Not much is certain in this world any longer, but the arrival of a new Current 93 is unfailingly a reason to switch off everything but the music. And not only because you want to listen to it without interruption; but because it’s damnably difficult to do much of anything else while it’s playing.
I Am The Last Of All The Field That Fell is the title, and anybody combing the internet for clues as to its content will already be aware of the London show last month that, aside from serving as the album’s official launch party, also drew Shirley Collins out of her thirty-five year retirement to perform a couple of songs. Including “All The Pretty Horses,” which was a Current 93 album close to two decades back.
Nick Cave guested with them then, and he’s back on board this time, murmuring over the closing “I Could Not Shift The Shadow” in tones that echo nothing so much as John Cale reciting Under Milk Wood.
Preliminary listens to the album do not, however, look back any more than that. Opening on the sonorous piano and voice of “The Invisible Church,” I Am The Last Of All The Field That Fell might be Current 93’s most withdrawn album yet, devoid of clatter and dissonance, and evoking, instead, Peter Hammill circa 1973-1974. Or, to repeat an earlier analogy, the darkest corners of Cale’s Music for a New Society. Two touchstones, incidentally, that we should never fault anyone for unearthing.
“Those Flowers Grew,” with its ear-catching invocation of “the ghost of Gary Glitter” even draws a David Jaxon-esque sax line into play, while the heart-attack acceleration of drums and drama is held back only by Tibet’s stubborn refusal to follow their lead. Later, “And Onto PickNick Magick” drifts around similarly Hammillian landscapes, and also triggers the album’s first truly explosive moment, as the halfway mark ushers in tortured guitar, fitful percussives and the kind of scrapes and scraps with which Gog Magog once populated Hammill’s bromide chambers.
Lyrically lurking, of course, well within the parameters of past Tibetan soliloquies, I Am The Last Of All The Field That Fell builds on this early sense of hunted familiarity, threatening chaos but forcing the imagination to truly unleash it.
The spectral backing vocals that whisper and gasp around “Kings and Things” are mere slivers of punctuation; and the shimmering imagery that establishes this as Tibet’s most oppressively verbose album yet is all the more nightmarish for that. Albeit one that also boasts the closest thing he has ever written to a bona fide hit single, the sheer poppy glory of “I Remember The Berlin Boys.”
As usual, a stellar cast list draws some unexpected names into Tibet’s orbit; TS McPhee, John Zorn and Comus’s so instantly and gloriously recognizable Bobbie Watson joining Cave among the guest artists. And, as usual,even their most distinctive contributions are simply one more ingredient in a potpourri that is wholly Tibet’s.
Thirty years have now elapsed since Current 93 were first heard in public, three decades during which their sonic signature has changed beyond all but the most imaginative recognition. Yet, for all the ghosts dragged out by the odd sonic pasture, I Am The Last Of All The Field That Fell could not be, or be mistaken for, anybody else.