?My name?s Rikki Sylvan…? announces ? you guessed it ? Rikki Sylvan, as the opening instrumental of his debut album shatters to its conclusion… ?and these are the Last Days Of Earth.?
And we still don?t know whether he was referring to his band, which was indeed called the Last Days Of Earth, or to some unimagined apocalypse that he believed was about to befall us.
But listening through what swiftly established itself among the most powerful albums of 1977-78, it?s not hard to guess which one he thought he meant. The world was about to fall apart, and Rikki Sylvan was here to orchestrate Armageddon.
Lining up as Sylvan, guitarist Valac Van Der Veene, keyboard player Nik Weiss, bassist Andy Prince and drummer Hugh Inge Innes Lillingstone, Rikki And The Last Days Of Earth exploded out of Britain?s punk underground in mid-1977.
Sighted at an audition night at the London Roxy Club at the end of June, Rikki Sylvan and The Last Days of Earth had a deal with DJM and were shattering senses (if not sales records) with their debut 45, ?City Of The Damned?/ ?Victimized? by the end of the year.
The band?s name, Sylvan insisted, was ?magical. I plotted an astrological course for Rikki, from the day I invented him.? Both sides of the single encapsulated Sylvan?s crippled vision of decadence, darkness, destruction, a bleak/oblique vision of a world without hope that, nevertheless, believed the whole shebang would hold together long enough for the band to get its album out. And that was both its, and the album?s, downfall.
Where other contemporary doom-mongers, even at their most maggoty pessimism, couched their dire predictions in understatement and (comparative) subtlety, Sylvan painted his in mile-high neon.
There was nothing unequivocal about it. ?City Of The Damned,? ?Outcast,? ?Aleister Crowley,? ?Twilight Jack,? ?Victimized? ? Sylvan?s world was one of unrelenting psychopathology, a cult of demented loners who straddled society like a chainsaw-wielding colossus.
Even ?Loaded,? the album?s one concession to humor, set the listener?s teeth on edge as Sylvan played the role of the ultimate Nouveau Rich kid ? and prophesied ’80s yuppiedom with way too much accuracy.
A clutch of sweeping instrumentals ? the opening ?For The Last Days,? the sibilant ?No Wave,? the tumultuous ?4 Minute Warning? ? unified these same disparate themes.
?Imagine Roxy Music?s ?Out Of The Blue? played by the Hitler Youth Marching Band,? marveled one critic, and then, playing on the title of sundry ambient Eno albums, he retitled it ?Music For Berlin Bunkers.?
Backed by a churning, apocalyptic non-album version of the Stones? ?Street Fighting Man,? ?Loaded? became the band?s second single in January 1978 ?and that despite the wealth of obscenity buried in its verses.
May brought ?Twilight Jack?/?No Wave.? Both flopped abysmally. The band broke up soon after, unmourned by any, bar a hardy few. But it swiftly became apparent that the Last Days had not existed in a vacuum.
In 1978, Sylvan told the music press that he had performed ?a ritual over our record to make it influential. Not successful, mind you, influential.? And he succeeded. By the turn of the decade, the ?New Romantic? explosion had seen the entire notion of dancing on the edge of oblivion explode into the commercial mainstream with unimaginable vehemence.
Duran Duran?s stated ambition to be the first (or was it the last?) band to play when The Bomb went off was only a few steps removed from the Last Days? irradiated serenades, while the likes of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, the Human League, and even pre-?we wanna sing for your grandmother? Spandau Ballet possessed an apocalyp