Sometimes you buy albums because you come across them by chance and think you should have them without really knowing them or even being sure that you'll actually like them. Such was the case with me and the eponymous debut from The Raincoats, first released in 197,9 when I chanced upon it in a German record shop about fifteen years later and sensed I should own it. I don't think I listened to it much at the time. I listen to it all the time now.
It was a landmark, for sure,(even in 1979), but not to everyone's tastes. Danny Baker of the NME described seeing the band play thus: 'they are so bad that every time the waiter drops a tray we get up and dance.' This is a perfectly valid opinion and a funny one, though of course it reflects the chauvinist world The Raincoats wandered into.Not everyone will like this record. It's made for certain ears.
Now it doesn't sound anything like as other-worldly or strange as it must have done at the time. Its rhythms and jerkiness, its awkwardness have become familar contours of the Rock and Roll landscape. Largely due to bands like The Raincoats who were brave enough to make the records they did back in the day, when it was a more difficult and dangerous thing to do.
In a memorable scene in the wonderful 20th Century Woman a film about the changes of the late Seventies in terms of lifestyles and attitudes, the following interaction takes place:
the Annette Benning mother character comes into the boy's room and finds him and a female friend listening to the first Raincoats album. She can't understand why anyone would want to and the conversation goes as follows:
'Dorothea (Benning): What is that?
Abigail: It's The Raincoats.
Dorothea: Can't things just be pretty?
Jamie: Pretty music is used to hide how unfair and corrupt society is.
Dorothea: Ah, OK, (sits on bed). So they're not very good and they know that. Right?
Abigail: Yeah. It's like they have all this feeling. And they don't have any skill. And they don't want skill. Because it's really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that's raw. Isn't it great?
Dorothea doesn't respond.'
The Raincoats is jittery and skittery, like a band rehearsing for the first time,. Its fire is fuelled by the sensibilities of two quite different singers, Ana De Silva and Anna Birch. De Silva is more obviously Punky and abrasive while Birch has genuine chidlike innocence, sounding like a refugee fromSeventies BBC children's programmes. Bagpuss or Noggin The Nog.
'Nothing is ever as exciting as the first time.' Birch said many years after the event. 'It's just so thrilling making your debut record. Nothing beats it.'The Raincoats next two albums before their original disolution Odyshape and Moving are both excellent records but Birch is right, nether of them are instilled with the primal thrill of true invention like The Raincoats is ,
There's plenty of serious stuff discussed here. Rape, the armed forces, gender roles, (the inspired cover of The Kinks Lola). But The Raincoats make it all sound like the best fun you can ever have with your clothes on. You get the sense that this will sound even better in fifty years time.