If I’m brutally honest, this is the only A.R.Kane record I like. Odd perhaps, given that the concept of dreampop, directly attributed to Alex Ayuli of the band when describing their sound, should really be tailor-made for me. But to these ears, nothing prior or subsequent in their discography comes close to the vertiginous heights of ‘Lollita,’ which, for my money, is one of the best 5 records 4AD ever released. And yes, the competition is fierce. In fact, between 1983 – 1988, the label could virtually do no wrong. During this period, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Wolfgang Press, This Mortal Coil, Clan Of Xymox, Colourbox, Dif Juz, Throwing Muses and Pixies arguably all released their magnum opuses. Ironically, this is A.R.Kane’s only proper release on 4AD (discounting their fractious collaboration with Colourbox as M/A/R/R/S,* which produced the worldwide house hit, ‘Pump Up The Volume’).
So, what makes ‘Lollita’ so good?
I saw A.R. Kane live, twice- once, supporting Dead Can Dance at the imposing, rather plush Sadler’s Wells Theatre (November ’87). Dreadfully, possibly perversely ill-matched to DCD – violently noisy and disharmonic – a large section of the audience sat them out at the bar. And again, at Sheffield Leadmill (August ’88), where they totalled a beautiful, white Vox Teardrop guitar, smashing it on the stage. What struck me on both occasions was an apparent disdain for the audience. Not only were their amps turned up to 11, their backs were turned, their heads, bowed. Or was it shyness perhaps? Were they somehow hoping that they’d become invisible amongst this racket?
Rudy Tambala (programming, keyboards): “When you’re young, pride is a deadly thing. We had such serious attitude. Our music was like Hendrix and the Pistols. Jesus, we were nasty, we didn’t give a shit, we were totally self-indulgent.”
Could that self-indulgent racket be tamed into something both powerful and beautiful? Enter Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, himself, by 1987, a dab hand at bringing the best out in bands (see Felt’s ‘Primitive Painters’ or Dif Juz’s ‘Extractions’). Guthrie, A.R.Kane’s choice of producer and thus, gifted to them by 4AD’s Ivo Watts-Russell, was not about to let the band lead the way. As recanted in Martin Aston’s definitive biography of 4AD, ‘Facing The Other Way,’ Tambala says,
“Working with Robin was a trip! He was extremely exacting and harsh, like, ‘What’s the fuck that shit? Do it again.’ But to go from a scrappy first single to something good enough for 4AD, you needed someone like Robin.”
From the explicit cover art (on the front, a topless, teenage girl looks shyly into Juergen Teller’s camera lens; on the back, the same girl viewed from behind revealing a large kitchen knife in her hands), to the song titles, you know you’re on uneasy ground with this EP. That extra ‘l’ in ‘Lollita’ isn’t fooling anyone, it’s clearly referencing Nabokov’s controversial novel about a middle-aged man obsessed with a pre-teen girl.
“Hey there, winkie girl
Rosebud for a mouth and eyes of pearl
You know how to make me twirl
‘Cos you’re my winkie girl
Hey there, winkie girl
Love to go on down and kiss your curls
You’re not like the other girls”
Neither does the unabashed flip, ‘Sado-Masochism Is A Must,’ pull any punches.
“I’m falling – I fall on razor blades…
This hurts and that hurts and this hurts and that hurts….”
Likewise, ‘Butterfly Collector,’ has definite shades of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ novel, in which a butterfly collecting clerk kidnaps and imprisons a female art student.
“You know I ain’t gonna let you go
I’m gonna keep you
I’m gonna kill you!”
In a Quietus interview with Neil Kulkarni from 2012, Rudy Tambala states,
“Lolita’ is not disturbing; it’s just a record of certain states and misunderstandings, and issues that occur from time to time in EVERY relationship.”
Across these three tracks, lust and violence continually intersect, as do sweetness and noise. Listen carefully and you’ll always hear a prettily strummed acoustic guitar among the vacuumous turbulence but the crashing drum-machine and distorted electric guitar assault 1′ 20″ into ‘Lollita’ is as euphoric as anything Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance ever produced. I’d like to think that Guthrie took great delight in harnessing ARK’s natural pandemonium. For my money, they never sounded so blissful, so exhilarating again.
‘Facing The Other Way – The Story Of 4AD’ by Martin Aston, first published by The Friday Project, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2013.
Rudy Tambala quote taken from the ‘eyesore’ 4AD database article, ‘Whatever happened to….AR Kane’ :
Neil Kulkarni’s Quietus interview with Rudy Tambala
* M/A/R/R/S = Martyn (Young of Colourbox), Alex (Ayuli of A.R. Kane), Rudy (Tambala of A.R. Kane), Russell (Smith of A.R. Kane), Steven (Young of Colourbox)