From haunting minimalism to the kind of swelling strings The Last Shadow Puppetswould be proud of, The Opiates is a wonderful album, well worth waiting the seven years it has taken to complete. On David Sylvian's Samadhisound label, it has found the perfect home.
With dark, brooding vocals that recall Smogbacked by an Eastern Bloc symphony orchestra (the Warsaw Radio one actually, since you asked), the music comes over like Nick Cave trying to apeScott Walker, a promised land of Old Testament yearning in God's own bass clef.
The Opiates was meant to be the third studio album of late 90s Scandinavian misery mongersAnywhen, but the band went their separate ways before it was completed, leaving its emotional depth charge to become a potential lost classic. Released here and there across Europe in 2001, but doomed to be mostly forgotten, until now it lived on only through the original press and PR releases thrown up by Google, internet ghosts whose frail homepages would be soundtracked perfectly by the music that survives them.
So let us rejoice then that under Sylvian's guidance, direction and championing, former singer and driving force Thomas Feiner has been convinced to dust off the master tapes, suck in the midnight and full moon atmosphere, and finish the job.
His rich, slow baritone seeps through the woodwind and strings, hypnotic and alluring, seducing you into the log-fire warmth of a midwinter night. Brooding and dangerous, his call is impossible to resist. The sleeve, dressed in Cecil Beaton images of Jean Cocteau is perfect: not only for the juxtaposition of starkness and beauty but also for the subliminal reminder of the band which shares Cocteau's name. Their fans will find much to like amid The Opiates' fragile beauty.
The deep, low register of the album makes the occasional contrasts all the more memorable. One of these is the gentle piano on For Now, written by Feiner for the German movie Love In Thoughts and, along with Yonderhead, one of the two interlopers that has been added to the original vision.
From its opening bars to the perfectly titled closer All That Numbs You, The Opiates is exquisite, a funeral march for a band that never wanted to make you dance but who most certainly deserve to live on, as a memory if nothing else.
As a footnote for the sake of the musical nerd in all of us: in 1997, Anywhen provided Losers to that year's Tribute To The Cardigans compilation, a coupling so bizarre (like Sigur Ros taking onMika) that the chance to learn this snippet alone is a reason to celebrate their rescue from musical obscura. I'm tempted to download it right now.
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