30 Years Ago: Sisters of Mercy Are Reborn on ‘Floodland’
With little room for creative differences, the Sisters of Mercy became estranged following their first album. After putting out First and Last and Always in 1985, the post-punk group didn’t last a year – the lineup crumbling from intraband tension and disagreements over new material. The British band split, literally, in two, continuing as the Mission (with guitarist Wayne Hussey and bassist Craig Adams) and the Sisterhood (with frontman Andrew Eldritch, who had brought aboard former Gun Club member Patricia Morrison).
The schism lasted for about a year, until Eldritch resolved it – not by reuniting with his former bandmates, but by reclaiming the name the Sisters of Mercy for himself. Not that it was too controversial a move – the singer was the only founding member in the group at the time of the breakup. Still, in dealing with the European rock press, Eldritch felt he had to justify the reinvigoration of the Sisters as – essentially – a solo project.
“I couldn't have gotten rid of the name even if I’d tried. So changing it wouldn't have made any sense,” he told SPEX magazine. “I’m still writing and recording the songs in very much the same way.”
In fact, Eldritch went as far as drawing direct connections between old Sisters songs and some of the newer compositions – an act that many musicians are reticent about doing for fear that it might make the new stuff appear stale. But the singer and songwriter was undeterred, claiming that “1959” was the sequel to “Afterhours” and “This Corrosion” was merely the second coming of “Temple of Love.”
Perhaps Eldritch knew that the music of the new incarnation of Sisters would be differentiated by a musical approach that would rely more on samplers and synthesizers, along with the ever-present coterie of drum machines collectively credited to a “Doctor Avalanche.” The new music would also be the result of collaboration, though – apparently – not so much among the Sisters of Mercy’s only two official band members: Eldritch and Morrison (who had remained during the transition from the Sisterhood). Between the two (former) bandmates, there remains a dispute about if Morrison even played on the recordings.
“I intended her to, but she didn’t make the cut,” Eldritch said in 2012. “She was still a key part of the band’s visual identity in this period – on the album cover and in the videos. I didn’t have a band so I couldn’t go on tour. So I did a year of promo for the album, and it was nice to have somebody to answer half the questions and look pretty. Not that I didn’t look pretty in those days…”
Instead of working with Morrison to shape the new LP’s sound, Eldritch turned outward, forming an unexpected partnership with Jim Steinman, the songwriter and composer most famous for his work with Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and Barry Manilow. Somehow, working together made sense because the Sisters of Mercy frontman wanted the song “This Corrosion” to sound “ridiculous,” with an epic background and howling choirs.
“It’s a song about ridiculousness,” he recalled. “So I called Steinman and explained that we needed something that sounded like a disco party run by the Borgias. And that’s what we got.”
Although Steinman only assisted on two of the album’s eight tracks, Eldritch said that his involvement helped him secure the budget to record the new Sisters of Mercy disc the way he wanted. If Eldritch couldn’t justify the use of a 40-member choir to Warner Bros., Steinman could – and had the track record to prove it. In the end, Eldritch and co-producer Larry Alexander would record the LP over the course of 1987 in four studios in four different cities (New York, Manchester, Bath and London).
He came up with the title, Floodland, after the songs were complete and he realized that water had become a common denominator – a fact he chalks up to having written the album (including “Flood I” and “Flood II” in the port city of Hamburg. “This Corrosion” (a Titanic mix of David Bowie drone and goth dancing) was the lead single and became the Sisters of Mercy’s biggest hit to date in the U.K., rising to No. 7. Floodland was released soon after in Britain on Nov. 13, 1987 and turned into a Top 10 album. An American release followed in January of 1988.
While the international releases were identical, the same couldn’t be said for various formats. It was Eldritch’s idea to have four songs balanced on each side of the LP, each beginning with a track of epic length. When he learned that a CD edition added two b-sides to the back of the album, he directed the record company to wipe them off on future pressings, which did not happen. There were even more differences with the “This Corrosion” single, which featured not just different lengths, but unique mixes on its release as a 7-inch, 12-inch, CD and cassette (the album version is the same as the 12-inch single, only with an earlier fade out).
Floodland was released to positive, if not dazzling, reviews and although the Sisters of Mercy were a big deal in Britain and parts of Europe, they were more of an underground act in the States. With the addition of new members, the Sisters of Mercy became an actual band again, released a new album in 1990 (although none since) and, as a touring act, continue to endure. As a goth-rocking ’80s classic, so does “This Corrosion,” which made an appearance in Edgar Wright’s 2013 Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sci-fi comedy The World’s End, as a sort of theme for Pegg’s past-obsessed character.