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The Real Tuesday Weld
Blood Neil Fox , May 11th, 2021 08:19

The beginning of the end for The Real Tuesday Weld, Blood is the first of three 'swan songs' for the cult London band, prompting a reflection on artistic legacies, fom Neil Fox

What is the pop music equivalent of a film retrospective? For a while All Tomorrow’s Parties had their Don’t Look Back series of bands playing classic albums in full. There are, or were, Butlins Weekenders full of retro acts pumping out the hits. Record Store Day maybe, although more and more it’s just an excuse for major record companies to reissue the work of titans again and again ad infinitum, flooding the market and making it harder for smaller, more niche artists and labels to maintain visibility. How will the work of independent artists be rediscovered once time in the limelight has dimmed? How will those for whom the continuously precarious quest for economic sustainability proves too much, be remembered and reevaluated? In cinema, the film retrospective where the work of filmmakers is brought together to be viewed and appraised and reappraised as a whole does invaluable work for keeping artists in the conversation and, hopefully, in the black.

In 2018, New York’s Quad Cinema presented a retrospective of the American filmmaker Alan Rudolph whose career bobbed along in the undertow of New Hollywood pioneers such as Robert Altman and Hal Ashby. His work is offbeat in way specific to him – funny and melancholy, strange and slightly heightened – and it’s hard to place in terms of a unified time, space, or tone. Since being re-alerted to Rudolph’s work I have tried to catch his work whenever it pops up on streaming services, which it does with a satisfying regularity. Thoughts of how independent rock and pop music can remain visible after the retirement of the artists making it were prominent while watching Alan Rudolph’s 1985 noir romance Trouble In Mind recently as news drifted through of the swan-song of the “Cabaret Noir” outfit The Real Tuesday Weld in the form of a series of three final albums.

The Real Tuesday Weld’s music is cinematic, beyond their name, in the ways that Alan Rudolph’s work is cinematic. It is a space for outsiders, oddballs, and the unloved and unloveable – be that musical styles or narrative characters – to commune. Tonally, the listener is never sure of when they are, or where they are. Trouble In Mind is set in the fictional Rain City, which feels like but isn’t an archetypal American city from the pages of Hammett or Spillane, but there’s a strange low-key cyberpunk feel as if Rudolph was inspired by Blade Runner but had only one hundredth of the budget to replicate it. Similarly, on the first of three The Real Tuesday Weld farewell records, BLOOD, there’s an almost eerie juxtaposition of styles and ideas that creates an ambivalent unease offset by a familiarity of sound and texture and gorgeous, swooning melody and orchestration that feels welcoming. These “ten themes for noir movies” are songs that you could imagine being played on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks jukebox or maybe playing quietly from the short order cook’s radio in the depths of the kitchen.

There’s a polka-tinged cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ that is just the right amount of knowing, self-deprecating and loving homage. The opening track, ‘Blood Knuckled and Dusted’ and ‘Promises Promises’ (both featuring delightful guests on vocals – Oriana Curis on the former and Sephine Llo on the latter) are swooning, orchestral dark ballads that again bring Trouble In Mind into view and the work that Marianne Faithfull does on the soundtrack.

Repeat listens to BLOOD bring to mind other musician’s forays into cinema but they maybe aren’t obvious or renowned examples. A common reference point for The Real Tuesday Weld is Tom Waits, but these laid-back and slightly scuzzy laments and torch songs – including the punningly named ‘Torched Song’ – conjure the sight of Waits’ laconic DJ Lee “Baby” Sims in Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, a man forever covered in the residue of a lifetime spinning cuts by barroom singers and blues players but always at a slight, self-imposed, remove from the action. Another odd cinematic/musical crossover these songs conjure is Mick Jones’s lounge karaoke rendition of ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ in Michael Winterbottom’s mostly (unfairly) forgotten oblique sci-fi Code 46. Again, it’s that special blend of the strange and the familiar that is hard to do well but which The Real Tuesday Weld make sound effortless.

Michael Winterbottom, like Alan Rudolph, will likely have a number of retrospectives across the remainder of his and his works’ life. What of The Real Tuesday Weld though? Once this ‘swan songs’ series of three records lands and they are out on the highway, into the night, with the end credits melancholic flow of final BLOOD track ‘Killers’ creeping out of the AM dial, how will they be remembered? Whatever happens, they have left a treasure trove of a back catalogue that crosses genres, eras, and styles and recalls so many influences (Bacharach, Cohen, Legrand) and peers (Hawley, Pulp, Cousteau) but is odder, stranger, and something other. They leave a legacy that is endlessly inventive and rewarding, even if they will always remain destined to be carried along in the undertow, hopefully remembered by those with a fondness for art that conjures that special blend of familiar and strange, on screen and on record.

The Real Tuesday Weld are shuttering at a time when the word cinematic has never been more ubiquitous but when so many of the wondrous, fringe oddities that make up the landscape of cinema and cinematically informed art have never been more at risk of being forgotten. Pragmatically, it makes sense, as it must be exhausting to maintain such a small – if rich – niche. But that just means those of us who love the entirety of what the word ‘cinematic’ can conjure, have a duty to ensure that when conversations about cinema and cinematic music come up, we should keep the likes of Rudolph and The Real Tuesday Weld in that conversation as true artists of their craft.