It’s a truism that every musical genre is composed of levels of different bands of varying quality and originality. The thrones of the greats are cemented on the backs and shoulders of bands thriving off of the genre’s leaders. The deeper you delve into the genre, quality and originality is inversely proportional to the number of bands you find. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every artist or band that might be second-tier is inferior; often, many an excellent record is based upon interpreting the more popular sound or style.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, formed in 1981, fall into the second tier of bands operating of the post-punk/Goth scene–though they never really were a Goth band–remaining a cult favorite while never quite being considered a definitive band of the era. See The Fire: Albums, Singles, and BBC Recordings 1982-1987, compiles their first two albums, 1983’s Talk About The Weather, and 1986’s Paint Your Wagon. Listening to these records, it’s easy to understand why; Chris Reed is a deep-throated vocalist who recalls Peter Murphy and Ian Curtis fronting a band that definitely borrows from The Cure/Joy Division/Bauhaus melody book. Interestingly enough, what sets them apart from those bands is their lack of fashion-mindedness. They aren’t gimmicky in appearance, focusing instead on the music–a smart aesthetic choice that may have undermined them.
Yet it’s a bit unfair to dismiss Red Lorry Yellow Lorry based upon those albums. See The Fire’s greatest strength is to highlight a quietly-obvious fact: the Lorries were never much of an album band. Unlike many of their peers (with the exception being The Cure), Red Lorry Yellow Lorry were very much a singles band, a format they took to quite quickly, as they released six singles before releasing an album. Debut single “Beating My Head,” released in 1982, is a pounding, powerful introduction to the world, with lead singer Chris Reed’s deep, haunting voice fitting nicely with the drum-heavy melody. Each succeeding single, “Take It All,” “He’s Read,” “Monkey Eyes,”— all of them are succinct blasts of post-punk chill, in and out in a hurry, leaving the listener wanting to get up and reset the arm at the beginning of the single.
Perhaps, then, its understandable why Talk About The Weather—good as is, mind you—feels a bit heavy. 1986’s Paint Your Wagon is a bit better; there’s not as much of a sonic similarity between the tracks, and songs like “Last Train” and “Save My Soul” hold their own. But, again, the singles are ace, most notably 1985’s “Chance,” a fast paced rocker with a powerful industrial beat, is one of the band’s best songs, as is “Hold You Down,” wherein a darker blues element starts to come into play, and one can’t help but think of Nick Cave on numbers “Hang Man” and “Running Fever.”
Disc three contains three BBC broadcasts, and it shows an element of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry not seen on the record. First, Reed’s voice loses the heavy Ian Curtis/Peter Murphy-isms; it’s not as deep, and doesn’t feel as painfully affected as it occasionally did on record. “Sometimes” is turned into an even more cutting, powerful number, and songs like “Silence,” “Hand on Heart,” and “Conscious Decision” trade in the coldness for a heartfelt emotion that’s not captured in the recording studio.
See The Fire helps to make the case for Red Lorry Yellow Lorry as a fine, fine post-punk band. They would continue for a few more years, moving on to bigger labels, though success evaded them, and they split, though with the occasional reunion now and then. This collection shows what made them special. I recommend starting with the singles first, and then the albums. Follow it chronologically, and the experience will be sublime.