Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It May Be A Great Song, But It's Immaterial

The 80s threw up a lot of quirky, even weird musical acts, and It’s Immaterial would have to rate among them. The first incarnation of It’s Immaterial evolved in 1980, comprising three former members of the groups Yachts - John Campbell (vocals), Martin Dempsey (guitar), Henry Priestman (keyboards) - with drummer Paul Barlow.

They released a number of singles over the next couple of years, including ‘Young Man’ and ‘A Gigantic Raft’. In 1982 guitarist/keyboardist Jarvis Whitehead was added to the line-up, but by 1984 only the duo of vocalist Campbell and instrumentalist Whitehead remained. With an apparent mission to redefine the genre based boundaries of popular music, the pair set about challenging their listeners at almost every turn in the musical road. The 1985 EP ‘Fish Waltz’ gave a hint at what was to feature on the first album release twelve months later.

Their 1986 album ‘Life’s Hard And Then You Die’ (UK#62/OZ#100) displayed just what a broad musical palette It’s Immaterial had. In some ways a classic concept album, the eclectic hybrid mix of songs incorporated everything from new wave, country, blues, folk and synth-pop. The album establishes a strong, almost cinematic mood right from the get go, with the haunting ‘Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)’. With the combination of Campbell’s half-sung, half-spoken vocals in union with Whitehead’s atmospheric synthesizer landscape, it’s easy to be drawn into the world that the song’s lyrics are evoking. This is a melodic road trip, inclusive of those elements that live within the adventure of any real road trip. And like many road trips this one makes more sense upon a second visit, or even a third. The windy chaotic terrain, suddenly has a shape and structure that feels strangely comforting, even at it’s most confronting and jarring moments.

The two singles that featured on the album both enjoyed solid sales in Britain. ‘Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)’ (UK#18) reminds me very much of a Robbie Robertson song from 1988 called ‘Somewhere Down The Crazy River’, in terms its ambience. ‘Ed’s Funky Diner (Friday Night, Saturday Morning)’ (UK#65) featured a more up-tempo sound, but no less evocative.

It’s Immaterial released just one more album, and it was a long time coming. 1990’s ‘Song’ had a more sombre down-tempo sound, but once again employed a strong narrative structure. The album sadly flopped in commercial terms and spelled the end of the road trip for It’s Immaterial. Former member Henry Priestman had meanwhile gone on to considerable commercial success with the Christians.

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