Synopsis: ‘Sorted! The Best Of’ is based on the original cult favorite “Haunted Fish Tank” videotape. Also included are all of Love and Rockets music videos, a band interview the very rare audio track “David Lanfair.” Also included are four Daniel Ash solo videos, one David Jay solo video and a special “Bubblemen” section with three rare audio tracks.
Love And Rockets: Sorted! 8.5
eyelights: Daniel Ash’s sheer awesomeness. The Bubblemen. Sweet Lover Hangover. the completeness of the set.
eyesores: The Bubblemen. the quality of the videos. the choices of singles.
I’m a huge fan of Love And Rockets. If there’s a band that represent the alternative movement in its truest sense (not the watered down radio formula known as “Alternative”), it’s these guys. They always explored new avenues, pushed their (and their fans’) boundaries and didn’t seem to care what people thought of them. What was important was to express themselves.
From 1985 to 1998, over the course of seven studio albums, various singles and EPs, they consistently shifted and adopted new styles – and never the ones that were in vogue at the time, either. They remained firmly entrenched on the fringe side of the music world, even as they succeeded in landing a few singles at the top of charts. For their time, they were an unconventional band.
I first heard of them via their über popular single “So Alive’, back in 1989. I f-ing hated it. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the title/chorus and the track’s droning vocals – they were the antithesis of the very notion of being alive. And so I had written them off, with absolutely no intention of ever given them another chance. My hatred of that song had defined the group.
Fast forward approximately a decade. I was becoming increasingly curious about music, always seeking new things to try out. When the price was right, an artist I was only vaguely interested in would end up in my CD player. And if the artist or album was unfamiliar but was intriguing for some reason, it would rarely escape my clutches. I was insatiable in my quest for new ear candy.
A used stereo equipment place had recently opened up downtown, near my work and hub of consumeristic activity. I always popped by to look for something cheap that I could buy, as I was discovering home theatre and developing my set-up. They had a few stacks of dirt cheap CDs there, and I would often dig through them in the hope of finding something of note (I didn’t have library card yet).
They had Love And Rockets’ album ‘Sweet F.A.’ there. What caught my eye was that one of their two copies was embossed with a gold promotional stamp on the front. Now, if I’m anything other than a music junkie, I’m a collector. And sometimes, something remotely collectible intrigues me more than an item that’s conventional and easy to find. In my eyes, rare often means special.
So I was naturally drawn to this CD and, after much deliberation (I seem to recall days of passing by the shop to consider the purchase – like I was saying, I deeply despised “So Alive”), I decided to pick it up. This purchase would immediately change my perspective on Love And Rockets, particularly because of the title track and a gorgeous number called “Sweet Lover Hangover”.
I played the album extensively. With time, almost all of the songs grew on me. I loved ‘Sweet F.A.’. I seem to recall a close friend buying their 1989 self-titled album at the time and making me listen to it. All I know is that I was blown away by it the moment that I heard it. I even liked “So Alive”. So I decided to pick up their other albums, although I don’t remember which I got in which order.
I didn’t know what to make of them: ‘Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven’ was an atmospheric, gothic platter; ‘Express’ had a psychedelic flavour to it, ‘Hot Trip to Heaven’ was a groovy electronic concoction, and ‘Lift’ was a techno/industrial masterpiece. I liked each one for different reasons. Only ‘Earth, Sun, Moon’ left me cold, bereft as it was of delicious vocal hooks.
My developing fascination with Love And Rockets spawned a deeper curiosity with Bauhaus, from whence its members originated, it got me into Tones On Tail, Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins’ best work yet, and even had me explore their solo work. I bought the singles, the EPs, and even found myself buying a silver and blue ‘Lift’ shirt which I knew I would never wear – just because it looks awesome.
So, naturally, when I stumbled upon a copy of ‘Sorted!’ the “best of” DVD compilation by Love And Rockets while I was on an excursion to Montréal, I just had to pick it up (good thing too: it would be the only copy I’d ever see with my naked eyes). I seem to recall the disc going straight from my backpack and into the DVD player when I got home. Or almost, as nearly true as that is possible.
‘Sorted!’ is a collection of pretty much every video that the band has released, including a few odd bits as bonus. It’s basically an enhanced version of ‘The Haunted Fishtank’, a 1989 home video collection of all the band’s videos at the time, as well as the video for a strange side side-project of their called The Bubblemen. This alone consists of ten videos and runs at about 45 minutes.
The Haunted Fishtank
The programme begins with The Bubblemen hanging about a white living room set over weird eerie music and boinging sounds. They would return between each video as interstitial material, with a variety of odd musical bits and with The Bubblemen doing a variety of things like having a pillow fight, sitting in yoga poses, goofing off, driving a motorcycle, …etc. They would also cameo briefly in the videos from time to time.
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. Ball of Confusion: The first single by Love And Rockets was this cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”, a pretty big hit at the time. It’s an unusually choice for musicians who were predominantly associated with the goth movement (for being part of Bauhaus), but they totally pull it off. Their version is a groovy number, featuring a simple drum beat. Its edge comes from the vocals, with feature both Daniel Ash and David J as a duo. It has nice guitar noise, too. I hate the keyboard bloops, though. Ick.
The video is in black and white and it features a band performance on alternating black set then white set. Some red lines and white noise were added to the image to spruce it up. Ash has a psychedelic punk androgynous thing going for him. Pure genius. It’s dated, simple, but it’s effective, dramatic. 8.0/7.0
2. Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man): This one is a single from their the second album, ‘Express’. It’s funny, this is the type of track that, on paper, I shouldn’t like: it has a Western groove, albeit a fast one. But Love And Rockets make it work somehow and I rather like it.
This is another band performance. This time it’s on a set with a white backdrop, and a black and white checkered floor. The band members are shown in different locations on the set, playing their instruments. I guess they did many takes playing the song and the director just cut a bunch of it together. They’re also shown in blue flashing lights. There are also shots of nipple-less men sitting in chairs with bags on their heads (not sure what that’s about). There’s also weird artwork, paint in water, and The Bubblemen. It’s kinda disparate, nonsensical. 8.0/6.75
3. All in My Mind: Also taken from ‘Express’, this is a fairly poppy number compared to what L+R usually do. It has a nice fuzzy guitar sound, excellent harmonies… but is it single material? To me, it’s not dark or edgy enough for them.
Another band performance, this time on a fluorescent-white set. Ash is looking sickly. There also various images inserted throughout: an owl, lips, a mask, kittens, feathers floating around, …etc. To change things up, there is a strobe light during the chorus at the end. Frankly, it’s a pretty crappy video; it didn’t come together at all. 7.5/4.5
4. The Light: Well, after my complaint about the last one not being edgy enough, we get the first single from ‘Earth, Sun, Moon’. It starts with guitar noise and it features deep, sinister, vocals – which I adore. But then they bring in tam tams, acoustic guitars and harmonica. Pretty jarring. It’s an interesting psychedelic track, but not really a radio-friendly single.
For the video, all three are wearing sunglasses and are immersed in smoke. David plays harmonica manically, at one point, sitting against a pole – in the smoke. I guess the video is somewhat appropriate for the song, but there’s not much to it. Aside from smoke, I mean. 7.0/6.0
5. No New Tale to Tell: I don’t much like David J’s solo stuff (without Ash, he has no edge), but as L+R singer I kind of like what he does (not always, but it works here, for instance). The song mostly consists of acoustic guitar and heavy beat. There’s nothing going for it except its rhythmic, catchy chorus. And yet, to me, it’s by far the highlight of ‘Earth, Sun, Moon’.
This is another band performance, this time on a white set with writing on the wall. There are inserts of The Bubblemen, a monkey doing a pan flute solo, and footage of people crossing a downtown intersection (with L+R in the middle, waving). There’s also a swirly design on screen. 7.5/6.0
6. Mirror People: Another single from ‘Earth, Sun, Moon’, this one is heavier, with an accent on the bass and guitar. I like it, but is it single-worthy? Not so sure…
The video has the band performing in mirrored room. It’s black and white, smokey, inky black. It has a psychedelic aspect to it, especially during the chorus. The Bubblemen appear again, and there’s a shot of Daniel dancing with Kevin. 6.75/5.0
7. The Dog-End of a Day Gone By: Strangely, after three albums, the band released a single for this track, culled from their debut effort. Not sure what the notion was. This is a mid-tempo guitar and beat-driven song, a bit psychedelic. The combo of both singers is the best part, really. It’s terrific on album, but it’s not much of a single.
The video is merely grainy concert footage (presumably then-current stuff, not archival footage) presented in slow-motion. Meh. 6.0/6.0
8. Motorcycle: This was a single for the band’s 1989 self-titled album. It begins with a creepy vocal intro by David J, who later contributes a nice layer of background vocals. When the music starts, it’s with heavy rhythmic guitars and bass. It’s groovy, but extremely repetitive. There are lots of noisy guitars in the back, and it ends in chaos, noise.
The video simply consists of shots of a motorcycle, with long caresses of its chrome frame by the camera. Honestly, that’s all it is. It could be an advert for a brand of bike, but it’s not. 7.5/5.0
9. So Alive: Also culled from their fourth album, this is their biggest hit (although they may be more famous for “Ball of Confusion”). It’s a drum and bass-driven (drum and bass, not “drum and bass”) number with smooth, creepy vocals. For the chorus, female singers brighten it, doing “ooh oohs”. I hated the song at the time of its release but I love it now.
The video is just another performance by L+R with effects super-imposed over the footage. There are also the shots of models’ legs, stretched out unnaturally. Daniel and Kevin dance together again and there are lots of stars lit over the models and Ash at one point. Simple, but memorable. 8.0/7.0
10. The Bubblemen Are Coming: In reality, this was released between the band’s third and fourth albums, but it’s at the tail end of the programme – probably because it’s technically a different band. It’s strange, with lots of guitar noise, cowbells, laser zaps, and a constant drum beat – it would sound like a different band, but the vocals betray them.
The video starts with a Bubbleman (a black and white bee-like character with a perpetual smile and big eyes) at a table, next to a window, drinking a beverage and listening to radio. A swirl effect from “No New Tale to Tell” returns, and there are shots of The Bubblemen in various settings and playing guitar. It ends with “The beginning” written on the screen. Not quite, apparently: this would be their last single. 7.0/6.5
Beyond ‘The Haunted Fishtank’, this DVD also compiles Love and Rockets’ other videos in a separate section – aside for “No Big Deal”, strangely enough, which was released in 1989. It adds to the set the videos from Daniel Ash and David J’s respective solo careers, also in a separate section. The cherry on top are an interview with and a rare studio recording by Love And Rockets, as well as three audio recordings by The Bubblemen.
Love And Rockets
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. No Big Deal: Taken from L+R’s 1989 album, this heavy nugget is strong on the fuzzy guitar, bass, and simple beat. It also includes nice sound effects, distortion, and… harmonica. It’s an unusual track as a single because it goes nowhere.
The video is merely a performance, involving lots of close ups. But the colour scheme changes regularly: it’s either all-red, all-blue, or all-white. 7.75/6.5
2. Sweet Lover Hangover: Although this is the edited single version of the ‘Sweet F.A.’ single, I’m totally enamoured with it. The album version is better, of course. In fact, it’s the track that made me listen to the album over and over again – which eventually opened my mind to the band. It’s all in the amazing vocal hook, really. There’s also a pleasant wah wah guitar, and the drums keep the pace going.
This is the video that stunned me the most, but for entirely superficial reasons: Ash’s hair is down. After 15 years of his spikey look, he went with something slick. In fact, they all have a more modern look to them. It feels somewhat influenced by U2, although there were other artists who had a similar style. These guys rock it best, though. The video is yet another performance by the band, although this one takes place in a garage or small warehouse. It’s in black and white, aside for some colour shots of a woman. Otherwise, there are inserts of an old microphone. The video ends with paint pouring on the band while they’re playing. 8.5/7.5
3. Holy Fool: Taken from electro-heavy album ‘Lift’, this is a very bass-driven mix of trip hop and L+R, featuring female background vocals. It’s like a rave version of their old selves: very slick, modern.
The video is a performance by L+R on a colourful set. There are also computer graphics and shots of blonde woman singing, driving around town, and dancing. It’s probably their slickest video of them all. Not that this is saying much. 7.5/8.25
4. RIP 20C: Also from ‘Lift’, this features repetitive vocals, beat, …etc. It’s very electro, with a groovy bass line. It’s like nothing they’d done before. Frankly, it’s not really a band song – I can’t imagine what they’d play or contribute live.
The video consists of concert footage and David reading the lyrics as though he were an old time newscaster. There are also shots of all three sitting in high tech chairs and an insert of their new logo. Blah. 7.0/5.0
Interview: This is basically your generic seven minute-long EPK. Ash talks about their intentions, their inspirations, and how hard it is to be original now (back in 1989). He boasts about Love And Rockets being able to do whatever they want musically, that their label (Beggars Banquet, at the time) gave them much latitude. David also talks about their writing process. The interview is cut with footage from their videos and lots of shots of The Bubblemen. 6.75
David Lanfair: Originally issued as a B-side to the “Mirror People” single, this audio track (there is no video) is basically a seven-minute tape that this David Lanfair guy made, asking Love And Rockets all sorts of questions about their background, inspiration, …etc. He sounds naive and uninformed, in that much of what he’s asking he could probably find out through rock magazines at the time. Anyway, L+R decided to add a mid-tempo musical backdrop to it and released it, giving him his 15 minutes of fame. Or seven, as the case may be. It was later reissued on ‘Assorted’, the bonus tracks disc in the ‘5 Albums’ boxed set. 6.0
Daniel Ash released three solo albums thus far. His first two came out in 1991 and 1992 and were natural extensions of Love And Rockets’ latest opus, but with a little less balance. They are mixed bags, although I like them both.
I’m particularly proud of having the limited edition version of his first one, ‘Coming Down’, on display: it has different artwork (Ash is all zen-like, touching his temples) and it looks really cool with its spiral binding and velvety cover.
2002’s eponymous album, his third, was mostly electronic, but I couldn’t get into it at all. I tried, but alas. Sadly, he’s only released the rare single and a live album since. I hope that we get to hear from him more in the future.
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. This Love: “This Love” is the first solo single by Daniel Ash, taken from ‘Foolish Thing Desire’. I loathe the opening lyrics of this track, which feature the weakest rhyme in known memory: floor + floor boards + floor. Woah… must’ve taken a lot of effort to come up with that one. I like the chorus for its guitar backing and I like Ash’s vocals, but it’s not a remarkable track. I nonetheless have the two CD singles for it, though.
This one is a performance video in both colour and black and white. Basically, we’re treated to shots of the band, their instruments, …etc. There are also shots of a model posing and playing finger tambourine. MTV Music Video Awards winner? Good one! 6.75/4.5
2. Walk This Way: This second single from Ash’s debut LP is backed by a samba groove. No joke. It’s super catchy, actually. It’s really unusual for him but it’s quite good, with a neat beat and keyboard hooks.
The video consists of black and white shots of models posing and walking outdoors as well as unusual-looking men. There is also colour footage of a cabaret performance by Ash with Natasha Atlas singing and dancing. 7.25/6.0
Here She Comes: The second single from ‘Coming Down’, his second album, is far too soul-infused for me, featuring horns and some r&b background vocals over a slow groove. What’s cool is the juxtaposition of his creepy vocal style in this song; it’s really not intuitive.
The video consists of flashes of images: dancers, the band, all sorts of effects. Ash is in a long black leather coat or a checkered shirt, with his hair slicked back – a first at the time. The clip is all style but at least it enhances the song, which is otherwise only OK. 5.0/7.0
Get Out of Control: This is the first single from ‘Coming Down’. It opens with noisy guitar over a droning drumbeat. There’s a yummy guitar breakdown that comes in regularly. I love that part. And I enjoy the chorus. But it’s very simplistic and repetitive.
This flashy, slick video is a performance with an all-female band. They’re all model-types, dressed as rockers. H-O-T. Ash has a Jesus and Mary Chain hairdo, for some reason. Presumably, he was trying to redefine himself in the early ’90s, after at least decade with a similar look. The video is all style. I like the song. I like the video. I don’t know that they work together, though. Who was their target audience? 7.0 + 7.0 = 6.0 (seriously)
When I first stumbled upon David J’s solo album, ‘Songs From Another Season’, I was very eager to buy it; I figured anything Love And Rockets/Bauhaus-related would have to be good. I hated it. I played it a few times, but it never grew on me. I still picked up his follow-up ‘Urban Urbane’, though. But I should have known better, with a title like that. I stopped paying attention to his output after that.
1. I’ll Be Your Chauffeur: This single, the first from ‘Songs From Another Season’, is notable for being one of the first number ones on Billboard’s Modern Tracks chart. It’s catchy, but it’s merely one’s standard uptempo folk-rock song with steel guitar.
The video, however, is a bit more unusual. David J, a man playing accordion with wings on, and another guitarist who has lit lightbulbs on, are all sitting on tall step-ladders on a seaside hill, playing the song. The sky is pink, and around the hill are white paths leading to and from it. There are also inserts of scenery, a Rolls, and a man pushing a wheelbarrow. David J looks like the long-lost brother of Andrew Eldritch; they have a similar bone structure. Weird. I wonder if they’re related somehow. 7.0/7.5
What is up with The Bubblemen? Why were Love And Rockets so obsessed with them? Were they on drugs? Or were they suffering from a collective mental disorder? What were they trying to achieve with these goofy alien bee creatures? I mean, they’re wacky and weird in a good way, but they don’t jive with my mental image of L&R, who are anything but light and carefree.
All of the following tracks were available on The Bubblemen maxi single ‘The Bubblemen Are Coming’. These are only audio files, there is no video, so it’s clear that The Bubblemen were near and dear to their hearts, or L&R wouldn’t have included all of these as well. They were later reissued on ‘Assorted’, the bonus tracks disc in the ‘5 Albums’ boxed set.
1. The Bubblemen Rap: This is quite like the title says, a rap by The Bubblemen, over heavy beats, a repetitious guitar riff and an assortment of sound effects and soundbites. The title of this DVD, ‘Sorted!’, comes from the lyrics of this track, and their tagline “Don’t Rock, Wobble” comes from this too. It’s startling when you know it’s actually L+R. 6.5
2. Dub Rap: This is pretty much an instrumental version of the above track. I think I might enjoy it just a bit more because I don’t like rap. Just a wee bit more. 6.75
3. B-Side: This is nothing more than the sounds of bees over the static of a record player. Really weird. Not sure what they were going for. Just a joke on the title, I suppose. n/a
There’s so much jam-packed on this disc, it’s astounding – I’ve rarely seen such a great package, even by mainstream acts (who have bigger budgets for such things). Its producers really need to be commended for being so thorough and for giving fans pretty much all they could ever want: there’s even a Bubblemen comic and a hidden colour version of the “Motorcycle” video. All told, the absence of “No Big Deal” is simply confounding.
For me, having not grown up on these videos, I found the overall experience underwhelming. Firstly, the singles weren’t always the best L&R tracks, and taken out of their proper context lost much of their power. Secondly, the videos just weren’t all that good – or appropriate for the songs. To me, watching the videos devalued the songs somewhat; it made me long to listen to the albums instead, where the songs were properly contextualized.
‘Sorted!’ would no doubt leave a first time listener quizzical, wondering why this band achieved such a cult following and had influence on the growing alternative movement. But I suspect that it doesn’t matter one iota: this collection will likely only draw fans anyway, and they won’t be swayed by the quality of the clips. And, given just how stocked this DVD is, I imagine that quantity would trump quality for even the most finicky of them all.
Because, no matter how you cut it, ‘Sorted!’ is one fantastic collection.
Date of viewing: September 17 + 21, 2014
On May 12, 2015, I was alerted by a reader that there are other Easter Eggs on this DVD, aside for the colour version of “Motorcycle”. These hidden goodies consist of the video for ‘If There’s a Heaven Above” a vintage interview with The Bubblemen. Please see the comments section below for details and for a link that provides instructions on how to access these extras.
If There’s a Heaven Above: The opening number from Love And Rockets’ debut album, this was Love And Rockets’ second single. It’s a slice of psychedelic pop that could only have been borne from the alternative movement of the early ’80s, complete with screeching guitars and xylophones. It’s a lovely track but it’s hardly a landmark number.
The video is a bit dreamy and perfectly complements the song, which has a day-dreamy vibe to it. It bookends with the band wandering about the coast at sunset, with the picture tinged in red and L&R in shadows. Aside for the sunset escapade, they are also seen in broad daylight, wandering about the ruins of an old church, singing the chorus, lying in the grass, and sitting on a stone. I was stunned to seem them beam, given that they’ve always had a sort serious, if not surly look about them. Superimposed over many of the shots are sped up cloud cover. It’s nothing breathtaking, but it’s a nice video for the era. 7.5/7.0
The Bubblemen Interview: This is a 7 minute-plus interview with The Bubblemen on a UK show called ‘Supertime Club’, which was a cartoon and music video show for younger audiences. The three band members are present, dressed up in their bizarre black and white cartoon bee costumes and taking questions first from host Sarah Jane and then from another host (possibly Mark Chase – there are no credits and he is never referred to by name).
The interview, as one can imagine, is utterly nonsensical, with the trio fielding questions about where The Bubblemen are from, how long they live (centuries, but they don’t know exactly how long), if they’re wearing clothes, …etc. There’s also an introduction to their new EP and they sing some silly a capella number together. Finally, there’s a giveaway for their EP, which requires viewers to write in with the answer to the question: Which planet are The Bubblemen from?
It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but that’s what I like about it. I’m got mixed feelings about The Bubblemen, but I do like that Love And Rockets didn’t take themselves so seriously that they couldn’t have a bit of fun. My only misgiving about this extra is that the audio quality is so bloody poor that you can barely hear what The Bubblemen (who are speaking through a device that distorts their voices) are saying. So, unless the hosts translated was was being said, I was utterly clueless.
Oh well, it’s still nice to have, and it further cements ‘Sorted!’ as one of the most complete and essential music video collections out there. For fans of Love And Rockets and the curious, it simply doesn’t get better than this.