Music Reviews
Sounds of the Blue Heart

Sounds of the Blue Heart


Hollow Hills Sound Recordings

So I got a report about a couple of months ago from a correspondent in NYC that at a Blacklist gig (ace new band with all the right Sisters/Chameleons/Nephilim style moves) the juke joint was brimming over with all manner of darkling dickybirds and dollybirds – which means to me that’s it’s time to excitedly generalize – to wit, goth’s back! Fuck you, there’s nothing you can do about it. (And good god, not all of that angsty t-shirt ’90s crap.) Time to move. And speaking of time, if goth is back, has there ever been a better time for the superhumanly louche Johnny Indovina to make his comeback? I’ll answer for you – Nope!

Indovina – the mysterious and oft-tortured troubadour behind legendary LA (gothic) outfit Human Drama – honed a sound that merged the dissolute nod of the Velvet Underground with the bird-on-a-wire dramatics of the torch song. Visually as well, Indovina stood out immediately, if not for a delicate build and bone structure that resembled late period Johnny Thunders, big sad eyes, or perhaps a shock of black hair that a Birthday-Party-era Nick Cave might even be jealous of; to say nothing of a deep, cavernous quavering baritone that gave off delicious echoes of Scott Walker and a sepulchural David Bowie with the soft, Euro intonations of John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig. At their best (I remember really digging Drama’s _Pin Ups_record), they were absolutely transcendent. But don’t bother about any of that, what’s past is past, and it appears that Johnny Indovina is firmly focused on his new ensemble, Sounds of the Blue Heart (which reminds me of a Red House Painters album title, so that’s a really good portent).

Sounds of the Blue Heart present a more poised and melancholic take on the rich emotional veins that Human Drama used to jab and dig into. Beauty?… is a smoldering record, richly orchestrated and waltzing like beautiful slow dancers at some Arthur Murray Studio at the end of the world. The Blue Heart Ensemble reminds me of the Bad Seeds circa Nocturama’s quieter moments or Leonard Cohen’s later records (tell me you don’t hear it on “River of Love”), using different instruments and textures, late night jazzy at times, oddly adult at other times. I keep finding myself thinking that (a) Peter Murphy’s solo records should sound like this and (b) I’d love to hear a live record from this group, because the producer adds just a little too much fucking sheen to this record and I want to hear every quaver and croak in Indovina’s voice, fingers moving up and down guitar strings, doors opening in the background, the sounds of insects chirping through open windows.

Beauty?… is strong, mature material from a cult legend and vocal titan (yep, I said it, one of three or four truly great voices in popular music right now) who’s grown up now, re-emerging and trying to reconnect with the outside world, climbing to the top of that ever-elusive tower of song. If there are some duff tracks on the album (yep, there are) so be it – I’ll just skim past the stuff that sounds like Adult Contemporary and stick around for the ride just on the basis of swooning opener “The Great Escape.” Or the shimmering, liquid guitar lines that form a crystal netting for the plaintive “He’s Forgotten How To Dream.” “I Cannot Look Away’s” torchy chamber music, all led along by courtly string ensemble playing (this is music for a royal court). “Elizabeth’s Gong” is a breathtakingly kind declaration of love – reminds me of Dolly Parton’s totally sincere delivery of “I Will Always Love You.” Hmmmm, wait, it’s becoming more and more slick and “radio ready” the more I listen. I need dirt and dark corners. But I can’t help but approve of an album that’s like 90% ballads.

Goth’s back. And it sure as fuck ain’t slumming it.

Sounds of the Blue Heart:

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