Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Nectarine No 9 - Saint Jack (Heavenly)

There's a darkness at the heart of Saint Jack, the second album by The Nectarine No 9, Davy Henderson's skewed ensemble take on rock and roll following his adventures with Edinburgh post-punk primitivists Fire Engines and the major label pop entryist gloss of Win. Originally released in 1995 on Alan Horne's briefly reignited Postcard label, Heavenly's twentieth anniversary reissue goes some way to unearthing the missing link between those early deconstructions and Henderson's current guise leading the equally conceptualist Sexual Objects, who this year auctioned the sole copy of their second album, Marshmallow, on eBay for a cool £4,213.

Having 'regrouped' once already last year and with dates pending in London and Glasgow to play Saint Jack in full, The Nectarine No 9 might just have found their time.

With the band named after a Japanese love hotel, the title of this follow up to their loose-knit debut, A Sea And Three Stars (or C***, if you will), was a triple-edged sword that referenced Peter Bogdanovich's 1979 Singapore-set movie of the same name, the Beat Generation's hopped-up golden boy novelist as well as the stuff that comes in bottles out of Tennessee.

With such a pop cultural pedigree in tow, Saint Jack sets sail with the strident call and response of the title track, a guitar-powered voyage into mythological seas that looks to Joseph Conrad as much as Lou Reed's 'Heroin' for lyrical ballast. Such straight ahead scene-setting is initially deceptive, however, for the cut-up collage of guitar sketch motifs, TV and movie samples and spoken word peppered throughout the album's fourteen pieces.

Ben Gazzara's dialogue from Bogdanovich's film is in there, as is twentieth century art critic Clement Greenberg's damning verdict on Jackson Pollock. Poet and fellow traveller Jock Scott, whose own lost opus, My Personal Culloden
, featuring music supplied by Henderson and co, was also recently re-released by Heavenly, also waxes sleazily. The effect of such a multi-media pot-pourri is akin to hearing a bootleg of a Dada-inspired underground cabaret with the Nectarines as house band.

But Saint Jack is still a rock and roll album, the flesh and blood of which comes into play only when Henderson and a five-piece line-up that includes guitarist Simon Smeeton and drummer Ian Holford, who remain the backbone of The Sexual Objects, fully let rip. This happens on 'This Arsehole's Been Burned Too Many Times Before', which, despite the self-lacerating title, is somewhat appositely one of the jauntiest songs on offer. As three guitars veer off in different directions, Henderson channels his inner Todd Rundgren before the song reaches its pounding conclusion accompanied by 'Sister Ray' style organ drowning out what sounds like muffled answerphone messages.

By turns abrasive, uptight, world-weary and strung-out, this a decidedly grown-up collection of velveteen noir. With Henderson seemingly lurking in the shadows throughout, his voice is kept low in the mix and wilfully swamped by other elements. At times it's a murmur, at others a treated drawl that comes in an accent acquired somewhere between a Sunday morning Edinburgh car boot sale and the Chelsea Hotel after-hours.

Beyond such hiding in plain sight, the album peaks with a slow-burning finale that begins with the beat-powered rifferama of 'Firecrackers', before things slow down for 'Un-Loaded For You'. The most insular and personal song on the album, the latter begins with a plucked-out confessional before eventually bursting into a mountainous epic of purging and redemption. 'Clipped Wings & Flower Stings' comes from the same scuzzed-up corner, albeit wrapped up with a prettified but insistent slo-mo jangle that's eventually over-ridden by the organ once more.

Of the nine tracks on the bonus CD of John Peel Session recordings, covers of Captain Beefheart's 'Frownland' and Jackson Browne's 'These Days', a song originally recorded by Nico, make even more explicit where The Nectarine No 9 were coming from. Unadorned by the blow-out on the Saint Jack version of 'Un-Loaded For You', the stripped-down Peel Session take sounds even more naked. It's as raw as it gets on a contrarily triumphal meditation on melancholy, magic and loss, the three graces that drive a collection that lays bare everything a big bad world can throw at you.

The Quietus, December 1st 2015

ends

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