PRINT April 1996


the Raincoats

Somewhere out there on an emblematic night, a crew-cut singer sets the pace for a mosh-pit hoe-down with a hurried “1-2-3-4!” In the current punk revival, loud fast rules; the rudimentary hardcore of the past has just become better produced, more tuneful, easier to chew—like bubblegum.

But the crude, cathartic pleasures of the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Black Flag were always only one aspect of Janus-faced punk. Kurt Cobain understood this, on the day he went in search of the Raincoats’ tough-to-find first album, setting off a chain of events that caused the London band to reunite. Cobain cherished the Raincoats partly because they were obscure (broken up since 1984, their albums out of print), partly because they were women and he was sick of grunge testosterone, but mostly because their offbeat pop experiments spoke of a world far removed from his own demanding commercial milieu. Ironically, Cobain brought the Raincoats more attention than they’d ever had, and Looking in the Shadows (DGC), the band’s first album in 12 years, is their most accessible recording to date.

To some degree, the times have caught up with the Raincoats. They still play with time signatures, write moody songs about weighty topics like truth and death, and supplement their guitar noise with a violin (played by Anne Wood). But with the dissemination of punk and the rise of alternative rock, guitarist/singer Ana da Silva and bassist/singer Gina Birch have found kindred spirits in wonder-girl drummer Heather Dunn (Tiger Trap, Lois) and producer Ed Buller (Suede, Spiritualized), who orchestrates their sonic twists into a modern-rock friendly wall of sound. The songs on Shadows sound more confident, less precious than the brave, scared outings of years past. Da Silva handles fuzzboxes, wah-wah, and Byrds licks with equal aplomb. And Birch’s wonderful, whimsical musings on love gone bad, beautiful women, infertility, and underdogs mark her as a song inventor the caliber of such distinctive tune-smiths as Mary Margaret O’Hara, Victoria Williams, and Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh.