Sing To God (Reissue)

Originally released in 1996 in a limited run of 3000 double album CD sets and later separately as volumes 1 & 2, Cardiacs’ epic masterpiece Sing To God has finally been given the 180g vinyl release that it always deserved. A beautiful thing it is too – from the Night Of The Hunter inspired disembodied heads floating against a dark night sky dotted with stars on the front cover, to the previously unseen band photographs on the inside sleeves and the individual band members’ faces now adorning a side each on the centre labels. The creepy fairytale atmosphere of the Charles Laughton film makes it an entirely appropriate image that resonates perfectly with the album’s overall vibe. The fact that the band members’ eyes are all rendered artificially larger, suggesting wide-eyed children, or perhaps adults returned to that beatific state by the administration of some pharmaceutical philtre, also attests to the truly psychedelic nature of the sounds contained within.

Held in high esteem by the fans themselves, as well as being considered to be the best point of entry for beginners, STG represents the pinnacle of Tim Smith’s studio mastery and exhibits elements of the gentler side of his Sea Nymphs project alongside the full-on helter skelter, breakneck velocity more usually associated with the band. It is also, despite the richness of its orchestration and more experimental tendencies, decidedly a pop record – one as quintessentially English sounding as Pink Floyd’s seminal Piper At The Gates of Dawn or XTC’s classic English Settlement.

As well as being extremely easy on the eye, the vinyl itself sounds wonderful. A sound like a wind chime being struck followed by some seconds silence proceeds from the initial drop of the needle as ‘Eden On The Air’ swells, imperceptibly at first, to coalesce like early morning mist, beautiful but only briefly there. After such serenity, ‘Eat It Up Worms Hero’ comes as something of a shock, shaking the listener rudely out of their reverie. Easily the album’s most abrasive and chaotic sounding track, I’d put money on the likelihood that the most unfavourable of the initial reviewers didn’t make it past this point. Whether this was consciously Smith’s design, to play "out" from the beginning to scare off the faint of heart because this wasn’t for them anyway, the end result is pretty hard to argue with. This is not a tune that would have existed on an early Cardiacs album, but rather a product of Smith using the studio as instrument, conducting a mass of choral voices against buzzsaw guitars and manic electronic pulses.

I know that some long term Cardiacs fans prefer the earlier albums but for me this really misses the importance of the transition in the band’s sound that began with Heaven Born & Ever Bright and found full expression in STG, which marked the point where Smith’s ability to express the music inside his head really began to transcend any sort of identifiable genre and turned Cardiacs into something truly unique. Although on STG, Smith’s influences are undeniably still 70s and early 80s in their origin, the band’s compressed, trebly sound, packed with melodic detail and twisty atonal about turns is completely their own – far more so in fact than their earlier material and less specifically tied to any moment in time. Naysayers may indeed welcome the fact, but nobody else sounds quite like this.

It could be argued that there’s too much here to be listened to in a single sitting. There’s clearly too much detail and too many highlights to be comprehended all at once the first time round, but arguably, that’s part of the appeal, and I’m sure I’m not the only listener for whom regular immersion in this record has become something of an obsession. The first of several tunes to feature backing vocals from one-time Sidi Bou Said’s Claire Lemmon, ‘Dog Like Sparky’ is a stupidly, almost overwhelmingly happy song with a playful blasphemy hidden in its heart ("Put your hands on the Holy Bible and scream wank") and an utterly demented keyboard refrain that sounds like a fleet of ice-cream vans chiming simultaneously. ‘Fiery Gun Hand’ is an electrifying piece of avant-pop orchestration with John Poole’s guitar solo (spliced together by Smith from several Poole solos) redefining the term incendiary. ‘Belleye’ is Smith’s attempt at a slightly straighter pop song – totally euphoric like filling the cup of joy until it’s completely overflowing – and clearly illustrates why Cardiacs were such an influence on bands like Blur to begin with. Live favourite ‘A Horses Tail’ recalls the punked-up Zappa element of the band’s past.

One of the album’s most beautiful tracks, ‘Wireless’, is Smith’s re-imagining of the Faust track ‘Psalter’ (also known as ‘Lauft… Heisst Das es Lauft Oder es Kommt Bald… Lauft’) but performed primarily on piano and scissor-wielding percussive ensemble that ends with Smith reading a bizarre aquatic-themed children’s story. ‘Dirty Boy,’ perhaps the album’s crowning achievement, begins with a guitar riff reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen’ and alchemically transmutes its base material over the course of its nearly nine minutes duration with celestially ringing sounds constructed by innumerably overlaid strata of acoustic guitar and incredibly drawn out sustained vocals that when performed live had an undeniably consciousness-altering effect on all those present. ‘Odd Even’ is another classic English pop song, whose inner eccentricity is suddenly sprung upon the unsuspecting listener during a wonderfully crazy arpeggiated keyboard solo that poor John Poole was left to learn after Smith had written it. ‘Bell Stinks,’ ‘Bell Clinks’ and ‘Angelworm Angel’ are all Poole-penned compositions which fit seamlessly into Smith’s very personal sense of the band’s aesthetic. Poole also collaborates on riffs and orchestrations throughout, itself a departure from Smith’s usual working methodology. ‘Flap Off You Beak’ fuses a relatively straightforward twanging guitar line with a sublimely soaring choral vocal part that shimmers mirage-like, sending up vapour trails in its wake. ‘Quiet As A Mouse’ is a bizarre vocal interlude, featuring Tim and Jim Smith’s mother’s voice speculating on the untimely demise of then new-boy drummer Bob Leith.

Epic and ludicrous all at once, ‘Red Fire Coming Out Of His Gills’ returns to the aquatic fairy tale theme from the end of ‘Wireless’ and turns it into a classically infused anthem that wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to a really strange animated children’s TV show. The tremulously lovely ‘No Gold’ and ‘Foundling’ return once more to gentler Sea Nymphs territory, whilst ‘Nurses Whispering Verses’ (which takes its title from the Slapp Happy/Henry Cow song ‘In The Sickbay’ from Desperate Straights) presents the definitive version of a song that had featured on both 1981’s Toy World and the original cassette release of 1984’s The Seaside, and which had become a firm favourite in the band’s live performances at the time.

This is a wonderful album for those whose hearts lack the cynicism to ridicule its often delirious flights of fancy, a cornucopia of synaesthetically rendered technicolor delights for those who have not yet lost the innocence required to be receptive its psychedelic splendour.  

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