Mission of Burma (1981)
Catherine Wheel (1992)
Graham Coxon ( 2000)
Somehow, this startling track written and recorded by influential Boston post-punkers Mission of Burma thirty-one years ago had fallen into the recesses of my faulty memory. Until discovering ‘Academy Fight Song’ their equally forceful. brilliant debut single incongruously enough on an 80’s retro internet station about four years ago and reading of them in Michael Azzerads absorbing document of American underground rock ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life: Notes from the Indie Underground 1981-1991′, my only exposure to their legacy had been through Moby’s 1996 album Animal Rights.
On this pre-Play album, Moby tried to shed his earlier former as a progressive house music DJ and electronic artist somewhat by returning to his roots as a hardcore punk musician and so Animal Rights was a schizophrenic mixture of ambient instrumentals and fiery, electronic tinged punk rock songs carried (or not) by his fragile vocals.
My curiosity piqued by Moby’s souped up version of Joy Division‘s ‘New Dawn Fades‘ which featured in a key scene of Michael Mann‘s 1995 crime film Heat as well as some of his more euphoric dance tracks , I requested for Animal Rights as a Christmas gift from a family member.
I was out of step with critical consensus at the time, read a few bad reviews of the album but determined that it would be a pleasurable listening experience. Sure, it was a mixed bag but my sole reason for wanting it was a song Moby has performed that year on Top of the Pops called ‘That’s When I Reach for my Revolver‘. It sounded explosive, angry and melodic all at once and the idea of an electronic music dj doing such a stylistic u-turn turn intrigued me. Lyrically, the track was direct, emotional and fed into my sense of post pubescent displacement and fear plus the guitars sounded fucking heavy, reminding me of my early teenage years listening to trash metal.
Some of the other tracks on Animal Rights followed the same pattern as ‘Revolver’ but were less catchy though they seemed earnest and personal plus there was a nice bonus cd which contained some lovely, melancholic Eno-esque instrumentals which made the package more palatable, listening wise. I had no idea that this amazing song which led me to own Moby’s most vilified record was not actually written by him but by Clint Conley, co -founder of Mission of Burma. Through reading Azzerad’s account of the bands several years later, I discovered this and that book introduced me to a whole alternative history of American music that I had been blind to. But that’s another story I guess.
And so…. to the song itself and what really strikes me about it is its durability. It has emotional surge of a great anthem and as the other versions I’ve posted here show that it is an impossible song to mess up structurally and musically. These artists or fans perhaps sense that for them to radically rehaul such a powerful song, a song from their youth would be tantamount to musical vandalism and sacrilege. My feeling is that the song does not lend itself to such reconstruction and although the covers are perfectly fine in their own way, they serve more as impassioned reference points to original, still vital blueprint.