“Hello everyone, we’re David Cronenberg’s Wife”
It’s a strange feeling, sitting down to write about a group you’ve ranted about to anyone in earshot for the past few years. Often such a group provokes a surge of opinion that’s difficult to contain in syntax. You would probably do better to use this opening paragraph as a primer, ignore the rest of this piece, and simply go listen first to their superb new album The Ship (Necrologies), then The Octoberman Sequence EP, then Don’t Wait To Be Hunted To Hide, then Hypnagogues, then Bluebeard’s Rooms. Let it be known that I will certainly use the word ‘mordant’ but hopefully won’t use ‘filmic’ (vomiting emoji). Beware: there’s the slight possibility I will use Gesamtkunstwerk since I haven’t mentioned it in at least a week. When it comes to David Cronenberg’s Wife I am the paradigm of bias. I preach the gospel of Thomas (Mayne, Tom Mayne, the DCW head honcho, keep up) and I won’t hear a bad word against them. Here we go.
“Look at me here, look at me here”
There’s a DCW press photo which has most of the group, apart from Tom Mayne, standing on some sort of raised platform. Mayne stands off to the side in a loud red blazer looking starched, straight-backed and, by dint of not being on the platform, slightly shrunken, like a casino manager in a mugshot. It’s a faintly hilarious photograph, encapsulating the whole thrust of DCW’s aesthetic in The Ship (Necrologies). Throughout previous records, Mayne always resembles a theatrical chorus. However, on this, their fourth album, he’s shunted to the side in favour of big, resounding arrangements. The vocals in ‘Hannity Comes Home’ sound like they were phoned in from the Gulf of Finland itself; they’re quiet and a little tinny. Both lyrics and vocals seem more subdued than on previous releases. They’re abstract – “rosemary grew from her neck” – and blankly unsettling – “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there, but don’t tell me your name / I must end it with a woman to feel intimate again”-. Things feel a little starker and more detached.
“There’ll be snow soon”
Don’t get me wrong – there are still the obligatory DCW zingers like “homemade white Russians using coffee grounds and Belorussian cream” and “I leave Suli’s when the bassist of Bad Manners arrive”. I love the tactile image of the “Oriental spoon” that “clicked against her teeth”. However, there’s less of a focus on character and more on atmosphere, memory and place. Even the character-oriented song, ‘Nazarbayev Applause Laughing’ feels disjointed because it mostly details an unfamiliar figure, an authoritarian leader, and takes place in a world of luxury and power.
Mayne intones that ‘all the bars are closing down’ (sound familiar?) ‘The Russian Death Song’ reveals that ‘memories of childhood homes provoke no feeling in me’. Traditional notions of comfy domesticity like homes and boozers are destabilised. DCW’s lyrics once inhabited a mordant (drat) midpoint between David Sedaris and Alan Bennett but here they remind me of Raymond Carver or Joy Williams, lean and economical.
“Take the rough with the rough”
On The Ship (Necrologies) DCW seem a little more willing to put you through the ringer, musically speaking. I mean, it’s not Sunn O))), but they sound hard-edged, approaching the propulsive, regimented sound The Fall embraced on stuff like the Wise Ol’ Man EP and New Facts Emerge, the ones where Mark E Smith makes even more of those gargling ‘ggrrrrrrrr’ sounds. There’s the galvanic ‘Hannity Comes Home’ and riotous ‘No Way Out’. Even ‘Suli’s House’, a more traditionally DCW song, has a whirling, evil feel, like a carousel that won’t stop. The stuttering 5/4 rhythm in ‘Nazarbayev Applause Laughing’ emphasises the geographical displacement mentioned in the lyrics. ‘Delete All Now’ is elegiac, putting me in mind of a medieval village that has suffered a blight and lost their cows and two farmers, where locals gather on a squat, black hill to sing laments to a wrathful sky god.
“Is this it, is this it?”
As with that press photo, in every song there’s the little moment, the destabiliser, that throws everything off-kilter. In the sweetly nostalgic ‘I Don’t Know Anymore’, dissonant viola refrains contrast the quavering plaintive monologue, like a pre-healthy living John Cale has said he’ll steal DCW’s lunch money if he isn’t allowed to lay down some chops. When one feeling seems about to grow too large, something will swoop in to temper it, to reign it in. What’s set up (at least to me) as a potential romantic tryst in ‘Suli’s House’ is rapidly destabilised by the titular character using heroin.
‘Suli’s House’ is one of my favourites from The Ship (Necrologies). The boneless Spaghetti Western guitar line feels impish and gleeful. It’s a perfect foil (zing!) to the dry, confidential narrative that describes the things preferred to heroin use like ‘sharp edges’, ‘salt’, ‘wet leaves’, and ‘the smell of old books’. ‘Hannity Comes Home’ juxtaposes the thunderous post-punk arrangement with an unexpected synthesizer coda. Wow. It moves like a sumptuous Angelo Badalamenti symphony, all heartrending minor chords and filigree melodies before, just like that, being abruptly cut short.
“I wish I could stay, to be finished would be a relief, but I have to keep on.”
David Cronenberg’s Wife have grown bleaker and pricklier. Whereas once they fed us the fruit, now they feed us the rind. They seem to be leading us further and further towards the back of the woods. We will follow.
“Don’t think about me, forget about everything”
Words by Will Ainsley