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2007-05-07My review: The Crimea - Secrets Of The Witching Hour

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[Secrets Of The Witching Hour]

FREE full download:
www.thecrimea.net

CD edition:
Corporation Records / Amazon

Track listing:

1. All Conquering
2. The 48A Waiting Steps
3. Raining Planets
4. Man
5. Bombay Sapphire Coma
6. Don't Close Your Eyes On Me
7. Loop A Loop
8. Light Brigade
9. Several Thousand Years Of Talking Nonsense
10. Requiem Aeternum
11. Weird

Pterodactyls take on the helicopter gunships.
Pterodactyls take on the helicopter gunships.
As your life flashes before you eyes, alone we face the apocalypse, the ghosts of Christmas past, the gods of war, and the bastard that made us all.

Let's see if I can add anything to that. This is a second album (third if you count the very old mail order album as a first one) that doesn't fall prey to the lack of focus of many second albums. As several other people have noted in different words, it sounds like a band who've just discovered an extinction-threat meteor heading straight for the planet and who really, really want to get their ideas committed to golden disc so that they can be dug up by any aliens who might happen to be archaeologically-minded.

On the subject of posterity and last chances I'd like to talk briefly about the record industry, specifically Warner Records being a bunch of cocks. The Crimea got dropped when the label they were on downsized (much as V2 dropped its roster back when The Crocketts were active) and the last few singles have been put out by the label on the back of already-recorded material. Which explains why some of the b-sides on Baby Boom (2006 release) are comparatively shaky — Warner were scraping the barrel. Better than some groups ever manage, but certainly not the band at their ever-lovin' best.

Why am I telling you? Because that last single isn't in any way representative of the material on offer here. In many ways Secrets is what people who've followed the band over the last few years wanted out of the first album — which is good, whilst being heavy on post-production. The way things happen in corporate land, it's difficult to say no to a hotshot producer, even when you're paying big bucks of your own money out of the label advance.

(But that's enough tangent for now. You can read Steve Albini's The Problem With Music as an intro to typical industry stuff.)

I won't say WB were entirely bad for the band — this album also has professional sound production, after all — it just feels as though the band were far more in control of the process. They've taken that and applied it to a corpus of material — much of which existed in some form two or more years back — polishing and honing until it shines (and smells of Brasso, which as the packaging warns contains powerful solvents...)

Secrets Of The Witching Hour also feels a lot more positive. It sounds a great deal like a manifesto, cut through the lyrics like words in a stick of rock: I won't give up hope / if we don't believe we are all-conquering, how shall we conquer? / it's just the end of the world / we are not alone / there is still time.

So let's have a run-through...

All Conquering is something of a personal favourite, although I understand there's a slight change between the free download version and the one I'm reviewing — part of the intro had to be cut at short notice due to a legal quibble (that I suspect is entirely specious) about ownership of a sample. I trust it'll get the Dantean Inferno style instrumental from the demo mixed back in at some point, though, albeit minus the spoken words because the band are no financial position to challenge bullying parties.

Besides the lyrics and sweeping choruses, All Conquering mixes delicate piano, charging riffs and a strong sense of melody intro a refreshing and upbeat tune. Which is odd, considering the subject matter of some of the lyrics...

The 48A Waiting Steps is another bouncy tune that pipes away merrily whilst having rather wry self-deprecating words woven through it; changed in feel a lot since demoing as Born Losers, it's become something much poppier and warmer.

Raining Planets first appeared on Myspace as a demo, and isn't majorly altered here apart from much tighter arrangements. Like 48A this is a story song, wrapped in keen guitars and the same multi-layered sound that defines the album as a whole.

"Don't let the bastards get you down." Indeed.

Man was earlier passed around as Red October. The album version's both more sedately paced and more confident, whirling high notes and expansive bass sounds underneath increasingly frantic spoken vocals. I haven't read any Tom Clancy, so I'm not sure if the Red October references are more than setting in the same way the Mission Impossible and "shoulda seen the other guy" type ones suggest a struggle to be heroic.

Now we're onto personally meaningful stuff... Bombay Sapphire Coma, long ago called Utopia, has always been one of my favourite Crimea songs. And it always had an expansive sound ("expansive" is going to get overused very quickly in the review at this rate) but that's one of the things about demos... they tend to understate, sucking you in and making you listen to pick out little flourishes a band started to add in as they were working. Unusually the tweaks to an old favourite don't annoy me, and all of the lyrics and other additions work — it has a backing chorus that kicks in midway now, amongst other enhancements. It's absolutely fab; I don't know if you'll get the same mileage out of it as I will after having it on playlists since 2002, but do give it a spin.

Don't Close Your Eyes On Me brings us down with a slower and rather orchestral song. Part lullaby, part motivational "look at things realistically" speech. The lyrics have changed since early days, probably for fear they'd be misinterpreted — the voice of the song is gently remonstrating with itself, not threatening someone else, and that's a lot clearer in the finished piece. This is the first song on Secrets to feel a bit... bitter isn't the right word. Pained. That's it.

Whereas Loop A Loop reminds me a lot of We're All Going On A Summer Holiday with the laidback easy chorus and humming. It's about starting over, and a radio-friendly tune to accompany sun and sitting at the end of the pier. Then you get to an incongruous line about 2:14 into the song, realise that the average Radio 1 listener probably wouldn't think it's a metaphor, and grin wryly.

Bringing us back to full galloping pace is Light Brigade, string section and a stompingly good beat (plus horns!) all adding up to a wild and fun two-and-a-half minutes. I'd say more, but you can all get the album free easily, so just go listen.

Several Thousand Years Of Talking Nonsense (or Lucky Stars, which is a much more manageable and less pretentious title) has a lot in common with Eels' Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) — both juxtapose the good stuff and the not-so, and come up in favour of "it's not a bad world for most of us really, be grateful." Davey seems to have a bit of a preoccupation with war history, and specifically people who forget it, which comes up amongst the lyrics, alongside the simple pleasures of ice-cream and The Pogues. It's the chewy-inner-centre 'meaning' song of this album, I think, and soaring guitars put the finish on a really great track. 

Requiem Aeturnam was the first full track previewed on Myspace, and a slightly odd choice in my view... it includes the album title in its lyrics, but it isn't until the final part of the song kicks in with "happiness is possible" that the slow boil pays off. IMO several other tracks would just as much reel in the type of people who only preview the A-sides of singles on iTunes; or maybe I'm just a savage, growing increasingly used to looking at music and stories in marketing contexts.

Weird plays us out, adding to a long-standing tradition of building, soaring, howling songs — Lady Killer, Allah Was Wrong, Out of Africa, Someone's Crying, etc. The effect here is produced more by instruments, lyrics and intensity than by background screaming, but it's in good company. It also loops back into All Conquering nicely for repeat listening, provided you're listening to a copy of the album on which where All Conquering has a gradual intro.

It's very, very hard to pick favourites, but Light Brigade and Lucky Stars are up there with older tracks such as All Conquering and Bombay Sapphire Coma for me. Secrets Of The Witching Hour isn't a particularly long album, clocking in at under 40 minutes, but it's an immensely satisfying one that does what it turns up to do and leaves you wanting more. You also can't argue with the price, though I pre-ordered a CD as soon as the listing went up. This is one of only three bands I'd do that with.

Meandering onto hypotheticals, if I had to pick just two Crimea releases to hear before exile to a timelost dinosaur island it'd be this and the self-released 2004 Tragedy Rocks album (plus at least the original 2003 White Russian Galaxy single burned onto the end — because hey, who'd willingly give up the old Girl Just Died without slugging a few Nazi tyrannosaurs?) It'd mean listening to Bombay Sapphire Coma twice, but I reckon that just maybe I'd cope.

Anyway, your reviewer is lost in nostalgia — go download your free copy of Secrets Of The Witching Hour, make up your own minds, and if you like it, toss the band some support with a CD sale or going to see them live. 'Cause that way we get more.

Downloads, shop and news: www.thecrimea.net + fan stuff at www.inaudible.co.uk

Lyrics:

ALL CONQUERING

If we don't believe we are all conquering, how shall we conquer?
If we don't believe we can deceive, what can we achieve?

CHORUS

Our love is blown to smithereens
The future bleeds — broken dreams
The agony and ecstasy — the in-between, no man's land
Our love is...

If we don't believe we are all conquering, how shall we conquer?
If we don't believe in ourselves, who else is there?

CHORUS x2

When hell freezes over, suddenly everything's clear.
Our love is...


THE 48A WAITING STEPS

Born loser. Born free, with two left feet.
Born stupid. Born drunk. Born different,
To my fellow earthlings.

Born beneath that wondering star,
Though I don't feel alone (though I don't feel alone)
Way out where the ocean meets oblivion.
On a seat beside the pretty girl
On the bus back home (on the bus back home)

Born frightened, born scared, born in despair.
Born writer that time forgot.
Born out of sin... with my fellow robots.

Swore I'd never get this far, though I won't give up hope
Won't ever give up hope.
Way out where the ocean meets oblivion.
Drunken conversation, vicious undertone.
When you passed your stop three quarters of an hour ago,
On a seat beside the pretty girl on the bus back home.

I won't, I won't, I won't,
I won't feel alone,
I won't feel alone.


RAINING PLANETS

Currently residing in the 'Where are they now?' file
Burnt out and in denial
Throwing shapes at the mirror with your hairbrush
Singing along to 'Ever Fallen In Love' by The Buzzcocks.

End up working in the Domino's Pizza, shades on, incognito.
Turned down for the manager's position for carrying on
Where the Fonz left off, in the Sixties.

CHORUS

They're freaking me out... vultures are circling now.
The end of the world, it's only the end of the world.
There's no need to start freaking out.

Last seen holding up a Seven Eleven, strung out, dishevelled.
They could tell it was a water pistol, the cops turned up
Before you drew any blood. But that's just your luck.

CHORUS

It's just the end of time
They're freaking me out...

Accident emergency, just talk to me, smile if you still can.
Don't let the bastards get you down, there's more to life than
To kill again.
These visions of your name in flowers, smile for deliverance.
Happy fucking Christmas soldier,
Long time, no forgiveness.

It's raining planets,
It's only the end of the world.


MAN

The Hunt for Red October... ain't over
Tornado Alley relax.
The nightmare they call Summer
Ain't coming this year or the next.

CHORUS:
On a mission, Mission Impossible.
What if you don't come back?
Will I still be your man? (x4)

You should have seen the other canine
If you think I look beat up...
From one dog to another hound,
This is more than puppy love.

CHORUS

When Armageddon comes, when time begins again,
Will you still work the earth; will I still be your man?
When there is no more us, when everything is dust?
When there is no more us, when everything is dust?

Will I still be your man? (x4)
I never wanted to hurt no one, (x4)


BOMBAY SAPPHIRE COMA

Wanted to go to the white fluffy clouds
In a Bombay Sapphire coma.
Been several shades of broken ever since I disowned her.
I wanted to be with my woman in a sensimilia haze,
I wanted to go to the white fluffy clouds and start the happy days.

CHORUS:

I was just a has-been, gone there, done that, got the t-shirt.
She laughed when I told her I was seriously hurt.
She said, "Don't want your money, pain comes free —

You hooked up with pain when you hooked up with me."

Wanted to go to the white fluffy clouds,
Utopia granted my wish,
But when I looked under the blankets
I saw the legs of a fish.
I wanted to be with my mermaid, trapped under the waves.
I wanted to go to the white fluffy clouds and start the happy days.

CHORUS

She said, "Don't want your money, pain comes free —
You hooked up with pain when you hooked up with me.
Don't want your shadow shadowing me,
You lost everything when you hooked up with me."


DON'T CLOSE YOUR EYES ON ME

When the lights go out in the land of the free,
All that I have is a need, all that I need is unclear to me.
And it's all downhill once you learn how kids are made,
Even the dogs on the street have a little more dignity.

Hell... is a frozen lake... breaking up in spring, changes everything.
Don't close your eyes on me.
You can dream,
But everyday wake up again.
Don't slip away from me,
You can dream... but you can't have everything.

When you find yourself beyond the point of no return,
Think of the chances you missed, think of the years you were out of it.
As the limbo bar gets lower and there's less limboists.
Disaster stands on my doorstep, a Lucky Strike in her white lips.

Hell... is a crowded room.
Heaven's just got you... naked on all fours.
Don't close your eyes on me.
You can dream,
But everyday wake up again.
Don't slip away from me,
You can dream
But you can't have everything.

Through it all, never surrender.
And through it all, I'll never surrender.
And you can't stand up anymore.
Never surrender.
Don't close your eyes on me.
You can dream,
But you can't have everything.


LOOP A LOOP

Wanna start again, be a kid again,
'Cause baby I'm not that person you pretend.

CHORUS:

Damn girl gone loop,
Loop a loop a loop.
Loop a loop a loop a loo.
Damn girl gone loop,
Loop a loop a loop.
Loop a loop a loop a loo.

Wanna start again, wanna change my name,
'Cause baby I'm not an angel
You cannot be saved.

CHORUS

Just like Hamburger Hill...

Throw another small child on the fire.
I'm trying to build an empire.
One steps forward, baby, two steps back,
Moonwalking beneath that harlot's flat.

Damn world gone loop,
Loop a loop a loop a loop a loo.
Damn world gone loop loop a loop a loo,
Loop a loop a loop a loo.
As we fall through the hoops
Going loop a loop.
As we fall through the hoops
Going looooooooop.


LIGHT BRIGADE

We take no prisoners, leave nothing, only ghosts.
Now everybody knows,
We take no prisoners, leave nothing left alive.
Don't understand who I am or how it all began.

CHORUS:

Send in the couch potatoes,
Lowest common denominators.
Bring down the hit parade,
Send in the Light Brigade.
We are not alone; there was footprints in the snow,
Now everybody knows,
We are not alone, there was sightings of UFOs...
Don't understand who I am or how it all began.

CHORUS

Jerusalem, Nazareth, Paris,
Houston, Mexico City, Berlin, Madrid.
Burn down all your cities, your precious cities
Will be destroyed.

Send in the Light Brigade (x4)

CHORUS


SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS OF TALKING NONSENSE

For endless possibility,
For food inside my belly.
For hands that do as I say,
For the beached whale that sings beneath my Atlantic duvet.

For never giving up, for something approaching happiness.
For Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream,
For the one woman in a thousand
Who's got a thing about guys with missing front teeth.

I thank my lucky stars (x3)

For landing on the moon,
For Fairy Tale in New York.
For two world wars,
Sixty years on and we all seem to have conveniently forgotten.
We must thank our lucky stars,
Thank our lucky stars (x5)

When all is said and done, we are not worthy
Of this world we do our damnedest to destroy.
But it's not over yet, there is still time to repent
For several thousand years of talking nonsense,
For several thousand years of talking nonsense.

For all the broken hearts, we thank our lucky stars.
Millions of broken hearts, we thank our lucky stars.

Some people can't take their eyes off the prize,
Just believe it's their god-given right to survive, to have life.
Some people don't know how lucky they are.


REQUIEM AETERNAM

When your eyelids flicker, and liquor is your oldest friend.
When you dream of silence, silence on which life depends.
When the full moon won't leave you alone,
Watches you stagger all the way home,
Stares in through your bedroom window.
Love, love, love.

Love, it comes in strange disguises.
All through the night... I was seventeen again.
Love, 'til requiem aeternam.

When I feel her heartbeat... boom.
When she tells me secrets, secrets of the witching hour.
When the full moon's there all afternoon,
All smiles when your lips turn blue,
Back flips when they try to revive you.
Love, love, love.

Love, it keeps the goldfish swimming.
Saw Basic Instinct
When I was seventeen years old.
Love. Still got the scars to show.

I need you like a Siamese twin,
I feel you like a broken wing.
Like floating down from outer space,
Like falling on to helicopter blades.

Happiness is possible, just keep rolling the snowball up the hill.
Love. Concentrate on survival,
Your ship will come in, just keep on stumbling.

Love, towards requiem aeternam.
Love, 'til requiem aeternam.
God rest her soul.


WEIRD

Pterodactyls take on the helicopter gunships
Brace yourself, this is the apocalypse.
Two worlds collide before my eyes,
In a blaze of black and white
The moon explodes in the dark, dark, dark night.

See this cave, see this canyon,
See this black hole, see this chasm.
See the storm brew, feel the Earth move,
Take a quantum leap with all the other freaks.
It's not easy being weird in a world with no idea how.

Rapunzel above me, receiving chemotherapy.
Throw down your... oh, sorry, how stupid of me.
I'll never say you name again,
There's no going back now,
We made our choice and we'll go down guns blazing.

Gone the sun, need a miracle.
Hear the gospel, see the raging bull.
See the storm brew, feel the Earth move,
Take a quantum leap with all the other freaks.
It's not easy being weird in a world with no idea how.

Pterodactyls take on the helicopter gunships,
Pterodactyls take on the helicopter gunships.
As your life flashes before your eyes,
Alone, we face the apocalypse.
The ghost of Christmas past, the Gods of war,
And the bastard that made us all.

All lyrics, naturally, copyright the band.
Worked out by ear and with thanks to Christopher.


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