Monday, October 7, 2013

The Glove - Blue Sunshine reissue (1983/2006)

You can imagine that any fan (such as I) of both The Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees would be immediately attracted to the Glove, a one-off collaboration between The Cure's main man Robert Smith and the Banshees' bassist/songwriter Steven Severin. You can also imagine that such a fan was very excited about the prospect of a remastered, expanded release of their lone album.

Artist: The Glove
Album: Blue Sunshine
Release Date: 23 August 1983, reissued 8 August 2006
Label: Wonderland/Polydor (original), Wonderland/Rhino (reissue)
Producer: Merlin Griffiths, Robert Smith, Steven Severin

Tracklisting:
Disc 1 (first ten tracks comprise original album):
01. Like an Animal
02. Looking Glass Girl
03. Sex-Eye-Make-Up
04. Mr. Alphabet Says
05. A Blues in Drag
06. Punish Me with Kisses
07. This Green City
08. Orgy
09. Perfect Murder
10. Relax
11. The Man from Nowhere [Original Instrumental Mix]
12. Mouth to Mouth [Like an Animal b-side, 1983]
13. Punish Me with Kisses [Mike Hedges Mix; Single, 1983]
14. The Tightrope [Punish Me with Kisses b-side, 1983]
15. Like an Animal [Club? What Club? Mix, 12" single, 1983]

Disc 2 (previously unreleased demos with vocals by Robert Smith except where stated):
01. Like an Animal
02. Looking Glass Girl
03. Sex-Eye-Make-Up
04. Mr. Alphabet Says
05. A Blues in Drag
06. Punish Me with Kisses
07. This Green City
08. Orgy
09. Perfect Murder
10. Relax
11. The Man from Nowhere [Alternate Instrumental Mix]
12. Mouth to Mouth
13. Opened the Box (A Waltz)
14. The Tightrope (Almost Time)
15. And All Around Us the Mermaids Sang (AKA Torment)
16. Holiday 80 [Original Instrumental Mix]

Review:
You might remember a time in the mid-00s when suddenly every once-popular, nearly-forgotten 80s band was brought back to the light of day with glorious reissue campaigns, restoring the music with nuanced remastering, bountiful bonus tracks, well-written liner notes, and archival photography. This occurred right about the same time that record companies realized that the CD was a format in decline, so the contrast between 2- and 3-disc reissues of 20-30 year old material and a shrinking market for physical releases was put sharply into focus. (The loudness war wasn't helping, either.)

Siouxsie & the Banshees made it as far as their sixth album, 1986's Tinderbox, before lackluster sales halted their reissue project in 2009. (This didn't stop a 3CD/1DVD box set At the BBC in the same year, though.) The Cure marched ahead with double-disc reissues, steadily making it to their seventh album, 1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, reissued in 2006. It wasn't until 2010 that Disintegration (1989) was finally reissued in a 3CD set, and rumors still fly about a potential reissue of Wish (1992). [Edit 2017.09.17: The remaining Banshees albums were reissued in 2014.]

The strangest part of all this reissue confusion was The Glove's Blue Sunshine. Seeming to follow more in line with the Cure reissues than the Banshees', it is a double-disc affair with a large host of previously unreleased demos. The most amazing part is that these demos feature Robert Smith's vocals – the original album infamously only featured his vocals on two songs due to contractual restrictions, resulting in the hiring of Jeanette Landray to sing most of the rest. Robert's previously unheard vocal versions were thus the primary reason that this reissue was notable as anything more than a simple remastering. But of course, the story only gets more complicated once you actually listen to the discs.

The original album is a ten-track affair of psychedelia in the utmost degree. With a band name inspired by the notoriously trippy Yellow Submarine movie and an album name derived from a horror movie about LSD, nobody should be surprised. The songs feature odd rhythms, unlikely combinations of instruments, surreal lyrics, and of course the occasional creepy sample. Despite the supreme weirdness of it all, it does fit in alongside the primary members' other recordings of the era: the experimental, weird pop singles later collected on Japanese Whispers; the dark psychedelia of The Top; the strangely arranged and textured pop of A Kiss in the Dreamhouse; and the swirly, deliberately psychedelic homage of "Dear Prudence", recorded during Smith's second tenure in the Banshees. The Glove released two singles, "Like an Animal" and "Punish Me with Kisses", and while both are solid numbers, neither is half as good as "Mr. Alphabet Says", a wonderfully arranged song graced with Smith's vocals even on the original release.

The b-sides of the original singles yield a couple additional songs, and the second disc of the 2006 reissue offers a few more. While these songs are reasonably good, they are still far overshadowed by the prospect of Smith singing all the original album tracks. However, when listening to the second disc, one cannot help but notice a few odd characteristics. First, these tracks are stated to be demos, which is easy to believe if one only listens to the instrumentation. The recordings sound a bit dull, weak, thin, whatever. But then Robert's voice sounds full, clear, and pristine. The vocals sound like they were recorded with professional equipment and then preserved carefully, whereas the instrumentation sounds archival at best. Second, Robert's voice is stretched and stringy, overly maudlin and almost artificially playful. Any serious fan of The Cure will have noted that Robert's voice has changed over his 35+ years of singing, and a quick comparison of his vocals from the Japanese Whispers singles (1982-1983) or The Top (1984) against those from more recent albums such as The Cure (2004) or 4:13 Dream (2008) reveals quite a difference. The vocals on disc two do not use the same inflections or styling as those found on disc one or the contemporaneous singles and albums. They do, however, sound very similar to Smith's latest recorded output.

I am not the only fan to believe that these vocals were not archival performances but rather new recordings. For example, if you want to dig through some fora, see here and here. Amazingly, Steven Severin was approached in November 2012 by a fan and asked about this issue, and he confirmed it (mostly), claiming that some vocals were original and others were new recordings done because Smith wanted to sing them after not having had the chance before. If you follow that last link, you may notice that the commenters cast doubt upon any of the demo vocals being "authentic", and I must agree. All the vocals on disc two sound to my ear like new recordings.

There is naturally room to debate the merits and downsides of these recordings. Certainly, it is nice for Robert to finally have a chance to sing these songs. But one can't say he did a proper job of it, considering that he sang over the demo tracks instead of the final versions, and even worse, at no point did he state or admit that these vocals were recorded in the 2000s, not in 1983. Instead of a "real" album of just Smith and Severin, we are left with muddy demos with misplaced vocals that can't help but sound out of place and artificial. And I still can't get past the deceit: I'd be much happier if Smith had just stated the truth. Of course, maybe the reissue wouldn't have sold as well, but I don't appreciate the deliberate lie.

Sadly, this trend of Smith re-recording vocal parts is not exclusive to the Blue Sunshine reissue. When I purchased the Disintegration reissue, I was immediately struck by both the awful remastering of the live material originally from Entreat and the obviously re-recorded vocals of the "studio alt mixes" found on the second disc. I went back and listened to the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me reissue and became suspicious of a few of the songs on that release's bonus disc as well. While I am completely convinced that the Glove and Disintegration vocals were rerecorded, I'm not fully confident that the Kiss Me vocals were, but I think it is more likely than not. However, after careful consideration, I'm fairly sure that everything from the previous reissues is authentic. So as best as I can tell, the following Cure songs feature rerecorded vocals:

"A Thousand Hours" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"Icing Sugar" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"One More Time" (Kiss Me guide vocal/rough mix)
"Plainsong" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Last Dance" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Lullaby" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Out of Mind" (Disintegration rough take/guide vocal)
"Delirious Night" (Disintegration rough mix)

At least part of the internet-enabled fanbase of The Cure seems to agree with my assessment (reply #16 is particularly damning). In addition to these vocals, somewhere I've heard a rumor that the above-mentioned "Out of Mind" features an overdubbed guitar part. Also, the work-in-progress mix of "Lovesong" from the online Alternate Rarities: 1988-1989 album seems to feature an overdubbed vocal harmony part, but I believe the low part is original.

Have I missed any other fake vocals? Drop a word if you suspect other songs not yet listed.

Scores:
Original album: B
2006 reissue, blissfully ignorant of the artificial nature of the demos: B+
2006 reissue, with full knowledge of the deceit: C-

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