The Post Romantic Empire Ensemble ~ The Post Romantic Empire Album

PREVast, ambitious, and laden with emotional power, The Post Romantic Empire Album is a re-imagining of songs, artists and our relationship with music.  This is a lot of weight for one album to bear, even a pair of vinyl slabs with an accompanying 7″.  The album succeeds through verve and dynamism, although the 81-minute playing time and the breadth of experimentalism may leave some listeners drained.

The Hook – pun intended – is the opportunity to hear what some of our favorite 80s performers sound like today.  This includes members of New Order (guess which one!), The Cure, Current 93, Bow Wow Wow and many more.  And what better way to do this than with two full sides of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, arguably the anthem of the romantic generation?  Of course it wasn’t love that tore Joy Division apart, but suicide, as Ian Curtis took his own life on the eve of the band’s North American tour.  If any irony is to be found, it is in the song’s tone, often interpreted as uplifting, or at the very least, catchy, despite its dour lyrics.  But the story grows much stranger.

The orchestral version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” begins with the sound of a rough-hewn wind.  Foreboding guitar rumbles are offset by Matt Howden’s pensive violin, followed by Peter Hook’s familiar guitar.  Annabella Lwin, worlds away from “I Want Candy”, introduces the first spectral moans …  love, love.  Lwin’s former bandmate David Barbarossa begins drumming, and the song enters a frantic phrase.  Will tear us … will tear us … rasps Lwin, as if all is lost or is about to be so.  And then it’s David Tibet’s turn.  At this point, the track no longer seems benign.  One would like to think that the song’s original intention has been restored.  Tempos and timbres change multiple times, leading to ever-more familiar sounds by the closing third.  The horns cement the deal.  The song is what is remembered as much as what it is now.  In terms of overall sound and morphing of sound, the closest comparison is Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence (The Quad: Final Mix)”, a 15-minute reinterpretation of the original that lacked any commercial appeal, but that savaged the original sounds without sacrilege.

A second version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” appears here as a completely different entity, although the source material is shared.  This more ambient journey wanders forward on unsteady legs, winding its way toward a morose conclusion.  The bass holds off until only three minutes remain in the side-long track.  Section 25’s Larry Cassidy delivers the lyrics in spoken word.  Poignantly, the recording was added after his death.  In 1979, Ian Curtis had produced his first single.  Sepulchral imaginings aside, Cassidy’s defeated voice only manages to fight despair by its very existence.  Love will tear us apart, and so will old age, and suicide, and all manner of death.  How long will we have left to sing these songs?  How long before they are never sung again?

While these two tracks fill two sides of the album, other tracks offer a different appeal.  For personal reasons (an attachment to the original and the fact that I’ve sung it myself), I am not overly attached to Andrew WK and Baby Dee’s version of “House of the Rising Sun”, but other people may find it more appealing.  More effective are the 7″ tracks: Gitane Demone singing New Order’s “Dreams Never Die” over the cello-piano combo of John Contreras and Maja Elliott, and the Pueri Cantores Regina Nivis Choir delivering a knockout version of CCCP’s “Annarella”, again with Elliott on ivories.

Normally this site would begin with the instrumental angle, but in this review we close with it.  Rimsky-Korzakov’s “Sheherazade” (based on One Thousand and One Nights) receives a tender, tasteful interpretation here by Roger O’Donnell (piano) and Julia Kent (cello).  No clear connection exists between the performers, but their pairing is exquisite.  One hopes to hear them record future collaborations, perhaps on original material, or interpretations of each other’s material.  The three-movement composition is the album’s most traditional in form, but it works in invisible ways as well.  Life can be dangerous, fraught with difficulties: enemies without and enemies within.  Every night, we need another story, another song, another encouragement to get us through.  O’Donnell and Kent offer the reassurance that there will always be another such bridge.  Love will tear us apart again ~ but perhaps in the end, love will knit us together again as well.  (Richard Allen)

Release date:  2 July

Available here

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