could have known the end was near for him, however, I think he has always toyed with death and the concept of the end. (See: Horse Rotorvator, whose working title was Funeral Music for Princess Diana, lines like "Most accidents occur at home" in "Sex with Sun Ra," and "the world is in pain, we all must be shown, we must realise that everyone changes and everything dies" on "Blood from the Air").

Balance's most political statement, "A Cold Cell" first appeared on a compilation from The Wire magazine. "I Don't Get It" was a Song of the Week given away on the Brainwashed Coil website, however it was originally named "Spastiche." Both of these songs have been reworked into completely new versions. While the sound on "I Don't Get It" has been expanded with vocals and more sound effects, "A Cold Cell" is more stripped and abbreviated.

"It's In My Blood" was also the title of a song dating back to the infamous Backwards demos, but that song surfaced as "AYOR" on those compilations which first appeared in Russia before being issued through Threshold House. On this album it is an entirely new song, yet Balance's painful wailing remains. Similarly, "Heaven's Blade" here is a completely different song than the song of the same title which appeared on the unfinished demos.

Some might not appreciate how much material has been recycled, despite the fact that everything contained are indeed radically new versions. Songs like "The Last Amethyst Deceiver" and "Teenage Lightning 2005" stick out in particular as they have been issued so much.

"Tattooed Man," "Triple Sun," and "Going Up" are the newest songs, revealed only through live performances over the last few years. The versions here might have been assembled through both archives of live shows and in-studio recordings of the group. The first two being much shorter than the noisier, elongated versions the band did live, while the last is based on the theme for the BBC's Are You Being Served? and features the wonderful soprano falsetto of Francois Testory.

The brevity of the majority of these songs actually do an effective job of conveying the notion of unfinished business, leaving everybody without that sense of closure they seek, but, as Balance says in the very last line, "it just is."

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Last Updated on Sunday, 18 December 2005 03:55