gullbuy music review

Biting Tongues


After the Click: Retrospective 1980-89




Biting Tongues CD coverMy first exposure to Biting Tongues was off the Compressor 12” they released for Factory Records. It is a bracing noisy piece of work, at once brilliant and scathing. Some people my come to the band through its significance as a testing ground for 808 State man Graham Massey. At its best, it was a very experimental outfit. To help contextualize the critique, David Stubbs wrote in the Wire:

Like many of their contemporaries, including the Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA, the Tongues' music was a maniacal melange which drew on John Cage, JG Ballard, Captain Beefheart, WS Burroughs etc, co-opting and inverting the exhuberance of funk to provide an agitated, cut-up and noirish yet vivid critique of a society apparently on the verge of 1984 for real... The dialectical wheel has come full circle and the Tongues, in the present day context, in which we've unlearned how to take them for granted, are as exhilarating and urgent as ever. - David Stubbs, The Wire, July 2003

Its the funky bit that you have to watch out for. Almost every track here seems to have a similar bassline. This is Biting Tongues, raw and uncut, the live experience—and its not for everyone. They were a band who constantly aimed for an ideal that they could never reach. Vocalist Ken Hollings explains:

the guiding spirit behind those early shows was: 'Never do what's easy: never make it look difficult.' There would be engraving tools and typewriters set up on stage, sheet metal, animal bones and plastic ray guns scattered everywhere: anything that made a noise and might look good. One performance actually began with a tape loop of the audience heckling us at the end of the previous show. Energy levels and commitment for each performance were insanely high. At one event I read aloud passages from an old handbook on the psychology of advertising then tore out the pages, ripping larger and larger fistfuls of paper from the binding and throwing them into the audience. I remember watching smoke pouring out of the PA system, Graham, Howard and I all hammering in unison on discarded oil cans

Ken Hollings is an author, TV presenter, and general media personality. He occasionally writes for the contemporary music magazine the Wire. He his debut novel Destroy All Monsters arrived the week of the attacks on America. It seems to be scathingly witty science fiction. Hollings has also – perhaps not so suprisingly—translated some of Georges Bataille’s stories for an English audience. As a result of this powerfully intellectual stance, the music generally looks better on paper (conceptually) than live.

The CD insert reads: After The Click offers a comprehensive career overview which draws from all phases of the Tongues' career between 1980 and 1989, and includes several cuts (*) not be released on any other CD. Stand-out tracks include Heart Disease, Compressor, Double Gold St Paul and the live cut Everywhere But Here, never studio recorded but here performed live at The Venue in April 1983. The 70 minute CD was compiled by Graham Massey and features a detailed band memoir.

I would add that this disc is better for completionists and collectors than a general audience. If you are new to Biting Tongues or unfamiliar with their sound, I doubt you will find much joy in this disc.

---George Kilgoar III, July 7, 2004