Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Psychic TV - Dreams Less Sweet

Psychic TV
Dreams Less Sweet

Released 1983 on Some Bizzare
Reviewed by FNS, 20/05/2010ce

Whereas ‘Force the Hand of Chance’ can be seen as a general statement of core TOPY principles and an introduction to the mission of Thee Temple, ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ should be viewed as the result of engagement with a particular ritual strand.

The album was recorded in February and March 1983 – certain elements were captured in the renowned Hell Fire Club caves in West Wycombe. As is often the case with PTV recordings, the track listing (18 tracks) does not equate with the number of songs on the CD (19). As befits its title, this record does indeed possess the quality of a fretful dream.

‘Hymn 23’ is a derailed version of the tune of ‘Oh God our help in ages past’, and sounds something like the Residents. ‘The Orchids’ acquires elegance through sincerity. Over super jaunty bells joined with subdued frantic marimba, Genesis brightly intones:

“And in the morning after night
I fall in love with the light…”

The speed of the first two short tracks is exceptional, despite their apparent gentle flow. They can be likened to someone freaking out during meditation.

‘Botanica’ is a brief snatch of martial pounding, with raucous Tibetan trumpet in the vanguard of an army marching to battle.

‘Iron Glove’ joins together a dreamlike melody with a literally phoned in lyric. The deliberately subdued volume means that you can’t really hear what Monte Cazazza is talking about, but this being Psychic TV, it seems safe to assume that the monologue is anti-civilisation and pro-Will based. It ends with a gently ringing fade out.

‘Always is Always’ is barely audible, so it’s difficult to decide if it’s voiced by an authentic or ironic soprano. We imagine a distant singer on the dark streets of luxurious London, walking without concern some time between midnight and dawn, turning left from the Belfry into a nearby mews, putting us in mind of the atmosphere of ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. The track ends with a crackling sound that approaches the subliminal to the extent that it almost sounds like nothing.

‘White Nights’ is reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, Type 2, being the fey, ‘false’ Velvet Underground, that put on a knowing, almost cynical, pop show. Doo-wop via Lou Reed is linked with Brian Wilson style harmonies, reminding the listener of the generally unremarked similarities between the Beach Boys and VU, Type 2. The Santa Claus conceit underpinning the song gives way to an ending comprised of sampled machine guns blended with American early 60s style pop.

‘Finale’ begins with a single gun shot, giving way to familiar martial music and the sound of machine guns increasing in volume. We hear growling attack dogs, then the single leader of the pack, then the crackle of a fire, and the slapping of flesh.

Although one could argue that the power of ‘Eleusis’ is mitigated by the decision to devolve its singing to professional singers, the song remains a key PTV number. It consists of a wordless invocation underscored and strengthened by bells; its ritual power resides in the authenticity and single minded focus of its performers. ‘Medmenham’ represents the next stage in this metaphysical journey or flight to ecstasy through a combination of animal howl, OM chant, and enthusiastic speaking in tongues.

‘Ancient Lights’ is a drama about oppressive forces and surveillance, suggesting that you have to be aware of their existence if you can ever hope to overcome them. It can be helpful to adopt a confident, seen it all before attitude. A slowed down Jimi Hendrix is traversed by the sound of a car passing through a super urban environment, and an intrusive or threatening telephone ring gives way to generalised art rock gestures on piano and guitar.

‘Proof On’ emerges from the speakers as a barely audible crackle. It could be anything. Let’s consider it as the beginning of a vinyl record. Let’s consider it as fascinating mock sinister footsteps on gravel. Let’s consider it as a mysterious intervention that cannot be attributed with certainty to any cause. The uncertainty is part of the fascination. The struggle to interpret what we are hearing leads to the conclusion that it’s a body being dragged, the movement of a dead, weighty object.

‘Survival’ is introduced by the blending of a multitude of ringing telephones, with telephone buzz in the background, sounding something like a bullfrog. A heavy bass from the school of sleazy rock and roll leads us into a ritual in Present Time based on pre-existent themes. (Christ himself urges us to live in Present Time, when he points out that sufficient to the day is the evil thereof, although PTV are no lovers of Christ, but rather vehement antichrists of a common type – see below).

“In this place of shadows…
Time wasted is sleep…”

This is not a call to prayer but a call to what prayer should lead to. People howl like wolves. The teaching is beyond orthodoxy and altogether outside the law. This is another key PTV number.

A circular electronic motif at the end of ‘Survival’ leads directly into ‘Eden 1 Eden 2 Eden 3’. In TOPY parlance, ‘Eden’ was the name given to male TOPY Individuals (as ‘Kali’ was the name given to females). Perhaps we can surmise that the progenitors of the idea behind the Eden appellation are the authors of this song, which starts with dream bells and a faraway chant, replaced by the singular clarity of a lone soprano before all is joined in beautiful polyphony. The song is a development of a generally mournful theme in which sadness is recognised as an integral part of the quest for self-realisation. The song is a lamentation for the memory of a lost Eden, which represents a state of primal innocence, and a coded recognition of the inevitability of what will follow.

The familiar canine pack introduces ‘Clouds Without Water’ (pause for a moment to conceive what the clouds might consist of). An urgent siren like buzzing and a pounding single electronic note resolve into an urgent bass tune dictating the step and speed of some totalitarian marching army. Next comes a freeform freak out, indicative of refusal of oppression, then the song seems to end in a scream.

‘Black Moon’ is an intake of energy and a distancing of calamity. It is delightful and profoundly present, an all embracing pastoral that strips everything of its capacity for horror. It is a beautiful rendition of repeating themes, of bassoon and neo-classical figures. The storm subsides before it rages again. Everything seems far away, as if seen through a haze of autumn sunlight. This being Psychic TV, it is unsurprising that the tune ends on a note of uncertainty.

‘Silver and Gold’ is about a presence that has forgotten it is absent. The demons have been banished and we’re left in the company of a kind of ethereal afterglow. To die, or depart, or leave suddenly, is to be shocked. It is the trace of shock that remains after the crisis has passed.

The uncredited 17th track is a short interlude consisting of the rubbing of glass and the sounding of bells. It might be short but it possesses considerable weight and depth. Many of the elements that can be found in the work of Coil can be found here. The unnamed interlude bleeds into the song that follows.

‘The Nursery’ is characterised by increasing volume and urgency. In TOPY parlance, the Nursery was the place where TOPY rituals and magickal investigations were staged. Here, the Nursery is celebrated as a place where fantastic transformations take place and depth is added to realisation. Darkness loses its darkness, sun becomes moon, and time is transcended. The Nursery is a place of sanctuary and safety, a repository of experienced truth, and a place of transformation. The Nursery is a kind of metaphysical nation, a place entered to gain entry to no place. Alternatively, it is a mocked absurdity, or a fantasy given substance through emotional engagement, in which case it could become a false place of safety:

“Shield me from life
In the Nursery…”

The song ends with a forthright degenerative cry.

‘Circle’ is a meditative flute number, pleasant and dreamy, as if heard from a distance. The tune is improvised but each stage in its development seems well considered in the light of what precedes it and what will follow. It makes a fitting end to the album.

‘Dreams Less Sweet’ was recorded on a prototype Sony recording device and presented in Zuccarelli Holophonics 3 plus dimensional sound – “the only non binaural 3D sound system in the world.”

Reviews Index