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This Heat - Deceit CD (album) cover

DECEIT

This Heat

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.31 | 40 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars (This review is partly based on the informative booklet accompanying the Out Of Cold Storage box set)

Deceit was This Heat's second studio album and their final release before they split in 1982. It's more song based than their debut and is also closer to mainstream rock music, in the same way that Faust So Far is, on the surface at least, more accessible than Faust. It's also a concept album that is both very much of its time and timeless - the themes it explores remain relevant today, and some of the songs have become even more apposite in the last 25 years.

The main theme of the album is the fear of nuclear war that permeated popular culture in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan in the United States and Mrs Thatcher in the UK had ushered in a new right wing consensus and the arms race between the USA and its allies on one side and the USSR and its satellites on the other had accelerated. From Mad Max's cinematic vision of a post apocalyptic wasteland to Prince urging "Ronnie Talk To Russia" to Boy George singing the exceedingly stupid "War" nuclear paranoia was everywhere, and membership of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) reached record levels. This was the backdrop to Deceit, arguably the sharpest and most intelligent musical response that the era produced.

James Joyce once said that "History is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken" and this album is a graphic evocation of that nightmare. It starts innocuously enough with 'Sleep', a lullabye whose lyrics are taken from popular advertising jingles of the time, all sung in Canterbury style voices over one of Hayward's characteristic drum patterns. The TV lulls us into a dream state, then Paper Hats enters in a burst of sound and fury. Over the kind of claustrophobic arrangement that had been heard on pieces like Horizontal Hold, the lyrics take an oblique sideswipe at the UK government's ridiculous (though well intentioned) pamphlet Protect and Survive, a handy guide to surviving a nuclear attack. The music then continues to shift and mutate via This Heat's own dream logic into the comparatively tranquil Triumph, a brief meditation on urban alienation which namechecks Leni Riefenstahl's notorious propaganda film of the Nuremburg rally (the TV is still playing as we sleep; what ideas are being planted in our subconcious?). This segues into SPQR (Latin ' Senatus Populusque Romanus' - 'The Senate and the Roman People', emblazoned on the standards of the Roman legions), a brutal and intense 2 chord krautrocker that tells us 'We are all Romans' and paints a picture of belligerent imperialism, a point firmly underscored by Cenotaph, a mournful and moving tribute to the annual ceremony where veterans of the two World Wars gather for Remembrance Sunday that reminds us that 'History repeats itself' and pointedly refers to 'The war to end all wars/And the war after that'. This track closed side 1 of the vinyl original on a sombre note.

The second half of the album opens with Shrink Wrap, a kind of reprise of Sleep in which the dreamer realises that the mass media cannot be trusted; 'You lie you lie/Wolf in sheep's clothing'. The lullabye is twisted into a new, grotesque form propelled by Hayward's powerhouse drumming, before giving way to Radio Prague, a sound collage/group improv incorporating a snippet from Radio Prague that the band later discovered was a flood warning. Makeshift Swahili follows, a bitter attack on cultural imperialism and the exploitation of indigenous peoples which musically is a distant relative of art school new wavers Wire. This leads into Independence, a recitation of the American Declaration of Independence over a musical backdrop which apparently quotes Ennio Morricone's western soundtracks. The sound here is lighter and airier than the slightly oppressive feel of much of the album. The intention, successfully realised, was to evoke images of a cowboy (Ronald Reagan had made numerous westerns) while simultaneously citing the noble ideals on which the USA was founded. The dream ends with A New Kind Of Water which refers to 'New York, Moscow, Nairobi in flames' before admitting 'I don't know either, what is the answer'. The song is another tightly arranged trio performance which gives way abruptly to the bleak sound collage of Hi Baku Shyo (Suffer Bomb Disease). The dreamer has awoken to realise that the nightmare has come true, and the world is a post apocalyptic wasteland, the only musical sounds being a brief melodica refrain and a bell (from Lambeth Town Hall clock) chiming in the distance.

Unlike many other songs and albums which explored similar themes, Deceit offers no easy answers; while This Heat were firmly in the anti nuclear camp, the juxtaposition of Triumph and Cenotaph is a tacit acknowledgement that armed conflict can be a necessary evil, and Independence makes the crucial distinction between criticism of the then president of the USA and the ideals of the great nation that he led. Musically it's a remarkable piece of work, with constantly shifting moods and textures and some remarkable multi instrumental performances. Charles Hayward's drumming is precise and powerful and Charles Bullen plays guitar with a discipline and focus that never conceals his remarkable talent. Gareth Williams was still the wild card, but had also matured into a solid bass player which made for some breathtaking ensemble playing in places - the lengthy coda to Paper hats being a particular highlight.

5 stars for this album. It's a deep, brilliantly realised conceptual piece in which musicians with progressive backgrounds and sensibilities engaged with their times and picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the punk/new wave revolution. Essential listening.

Syzygy | 5/5 |

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