30 Years Ago: Love and Rockets Evolve From Bauhaus With ‘Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven’
Here's where it all begins, kids. Goth existed before Love and Rockets' 1985 debut, but Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven laid the cornerstone for shopping mall goth chic.
Love and Rockets also existed before Love and Rockets, for that matter. Add back front man Peter Murphy and the band magically reverts to Bauhaus – the true godfathers of goth.
After that band broke up in '83, singer-guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer-keyboardist Kevin Haskins continued on for a bit with their side project, Tones on Tail, before bringing bassist David J back into the fold. Initially the idea was a Bauhaus reunion, but Murphy wasn't interested. Instead, they named their new group Love and Rockets (after the popular independent comic of the same name) and they were off and running.
According to Dave Thompson's Alternative Rock, the three wanted to christen their new band with a cover "with lyrics as pertinent to the mid-'80s as they ever were to the '60s when it was originally written." They selected the Temptations' 1970 top 5 hit "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" and shortened the title simply to "Ball of Confusion."
It was a startling choice for fans expecting the brooding menace of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" – it's upbeat, political and even a little psychedelic. The latter is no accident: Mind altering substances worked into the production of the band's debut album. Speaking in an issue of MAPS Bulletin, David J told interviewer Damon Orion:
I didn’t really get into psychedelics until ’85. It was the time of the first Love and Rockets album. In fact, the collage that’s on the inside of the gatefold sleeve — that was finished on LSD, on the day of my first trip. I remember being quite delighted with it! I remember sitting on the floor, looking at [guitarist-vocalist] Daniel [Ash]’s antique furniture and thinking how sexy the legs of the furniture were, and remarking on this! [Laughs] The curvature of the furniture, and Daniel just smiling.
"Ball of Confusion" didn't make it onto Seventh Dream, but the 12" single was a big club hit and stirred up buzz for the band. Follow-up single "If There's A Heaven Above" not only made the cut but opened the album. The song serves almost as an artistic manifesto for the band, blending the cold precision of drum machine beats with warm, organic harmonies, their psychedelic hearts clearly pinned to their sleeves:
What was audibly clear to anyone willing to give these first two cuts a fair spin was that Love and Rockets had less in common with its members' former band than with, say, XTC, for example, who shared their lighthearted fondness for the psychedelic juxtaposed with weighty topics like faith (the classic "Dear God," in XTC's case).
Track two, "A Private Future," laid the groundwork (at least in America) for shimmery mid-80s new wave of bands like the Dream Academy and the Church. Built around a simple guitar figure, the cut has an almost dreamlike quality that turns into something of a nightmare by the bridge. "Live the life you love / Use a god you trust /And don't take it all too seriously," Ash repeats in a deadly serious drone.
The religious thread carries through "The Dog End of a Day Gone By" with its "man on the corner / Coming on like Moses / Flogging new religion / Like a bunch of plastic roses." It's only in retrospect that one considers what an influence the rise of the budding religious right and their respective televangelists may have had on the album's content.
The album's A-side closes with "The Game," which is either a philosophical masterpiece or a throwaway bit of filler. Set against the James Bond riff played at half speed, Ash declares, "We're going to stay awake / For as long as it takes / To correct all the silly mistakes we have made." Is he referring to a spiritual awakening – to giving up those bunches of plastic roses? Or was the band simply wiped out one evening in the studio and having a laugh?
Over on the B-side, listeners only got three tracks, including album closer "Saudade" which still sounds as good today as it did in 1985. The title translates roughly to "melancholy" or "nostalgia," which is precisely where one's mind drifts during this five minute instrumental.
The best was yet to come. In 1987, the band released Earth, Sun, Moon – home of the alternative classic "No New Tale to Tell." Two years later, 1989's self-titled Love and Rockets brought them their only top 5 hit, the infectious "So Alive."
The band took a break at the end of the '90s, coming back together in 2007 for a brief reunion. Both Ash and David J have stated that there's no bad blood, but another reunion isn't in the cards. On the other hand, Haskins claims he's learned to never say never, so there's still hope.