ROSE McDOWALL Cut with the Cake Knife CD (Night School)
A very welcome reissue of Rose McDowall's long since unavailable album Cut with the Cake Knife, which comes with two bonus tracks originally released as a 7". The album is accompanied by detailed sleeve notes and archival photographs and is packaged within an outer slipcase. A vinyl version is also available.
Rose McDowall has a multifaceted musical background, with a level of eclecticism that may be hard for those who think music scenes should be separated up into hermetically sealed compartments to comprehend. She spent some time as a bona fide pop star in the 1980s as one half of Strawberry Switchblade, and also collaborated with well respected indiepop bands such as The Pastels and Felt, as well as bands from the post-industrial and neofolk milieux, where the music is usually dark and often challenging, and where certain bands and artists have provoked considerable controversy by exploring taboo subject areas in their lyrics and artwork. There is room in Rose McDowall's worldview for the bright, positive things and the darker, more unsettling realities of this world, as reflected in the juxtaposition of sweetness and violence found in the name of her band Strawberry Switchblade, and indeed the title of this album Cut with the Cake Knife. It's also seen in the pictures of Rose accompanying the album, in which fetishistic, gothic rubber and leather clothing is paradoxically paired with a pretty hair bow.
Cut with the Cake Knife is an album of demos recorded between 1986 and 1988. There are songs here that were intended for the second Strawberry Switchblade album that never materialised, alongside songs recorded in Iceland with Einar Örn Benediktsson (Kukl, Sugarcubes, etc) and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, who in addition to his role as musician and composer is the present leader of the Icelandic Heathen group Ásatrúarfélagiđ. (Incidentally, the observant will notice on looking closely at Rose's pictures in the album's booklet that she is wearing an amulet of the Norse god Thor, suggesting she may share the same beliefs as Hilmar).
Tibet, presumably written for Current 93's David Tibet, is sparkling pop with poignant lyrics. Sunboy is beautiful bittersweet indiepop, given a 1980s mainstream pop touch with its use of keyboards and electronic drum rhythms. Wings of Heaven is pop with oomph, featuring an almost rock guitar sound alongside fizzing synths. Cut with the Cake Knife is effervescent pop with a dark undercurrent, its lyrical mix of affection and violence set to a tune so catchy that it's taken up permanent residence in my brain. Soldier is melancholic, folk-tinged indiepop, putting me in mind a little of The Carousel. So Vicious merges breathy and sweet 80s pop with a more forceful and dark aspect, its melody recalling a mix of Blondie and the aforementioned Carousel. Finally, Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper is reinvented as synthpop ornamented with touches of rock and flamenco. The electronic arrangement works so well, you'd think the song was actually written to be played this way. Taken from a 1988 7", the track has a glossier production than the preceding demos.
There's sweet, catchy tunes and 80s pop glitz aplenty here, yet the album cannot be easily dismissed as throwaway froth. This lighter side is balanced by the heartfelt emotion and underground authenticity of indiepop, along with a more sinister edge that can be discerned when engaging with this music past the surface level. Night School Records are to be heartily applauded for bringing this superb album back into circulation, and I'm pleased to discover that the label intend to follow this up with further installments of what will become an extensive reissue project covering Rose McDowall's 34 year history in music. Visit www.nightschoolrecords.com for more information.
BACK TO AQUAMARINE