Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue – Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 by Various ArtistsRelease date: February 10, 2023
Label: Edsel Records
“So much of what I liked from the ‘80s seemed just as ambitious and pretentious in the best possible sense. And just like the ‘70s, you often had to look a little bit harder to find the really good stuff. And that’s where this collection comes in.” Steven Wilson’s foreword notes on Intrigue gives us an insight on how much music had an impact on him when he was in his teens back in the early ‘80s.
There’s always this myth that punk killed prog which is ludicrous. Why do you think that John Lydon admired Van der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind, Magma, Captain Beefheart, and CAN, followed by Mark E. Smith’s failed attempt to audition for being a member of Henry Cow, Bowie admiring NEU, Kraftwerk, Peter Hammill, and being a next-door neighbour with Edgar Froese when he was cleaning up in Berlin throughout the late ’70s, Pete Shelley writing the sleeve notes for the CAN compilation, Cannibalism in 1978, or Keith Levene seeing Steve Howe at the time Yes were promoting Close to the Edge in 1972? They have a soft-spot for this kind of music.
It wasn’t just Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, Roxy Music or Brian Eno’s first two studio albums, but taking a step further in the late ‘70s during the post-punk era. That and this 4-CD set released on the Edsel label, showcases a trip down memory lane as Steven brings in his love of this music entitled Intrigue: Progressive Sounds in UK Alternative Music: 1979-89. Listening to this set is like going back in time and visiting the clubs in the UK and witnessing some of the greatest and most interesting music that was coming out of that time frame.
Most of them I know about. From Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, XTC, Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, Gary Numan, to Thomas Dolby and Ultravox. Now, we ain’t talkin’ about the big hits they’re known for, but Steven is very much like Sherlock Holmes as he delves deeper into the dark, hidden, cavernous caves that is waiting for us.
There’s the clock-ticking turned erupting sounds of Punishment of Luxury’s ‘Puppet Life’ with its Madness-sque Carousel midsection turned Amon Duul II-sque heavy riffs with its hypnotic lyrical structure of insanity. Followed by nods to the Surf Rock genre with elements towards The Police’s pre-‘It Must Be a Camel’ that Robert Fripp and the League of Gentlemen channel in ‘Cognitive Dissonance’.
Then, it becomes a walk into a dissonance hallway filled with decay and horror from Section 25’s ‘Hit’, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s ‘Sealand’, the film-noir terror from Swell Maps’ ‘Big Empty Field’, and launching this massive scale assault from 23 Skidoo on ‘The Gospel Comes to New Guinea’. Wilson has done his homework very well to bring us some of the bands that were often under the radar and mostly honouring the late great John Peel who had an affection of the genre when he was playing it on his program during that time frame.
But what is this? Kate Bush going into this combination of new wave, industrial rock, craziness, and pre-death metal on ‘Waking the Witch?’ It’s an odd combination which was originally released on her classic album, Hounds of Love. But she brings in these ingredients to life as it becomes a free-for-all while SLAB’s gut-punching composition of ‘Gutter Busting’ gives Trent Reznor some ideas of what he was going to do with Nine Inch Nails.
Meanwhile the bass slapping funky grooves on A Certain Ratio’s ‘Knife Slits Water’ lets you go into funky town with echoing drum vibes, children’s voices, water effects, and Paul McCartney’s ‘Temporary Secretary’ thrown in to the blender that makes it a hypnotic smoothie that’ll whet your appetite.
Elsewhere, the tipping of the hat momentum of the krautrock genre flows in smoothly. From syntho-birds floating through the sky on The Durutti Column’s ‘Sketch For Summer’, New Musik’s ‘They All Run After the Carving Knife’, and the poetic textures of Propaganda’s ‘Dream Within a Dream’. Most of these bands I’ve never heard of before. And it’s great to hear and understand why they were so far ahead of they’re time.
The 80 page book written by James Nice, detailing histories of the bands and artists that are on this set while Hajo Müller’s futuristic photographic designs for the box set, gives it a Hipgnosis effect of what can we expect in the years to come. Steven has done it again once more. If you want to go beyond the big names of the post-punk sounds, then Intrigue is worth exploring.
Because it’s a ride that’ll you want to keep going on, to see what you’re missing. And it’s worth the set that’s like hidden treasure, waiting to be opened and unveiled for the first time.