I got turned onto Shriekback while sitting in a hotel room in Kansas City listening to the comp Sherwood at the Controls Volume 1: 1979-1984. Their funkiness hit me right between the eyes and I made a mental note to be on the lookout for their stuff. And it was only a few days later while digging in the New Arrivals section at Guestroom Records in Oklahoma City (work travel is glamorous…) that I came across a copy of their 1985 record Oil and Water. Serendipity. Then a little further into the bin I found 1986s Big Night Music. Winning.
My entire opinion of Shriekback was based on the sound of one song, “Mistah Linn He Dead,” so at least a minimal amount of research was in order. Two of the band’s founding members were keyboardist/singer Barry Andrews (formerly of XTC) and bassist Dave Allen (formerly of Gang of Four), so already it was obvious that they had some legit musical chops. It also explained that crazy, funky-ass bass that hit me right after the needle drop on Oil and Gold‘s “Malaria,” a funk-fest that was sort of a blend of Depeche Mode and Oingo Boingo. The album is a very danceable brand of post punk, a bit dark and with a wandering bass, but with a generally uptempo pace, the major notable exceptions being “This Big Hush” and “Faded Flowers” with their slow, rich flows. The other high point, in addition to “Malaria,” is the almost militaristic march of “Hammerheads,” an aggressive, driving number that will make you want to get out of your chair and stomp around the room.
Big Night Music picks up right where Oil and Gold left off, with he very post punkish “Black Light Trap,” before taking more mainstream turn with the typically new wave “Gunning for the Buddha.” This isn’t a major stylistic leap from its predecessor, but it definitely sounds like a band evolving into a different direction, a bit more poppy, a bit less danceable. Actually it might even be headed a bit toward the dreaded “adult contemporary” territory. Don’t let that fool you though, it’s still a decent record and the musical talent of the ensemble is obvious. This was the last record to feature Allen on bass as he departed to work on other projects, though he did make a return appearance on 2003s Having a Moment.
Based on these two records, I think if I pick up more Shriekback it will be the older material – their more post punk songs are the ones that appeal to me more.