A period piece and sacred artefact, not least because of its subsequent endorsements.
Barney Hoskyns 2009-11-12
This 1979 Rough Trade album is a period piece and a sacred artefact, not least because of its subsequent endorsement by an "extremely unhappy, lonely and bored" Kurt Cobain, for whom listening to The Raincoats was "like we're together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above…"
Co-produced by Rough Trade's Geoff Travis and Red Krayloa legend Mayo Thompson, and commercially available for the first time in a decade, the album sounds as fresh and inept and charmingly cheap as so many demystifying DIY post-punk records from 1979 do: clumpy, clattery drums; fitful, rattling guitar; jutting, stubby bass; the utter absence of reverb or production polish. Not to mention the scraping, occasionally amplified violin – hinting at John Cale – of classically-trained Vicky Aspinall.
But The Raincoats also sounds very different from Gang of Four, Scritti Politti and their indie ilk. It even sounds very different from the band's main all-girl influence, The Slits (from whom drummer Palmolive transferred), because its femaleness can be palpably felt in the songs' folky vocals – bassist Gina Birch's, at any rate – and jerky intuitiveness. In the stop-start time changes of tracks like Life on the Line and the rape-protesting Off Duty Trip you can hear a line that connects Patti Smith to Sleater-Kinney, or Bikini Kill to Beth Ditto – even if the shambolic sound is sometimes more like a spliffed-out Shaggs in a Notting Hill squat.
Portuguese guitarist Ana Da Silva was the punkier of the band's two co-founders, her voice bolshier and her songs choppier; Birch has something of Lætitia Sadier in her sweetly lowkey vocal tone, and there's something of Stereolab too in the oblique feel of songs like Adventures Close to Home and No Looking.
The Raincoats is one of those enshrined albums I feel I should love more than I do. I probably won't listen to it a lot more than I did back in 1979; indeed, I broadly prefer their later (less itchy-and-scratchy) works Odyshape and Moving. But I also hear what the young Cobain heard in it: a feisty, un-macho stance, playful poetics and pride.