Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Fatima Mansions - Lost in the Former West

Fatima Mansions
Lost in the Former West

Released 1994 on Radioactive Records
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 14/05/2006ce

1. Belong Nowhere
2. The Loyaliser
3. Popemobile to Paraguay
4. Walk Yr. Way
5. Bruncelling's Song
6. Lost in the Former West
7. Nite Flights
8. Your World Customer
9. Sunken Cities
10. Brain Blister
11. A Walk in the Woods
12. Humiliate Me

Cathal Coughlan is an unlucky man. This is the guy who has released critically acclaimed records as a solo artist, a member of Microdisney and leader of Fatima Mansions. Critically acclaimed records and almost crossing over with 'Town to Town' and Fatima's amusing Bryan Adams cover...was not enough and now much of Microdisney's career and what seems to be the sum of Fatima Mansions languishes in the land of deletion. This is just too bad, as FM's back-catalogue is uniformally excellent : mini-LP 'Against Nature' (1989), 'Viva Dead Ponies' (1990 - Morrissey's favourite LP of that year!), another mini 'Bertie's Brochures' (1991), early compilation 'Come Back My Children' (worth the price of entry for their decimation of 'Lady Godiva's Operation'), almost breakthrough album 'Valhalla Avenue' (1992) and this, their final record released in 1994. Any of those recordings could qualify as Unsung. 'Lost in the Former West' is my favourite.

'Lost in the Former West' was the perfect album for the 1990s, taking Neil Young's 'Rockin' in the Free World' as its M.O. , it belongs to a loose set of albums from the early 90s: Leonard Cohen's 'The Future', The Auteurs' 'After Murder Park', 'baader meinhof', Mr Cope's 'Peggy Suicide', The Boss' 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' & Scott Walker's oblique 'Tilt.' These were records that were protests against what many discounted as 'that' and 'this' - US foreign policy, war, environmental destruction, democracy, those at the arse end of society, the end of the cold war and the development of several hot ones...This was supposed to have been a time when everything was alright - the Cold War was over, the Iron Curtain had fallen, Thatcher was deposed, Bush Sr. shortly after. Keep on rockin' in the free world, pop kids! - it makes perfect sense when the illusion that everything was OK now that self-pity would come into vogue, with its godhead Kurt Cobain and the kind of self-pity applied to entertainment as people congratulated themselves for watching 'Schindler's List.' A very navelgazy period that seemed to look the other way as the uprising Bush Sr encouraged were crushed in Iraq, as the Balkans split into a tide of mass-murder and related war crimes, as massacres became commonplace in Algeria, as genocide was carried out in Rwanda, East Timor, Chechnya, Somalia...Things decidely unright - 'Lost in the Former West' tapping directly into the grim side of things. I find it odd that Manic Street Preachers' 'The Holy Bible' got more respect in 1994 than this record - the lyrics to that record seem very focused on the self, to the point that holocaust-chic seems implied. It's clear that Cathal Coughlan is the missing link between Mark E Smith and Luke Haines, the lyrics feeling like Gang of Four and the Pop Group delivered with a Swiftian glee - I've always wondered what a novel by Coughlan would be like.

'Belong Nowhere' sets the tone, taking in the former west as the rootless non-people wander around - ' ...No right to more than birth and death for the drivelling drones of the former west...No deathcamps here I tell you - just grey "convienience" hell/Ten civil wars unended 'neath billboard signs which yell "You need someone pretty - someone English and shifty.' Coughlan is zeroing in on the developing international woe, alongside the geopolitical elements there are lines which predict the anti-globalist/'No Logo' bandwagon Radiohead & Prml Scrm jumped on in the early zeroes - "the bigger the roadside crowd/the denser the gameshow cloud", "You earn but you feel oppressed", & "Save all your revolution for a Saturday night" being prime examples. It should be pointed out that Coughlan had given up drinking and taken up Yoga prior to this record, so kinda straight edge!

Fatima Mansions by this point were a proper band and most definitely RAWK - I always thought it sounded like a collision between Faith No More and Scott Walker, though 'Popemobile to Paraguay' offers an amusing riff that sounds distinctly Aerosmith! Coughlan's work with Sean O'Hagan in Microdisney had become quite ironic, to the point where his caustic lyrics were set to music that sounded like Wet Wet Wet (O'Hagan's Steely Dan-aesthetic I guess). Coughlan's words seem far more pertinent and potent set to something like rock - Coughlan and co-producers Jerry Harrison, Gil Norton & Ralph Jezzard nail these songs, which seemed to develop from Coughlan's playful onstage character that provoked a riot when supporting U2 in Italy (debasing catholic imagery and wearing the wrong football shirt can lead to tears...) The cover and inner-sleeve art is fun too - the cover sees Coughlan with fellow FM-member Hugh Bunker restage a photo of Liberace and his "chauffeur" , images of trash, meat, male pornography, an electric chair under a picture of Prince Andrew'n' Fergie and Coughlan as Liberace surveying his new kingdom from a limo. O, Brave New World....

'Popmobile to Paraguay' continues the blend of Swift'n'Roll Coughlan and co. had been practicing since 'Angel's Delight' and 'Blues for Ceausescu' , this one aimed at both the Vatican and the U.S. and their special foreign policy. Pope John Paul II decided that victims of mass-ethnic rape in the Balkans should have the children that were the result - tied in with Vatican prescience accorded issue like abortion and contraception. Coughlan has no truck with the papal stance, noting a form of complicity and approval - "the King of the Papists is a friend to the rapists and the upside down Crucifixion squad..." You're reminded of people like Tiso or those Vatican souls who collaborated with fascists during World War II. I wonder what the fuck Coughlan would make of the current culture wars in America and that pro-life, pro-Passion of the Christ, anti-gay marriage drivel...'Popemobile' finds time for our world leaders in America too - "It's been awhile since you said "Heil!" you CIA-bred necrophile/No Ruskies left to rail at, not for now/& the Slavs in their millions with their scrapheaps of children must replace your South Americans/More skulls to keep your Mafia in the Mafia Top Ten." I think this refers to the kind of practice the U.S. employed in places like the Balkans and Somalia, where they'd arm warlords, bug allies and avoid a war if it didn't have oil or long-distance smart-bombing. It should be noted that some famous CIA-bred necrophiles include Saddam Hussein (a failed CIA-assassin from the late 50s), Osama Bin-Laden, Manuel Noriega & General Pinochet...

'Lost in the Former West' is close to despair, we belong nowhere and nothing, nothing is true...Coughlan's dark humour isn't far away - "I know Khomeni, John Wilkes Booth and the Jackson Five" or "You'll know me by the knives sticking out my back" case examples. The two singles 'The Loyaliser' and a cover of the Walker Brothers' 'Nite Flights' (covered shortly before by David Bowie) are fantastic - 'The Loyaliser' somewhere between grunge and Ministry-style industrial music, but still with a tune...why wasn't it a hit? Perhaps the self-woe of the grunge years didn't like the cold coda "You get older, you get scared, but you get no wiser" which is up there with Luke Haines "Life is hard - kill yourself or get over it." The cover of 'Nite Flights' is a fairly straight one, though the single contains a re-version of it entitled 'It's So Cold...I Think', which reminds me that both singles contain great tracks like a cover of Suicide's 'Diamonds, Furcoat, Champagne', 'Gary Numan's Porsche' & 'As I Washed the Blood Off' - kind of amazing the latter didn't make it on the album proper (all should turn up on a reissue if that ever happened - I have suggested it to Cherry Red two or three times...)

'Walk Yr. Way' feels very late 60s-Scott and makes sense alongside earlier Fatima's ballads like 'Behind the Moon', 'Viva Dead Ponies', 'North Atlantic Wind' , if not the Walkeresque Microdisney joy 'Mrs Simpson' (still my favourite Microdisney song). The title track is one of those odd instrumentals that Coughlan featured frequently on 'Viva Dead Ponies' - though this one has a Morricone-style harmonica. The mini-LP 'Bertie's Brochures' found FM covering Richard Thompson's 'The Great Valerio' and the version of a traditional folk song retitled 'Sunken Cities' makes perfect sense , offering something not far from Microdisney but with a dubby bassline and the kind of bandwagon Damon Albarn jumped on a year or so later (it's kind of depressing that Britpop was the next big apolitical thing).'Sunken Cities' is cute and gorgeous, despite its theme and title and comes at the right point after the caustic thrash of 'Your World Customer' (the kind of song Prml Scrm have failed to make on 'Evil Heat'). 'Brain Blister' feels like a sequel to 'What?' an early b-side found on lost compilation 'Come Back My Children' - the pacified masses in front of the telly-at ze workplace - at the fun-pubs: "Fast food parks and hardware mines...There's nothing real on that churning screen...Where all tomorrows stink the same...The patient is fading fast/Oh, but ignore it 'cos it's just an act."

The climax of the album is particularly arsekicking, the epic 'A Walk in the Woods' which shifts from a blend of dub-pop and Walkeresque crooning to a demented thrash that could have featured on 'Psalm 69'. 'A Walk in the Woods' probably gets everything in its four minutes that Fatima Mansions were about - John Barry soundtracks, odd electronics, a pop sensibility, Scott-vocaling, schizoid rock, and some of the greatest lyrics penned (Coughlan is one of those lyricists like Mark E Smith or Nick Cave that would work wonderfully on paper - I'd love to see a bunch of GCSE or A-level youths forced to study the meaning of 'Go Home Bible Mike! or 'New Puritan'! Beats the piss out of Douglas Dunn...). 'Lost in the Former West' bids adieu with 'Humiliate Me', which reminds me a lot of Guns'N'Roses musically - big dumb rock'n'roll is all we deserve in the end it seems. I guess it's 'We Are All Prostitutes' if featured on 'Appetite for Destruction'? - Coughlan hollering out lines: "gunsmiths and prison-warders/a gallery of brain disorders/Porn-stars handcuffed to their fathers..." Coughlan imagines some kind of sex-club descending into something not far from the climax of Pasolini's 'Salo' , though offers great advice towards the end "If you run your country like a private prison, expect the world's derision" and the cutting observation, "Why, they wouldn't baptise you with a snail's emission"! Why did such greatness never catch on?

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