Gut Bank – “The Dark Ages” (1986)

Recently a bunch of people who went to school for a really, really long time and have fancy initials after their names declared that the year 536 A.D. was officially the worst year to be alive.  Ever.  There were a few years in the early 1940s that could probably give old 536 A.D. a run for its money, but given that we didn’t have the internet then, or photography, or mail service, we’re probably going to have to take the scientists’ words for it.  Turns out some volcanos were to blame.  Doesn’t it seem like volcanoes and asteroid impacts get blamed for a lot of the truly awful stuff?  This puts it toward the beginning of the so-called Dark Ages, which is apropos since the volcanos messed with the sunlight and such, making it generally gray and crappy for a while.  Sounds like a sucky time to have been alive, though in reality most of human existence has been marginal at best, rotten at worst, for the vast majority of people who have ever lived.  So to be officially the worst year ever… basically it’s the “We Built This City” (♠) of years.

You know what else the Dark Ages and Starship have in common, besides being all knee deep in the hoopla?  Well, the two come together on Gut Bank’s only album.  It’s entitled The Dark Ages, and it was recorded in 1985, the same year “We Built This City” topped the charts (♣).  Coincidence?  Of course not.  I choose to believe that Gut Bank looked around at the musical vapidity of the time and thought, “you know, this is sort of the Dark Ages of music”, which given their style of sort of goth-y death rock probably seemed pretty true.  And based on that, they named their debut.

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So what about The Dark Ages?  Well, for one thing, it’s surprisingly good.  I’m a sucker for female-fronted bands, and three of Gut Bank’s members were ladies, so I figured I’d be off to a good start.  Not quite goth, not quite post punk, not quite death rock, but more an amalgamation of all three stirred up and poured into my ears like a cold and somewhat murky cocktail, the kind that masks the flavors of the individual components to arrive at something uniquely its own.  It’s gloomy, but more in a gray, foggy way than a dark nighttime way.  “Lost Again” captures this vibe fully, a song that literally makes you feel as lost as the person in the lyrics.

My cutout copy of The Dark Ages has “Store Copy” scrawled across the front of it.  I wonder what store had a store copy of this?  Was it a record shop?  I’m not sure.  Feels like it more likely was some kind of outsider clothing store, or maybe a coffee shop, the kind where everyone working there exhibits complete disinterest in the customers but still manages to make outstanding lattes.  And while I lack any sense of clothing fashion, I do like a good latte, and I also like The Dark Ages.

(♠)  Is this song truly as bad as its reputation?  I mean, it made it to #1 in the US charts.  It’s easy to listen to it today, particularly if you watch the video and see the hair and clothing styles, and see it as something camp.  And awful.  But it wasn’t at the time.  That was 1986, for real.

(♣) I’m kind of stretching things a bit here since this record, while recorded in 1985, was released in 1986.  But don’t let the details get in the way of a good story.

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