10. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Nothing Wrong
Nearly two years ago, my old online home away from home, Spectrum Culture, assembled a small panel of writers and music critics to hash out a list of the 13 Best Goth Albums of All Time. Though I was well to the side of that fervent tribe of music fandom, I did the best I could to participate the in process, typically relying on my distant memories of what member of the heavy black eyeliner set favored back in my high school and college days (not that I knew many kids like that in milquetoast Wisconsin). I think we came with a good list, although I regret that a bundle of other responsibilities prevented me from doing some additional research and prep before engaging in the discussion that brought us to our nominees, if only because then I might have been reminded earlier of the significant pleasures of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. They should have been contenders.
Formed in Leeds, England in 1981, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry sounds pretty much exactly the way any seasoned music fan might expect from a group springing to life when the aftershocks of Ian Curtis’s suicide were still rattling the hearts and amps of British cool kids. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s music has some of the buzz and thrust of Joy Division’s founding brand of post-punk while also ratcheting up the gloom to the level of outrageous beauty. At the same time, there was a tunefulness to the music, a tenderly attentive sense of songcraft, that prevented Red Lorry Yellow Lorry from descending into the accidental self-parody that afflicted so many similar groups. (Or at least usually prevented it. None of the bands that got anywhere near goth were totally immune.) Plus, they were a little tougher than many of their contemporaries, holding on to the punk part of post-punk a little longer. They usually batted away comparisons to Joy Division by declaring Wire to be more of an influence, a distinction that is apparent on any close listen to the music. For a kid like me, still a musical novice when I arrived at the radio station my first year of college, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry was an ideal gateway to the operatic grimness of goth that I probably found a little off-putting and unsettling at time time.
Nothing Wrong, the third full-length from the Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, arrived in 1988, just in time for the college kids coming back to school with a need for a dose of bleak poetry. It was their first album since signing to the Beggars Banquet sub-label Situation Two, appropriately putting them in the same stable of artists as Fields of the Nephilim. Presumably, this would be a label well-equipped to help connect the band with their biggest possible audience, commercial success that never really came to pass. Nothing Wrong is a fine example of the band’s strengths, led off by the pulsating title cut, awash in layers of sound and punctured by the spoke-sung lyrics of Chris Reed, oddly thrilling in their characteristic pessimism (“The world around is dragging down on me/ If you’re feeling sad, full of shame/ You better find someone to blame”). From there, the biggest problem with Nothing Wrong is also somewhat characteristic of goth music: a consistency of sound that can become a little numbing. Track after track has the same slow burn anguish and romanticized darkness. It sounds good, but Nothing Wrong can threaten to fade into the background, which might explain the randomly interspersed audio excerpts from the BBC documentary Testament to the Bushmen (much of the packaging and promotion surrounding the album is similarly drawn from that program). None of the clips illuminate the artistic intent behind the record, but at least they help break things up.
There are of course some tracks that stand out, such as “The Rise,” which plays like a peppier version of Love and Rockets’ later “So Alive,” and the intoxicating swirl of instrumental “Sayonara.” There’s also the charging train of “She Said,” (“There’s a space inside, where I like to hide/ There’s a place I dream to forget the lies”) which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds records, which is about as high of compliment as I can pay to music in this ravaged vein. Even when the band is seemingly goofing around without much purpose, as with the wispy afterthought cover of Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Time is Tight” that closes the album, it’s at least somewhat interesting. The music can sometimes be indistinguishable from other Red Lorry Yellow Lorry material. Thankfully, that’s not the same as being dull.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry formally broke up in 1991 (after one more album, 1991’s Blasting Off). Truth is, it was mostly an outlet for Reed, anyway. He was the only band member there from beginning to end, with arguably only guitarist Dave Wolfenden able to claim significant collaborative contributions to the songwriting during his tenure. Reed revived the name in 2004, with new music and some touring, but Red Lorry Yellow Lorry largely remain figures from the past, available to those with long memories or a willingness to do a little digging. Too bad my own memory was faulty a couple years back. Considers this my personal addendum to Spectrum Culture list I helped build.
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–16: Ghost Stories
–15: 2 Steps from the Middle Ages
–13: Short Sharp Shocked
–11: Rattle and Hum