Records with a release date on the first of the month always have me questioning the accuracy of the release date, moreso on January 1, so if anyone feels like correcting me, please do so. It’s the internet, after all.
That aside, January 1, 1985 saw Shriekback at the height of their powers when they released Oil & Gold. My personal introduction to the band was the phenomenal “Nemesis” single when a good friend included it on a mixtape some years later. I came to the band late, but ended up a big fan, particularly of their ‘80s & ‘90s work.
This was an interesting album with which to begin: “Nemesis,” as I mentioned, is an amazing single, ominous and insistent behind huge drums and a chanted chorus. (It also has the distinction of being the only pop song I’m aware of that references parthenogenesis.)
The big beat and funky bass are present throughout the album, starting with opener “Malaria,” and continuing through the first three tracks on the disc. “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is reminiscent of early-80s Simple Minds, but while there are hints of influence here and there throughout the album, ultimately, there’s no other band that sounds like Shriekback, especially at their peak.
The tempo drops momentarily with “This Big Hush” and the heartbreaking and minimalist “Faded Flowers,” both excellent examples of pre-goth, pre-emo, innovations for which I’ve never heard the band credited. Granted, Siouxsie and The Cure were doing it on a full-time basis by 1985, but compared to those outfits’ records of the same era, Oil & Gold is much more aurally accessible and not quite as dour.
“Nemesis” kicks off side two with a return to that pounding beat and Dave Allen’s heavy bass that really characterizes this record. Giving way briefly to the whispered “Only Thing That Shines,” before ramping up to the manifesto-like “Health And Knowledge And Wealth And Power” and the primeval “Hammerheads.” The record closes with “Coelocanth,” an almost meditative instrumental that feels more like the b-side of some unreleased single, but still works as a closing number here.
Shriekback was never a commercially successful band which is kind of a shame (not to mention a headscratcher). They had some minor college radio hits and some dance singles (because how can anyone not want to dance to tracks like “Nemesis” and “Hammerheads”) but never broke out in any meaningful way, though they continue to record and release albums as recently as 2015.
If you’ve never heard Oil & Gold, or if it has been a long time, I strongly recommend seeking it out. The whole record is dark without being somber, danceable without being pop. For me, it’s a 5-star album from front to back, and one I revisit on a regular basis.