Wednesday 1 August 2018

Painting Aliens

It's 20 years since the release of Dayglo Fishermen's now classic pop album 'Painting Aliens'. Written, produced, engineered and released over the course of only one year, the album is a remarkable blend of the band's unique quirkiness with traditional pop.

For many the album is quite simply Dayglo Fishermen's finest collection of songs ever.

The CD cover image for the 'Painting Aliens' album. It was designed by former band member David Fothergill.

Almost immediately after the release of their album 'Space Dog' in August of 1997, and no doubt on a high from that album's reception and success, the band reconvened in Opium Studios, their main production facility at the time. With intense focus, and with the level of creativity at its most potent, several tracks were recorded within just a couple of months, including 'Love Rescue Me', 'Voodoo' and 'Circus'. The new album was rapidly taking shape. Its feel and direction were clear.

In early 1998 production had to be halted for a while as the band and its equipment moved to a new recording facility, Aqua-Lisa Studios. The band used that downtime to organise a photo shoot for the new album's cover.

The band photo for the album cover, taken in early 1998 by photographer Steve Wright

Moving to a new recording facility was a risky move while in the middle of a production; one that had the potential to disrupt the creative flow. But fortunately it seemed to have quite the opposite effect. A desperate desire to get back to writing and recording resulted in another couple of months of frenzied work, with the likes of 'Something's Watching', 'Underground' and 'Passion' created during this period.

By the time summer arrived the music for the album had been completed. The band contacted former band member David Fothergill and asked him once again to design the cover. The design he created was a perfect fit for the songs, and has become as iconic as the music itself.

In August 1998, exactly a year after the release of 'Space Dog', Dayglo Fishermen released 'Painting Aliens'. It was a remarkably fast turn around, and yet the 13 tracks on the album feel in no way rushed. The album received immediate praise, and it is now generally accepted to be one of the band's most finely crafted collections of music.

Calls were once again made for Dayglo Fishermen to perform live.

Six months later those calls were answered. The 'Painting Aliens' concert tour started in February 1999 at the Rock Garden, a subterranean venue in London's famous Covent Garden.

Dayglo Fishermen performing at the Rock Garden, London in February 1999. It was the first concert of the 'Painting Aliens' tour. This image shows the band in the closing moments of what was a truly epic performance of the song 'Voodoo'.

The final concert of the tour took place in October 1999 at The Garage, in Buckinghamshire, very close to the band's primary production facility. It was an intimate and private affair, with specially invited guests only: a fitting way to end the album's promotion, and the perfect way to thank the band's closest supporters.

It's time to review the music itself:

The album's title track, 'Painting Aliens', starts things off. It was written late on in the production process and is an energy-packed and instantly appealing sci-fi themed song tinged with the expected Dayglo Fishermen oddness. The song is about an alien that visits Earth in a red and blue saucer ship. The alien reveals he has learned our language from our books: not the easiest way to do it when you're not on this planet. And he also knows how to cook. He eventually takes someone for a ride in his saucer, leaving them in a daze. It's a light, catchy and amusing way to begin the album. And things only get better.

The second song, 'Underground', maintains the tempo but alters the mood significantly with a much denser sound. The track begins with a rough distorted keyboard sound, accompanied by a mournful guitar. The rhythm soon kicks in and a strong synth bass and chugging guitar grips the listener as the verse begins. The following chorus oozes smooth power as the now echoing vocals become serious and determined. And if that isn't enough, the middle section contains what is probably the most intense and dramatic keyboard solo in the band's history. It's no wonder that this is the most eagerly anticipated track whenever the band play live.

'Something's Watching' slows things down a bit, but despite its highly melodic nature there is still an air of tension as the song's subject matter - paranoia and alien impregnation - mesmerises the listener. The percussion is light but relentless, and is accompanied by a smooth bass and a gentle guitar line. As the verse progresses subtle pitch-bended keyboard sounds are introduced in the background, enhancing the sense of eeriness. Sliding guitars in the chorus boost that sensation even further. It's easy to see why this song has become one of Dayglo Fishermen's most popular tracks, and one that's been performed live at every concert since its release.

The inside image of the 'Painting Aliens' CD cover

The next track. 'Blue', lightens the mood significantly. The brushed drums, plucked bass, acoustic/electric guitar mix and electric piano give the song a soft Jazzy feel, with Ginny's confident and gentle vocals lifting things up to something that is truly pleasant. The track gives the impression that the album is switching direction to something happier and more carefree. But that is not the case.

Deep strings and a distant distorted guitar herald the start of 'Voodoo', a re-recording of a song the band originally released on their eponymous album, 'The Dayglo Fishermen', five years earlier in 1993. This version feels much more orchestral as the rich keyboard string section leads the listener through the entrancingly sung verses and choruses, all accompanied by heavy drums and a rich bass line. Dropping right down to almost nothing, the middle section slowly builds to an epic keyboard and guitar solo leading into the final chorus. It's a magnificent experience. 

'Appetite' comes next, and is actually a re-working of the song 'The Sense of You', which featured on one of Richard and Peter's other works titled 'After the Storm', released in 1992. It's an enticing and joyful high-tempo track with punchy drums and bass. Light guitar and a dominant piano riff fills the chorus and the lengthy middle section, which at times seems to drift into a Latin feel. It all results in a positive and fun piece of music.

There are many aspects of circuses that are often considered disturbing (clowns in particular). The next track, 'Circus', seems to capture that feeling quite well. With a very light up-tempo feel the verse starts things off nicely enough, accompanied by soft vocals. But the chorus that follows descends into something quite threatening as harsh guitars, an unnerving synthesiser riff and a forceful vocal performance change the mood significantly. 'Circus' was performed live only once at the Redeye in Islington, London in early 1998 as part of a short preview concert for the album.

The only known images of Dayglo Fishermen performing at the Redeye in London in February 1998. The exclusive event was a preview concert for the 'Painting Aliens' album, which was released six months later. The songs played were 'Love Rescue Me', 'Appetite', 'Blue', 'Voodoo' and 'Circus'.

'Love Rescue Me' is an edgy high tempo song. Its straight but powerful drum track races along with synth a bass that pulses in from nowhere to complete each bar. The guitar is particularly good, with distant arpeggios and staccato power chords in the verses. A pitch-bending keyboard riff sits ominously behind the vocals in the chorus, with more distant guitar finishing things off. This song was written very early on in the production of the album which is why it would have been a good fit for the previous album, too. It has a sound that seems to straddle both.

Songs about predatory females are not common, so the next track, 'Sharks', is a welcome addition to the genre. With its squidgy bass sound, electronic drums and its spooky goings-on in the background, the song paints an eerie picture in the listener's mind. Its message is basically beware, be wise, and know what you're getting yourself involved in - important in all aspects of life. After this, the third rather tense track in a row, it would be right for things to lighten up.

'Foreign Affair (JS Bach)' is one of the gentlest songs that the band has ever written, and it comes at just the right moment on the album. Its soft percussion, which ebbs and flows beneath the melodic guitar arpeggios, perfectly complements the beautifully sung vocals. Underpinning all of this are mellow and wispy keyboards sounds, with a swelling synth lifting the middle section. There's an unexpected and almost groaning keyboard sound ever-present right in the background. It's a subtle touch that completes what could be considered the perfect song to drift away to.

The cassette cover for the 'Painting Aliens' album

The band raided Richard and Peter's other work once again for the next song - a new version of 'Another World', featured on the 1990 album 'Love's a Dangerous Language'. With its title shortened to 'World', the track oozes menace from the outset; an almost shocking contrast to the previous song. A punchy bass and a powerful synth line start things off, with a simple and relentless drum track pounding throughout. Dense distorted guitar fills the background. Richard's incredibly rough vocal fits the verses perfectly, with Ginny taking over for the choruses. The track develops some space towards the end, and then fades out: a rare event on a Dayglo Fishermen song.

The penultimate track on the album is widely considered to be the band's dance floor classic. 'Passion' wastes no time in getting down to business. Its deep bass, orchestral stabs, electronic drums and sensual and suggestive vocals entrance the listener with immediate effect. Subtle guitar licks skirt around the soundscape, turning into an echoing riff as the chorus take hold. It's an energising experience, and the song is demanded for every Dayglo Fishermen performance. The reaction of audiences whenever it's played makes it easy to understand why the band are more than happy to oblige.

Dayglo Fishermen excel at instrumental tracks, and 'Irritating Cliché', the final track of the album, marks a welcome return to such compositions after being noticeably absent on 'Space Dog'. A rough breathing sound introduces us to a gradually building symphony of breathy keyboard sounds. This is soon joined by a fast percussive sequence, and string sounds are quickly layered into the mix. At the halfway point this all drops away and is replaced by a soft synthesiser pad and mellow, almost melancholic, guitars. This continues, building once again, until the breathing returns and the track finishes as it starts. A sudden and perfect way to end the album.

Those who have heard 'Painting Aliens' would be forgiven for thinking that Dayglo Fishermen had sold out to commercialism, and that the band were chasing some easy hits and even adulation. But there's nothing to suggest that in the production notes. The band were simply writing and recording what they felt like doing, just as they always have and always will. Nothing was contrived. Nothing was planned. Each track on the album is of its time: created in the moment, and for that moment.

And what a fine collection of moments that turned out to be.

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