Well, if “Untitled” by Marc and the Mambas was the album for my dark night of the soul, then their follow-up “Torment and Toreros” was a dark fortnight. Dark, dark, dark. I mean, read the title.
This came out in 1983, a surprisingly quick turnaround for a full double album. A double album of dark, lush, complicated music, strings by The Venomettes, and more moaning vocals. Like “Untitled,” but more so. Some of it was a hard listen even then.
There are some incredible highlights — for example, another Jacques Brel cover, “The Bulls,” with lines like “On Sunday, the bulls get so bored / when they’re asked to drop dead for us.” Or “Black Heart,” or the fantastic adaptation of “Beat Out That Rhythm On A Drum” from “Carmen Jones.” They are almost not suicidally depressing. Almost.
But then there are songs like “In My Room” (nothing to do with Brian Wilson), “First Time,” and “(Your Love Is A) Lesion.” Omigod, those do not make you want to live. From “First Time”:
Looking down into your acid eyes
I see a thousand wild nights
Rubbing your hand in the softest way
Across your necklace of bites
The streets are deserted, and so is your mind
We’re so sick of the sight of each other
We’ve done this many times
This also was also not released on the US, so I was again lucky that the import was available. I can tell by the colored stickers on the bag that this came from Modern Records, a smaller record store just off Westcott Street in Syracuse (Trinity Place, perhaps). It was next to a little boutique called Boom Babies that is, incredibly, still in business (though not at that location). My recollection is that Modern was just that — mostly current stuff. It was a small, clean place filled with albums by bands that would never, ever be heard on Syracuse radio — acts like XTC, Everything But The Girl, and Marie Wilson. In order to even know what they were about, you just had to be hanging out when they were given a spin, or take a chance based on whether you liked the cover. I don’t know who they catered to other than me, but apparently there were enough others in the Salt City clamoring for the new, unusual, and non-commercial that the store was in business for a while.
Modern bagged most things, and they indicated price through a set of color-coded stickers. What that code meant is beyond me at this point — it was probably beyond me then. It have been in increments of $5, $2.50 and $1, although I think it was even more complex than that. When you added up the stickers, that was the price. How that was easier than just writing the price on a sticker: unclear. Convoluted but colorful.
As with “Untitled,” I’m sure I can’t be objective about this album. it’s tumultuous music from a tumultuous time in my life — finishing school, uncertain about the future, making life choices, and listening to all this dark, sad music. It is something I don’t listen to in its entirety very often anymore, because I’m just not in that headspace any more, but I don’t love it any less.
While I didn’t find any singles from “Untitled,” I have three from “Torment and Toreros.” Well, two are the same: a 7” and 12” editions of “Black Heart,” and a 12” of “Torment.”
The 12″ of “Black Heart” was backed with “Your Aura.”
The “Torment” 12″ was almost an EP. It also featured “First Time,” “You’ll Never See Me On a Sunday,” and the hugely non-commercial, self-indulgent, somehow enjoyable “Megamillionmania Multimania Mix,” which includes a jab at his most famous song (Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”).
Well, I know what I paid for this one, and I know where I bought it! $4.40 at Spectrum Records, the Syracuse University student co-op which by then may have moved from its ramshackle building on University Avenue to the old Student Center Building on Walnut — though I can’t swear to that timing.
Many of the same personnel were on “Torment and Toreros” as were on “Untitled,” and there was the same feel to the artwork : black and red, with a snakes and roses motif everywhere. Very much a continuation of that Marc and the Mambas vibe. Huw Feather, who had designed some of the Soft Cell sleeves, designed the cover. Peter Ashworth again provided both photography and percussion. And Annie Hogan’s keyboards are often the glue that holds the record together. This was the last record by the group under that name, though some of the same personnel would show up in his next group, The Willing Sinners.