Entitled My Dark Twin, the two-CD set captures the trio at their most experimental
Love and Rockets’ work on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label saw the English trio experimenting with edgier, more electronic sounds.
And 1996’s Sweet F.A. was no doubt the most storied of the two albums they cut for American (not to mention 1998’s Lift, which was released on Red Ant).
The band had already recorded a lot of material for their follow-up to their 1994 American debut Hot Trip To Heaven before heading to Rick Rubin’s 1919 Laurel Canyon mansion, dubbed “The Mansion.” There were sessions with producer Andy Taub at San Francisco’s Coast Recorders, and then came along John Fryer (producer of the band’s 1989 eponymous breakthrough LP), who took Taub’s Coast tapes and deconstructed them at Chipping Norton studios in Oxfordshire, England. Love and Rockets would record additional material at Chipping Norton as well, including a cover of the classic Mink DeVille track “Spanish Troll.”
Unfortunately, shortly after settling in at the American Recordings mansion, a fire broke out inside the part of the house where the trio were living and recording. All of the members were uninjured, but their visiting friend Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic TV was injured escaping the fire. Ultimately, the band lost their gear (including frontman Daniel Ash’s burnt Fernandes guitar used for the cover of Sweet F.A.), plus a number of demos.
American Recordings chose to sue the band in the interim, citing them as responsible for the fire breaking out but ultimately vindicated of any wrongdoing.
“Rubin turned to his insurance company and [they] decided to counter-sue Love and Rockets,” David J told Rolling Stone in 1998. “At the end of the case, we were proved to be innocent, Rick Rubin and American Records were judged responsible and Ms. P. Orridge was awarded nearly $2 million in damages. We were left with a big fat bill to pay. But at least we were found not responsible for the fire.”
Sweet F.A. was finished up at Jive in Silver Lake, CA, with Paul Wallfisch producing. The album would finally come out on March 19, 1996, seeing the group exploring their early influences in Kraftwerk, Can and The Doors with some of their darkest, heaviest work up until that time. And a new collection from Beggars Arkive brings together those earlier sessions for the first time in a 22-track double CD set called My Dark Twin that captures the arduous journey to Sweet F.A.’s fraught creation.
“Sweet F.A. was our coming-of-age album,” J proclaims in the liner notes of the My Dark Twin collection, which was released this past Friday. “A rite of passage the Phoenix rising from both the literal and figurative flames.”
Anyone critical of Sweet F.A. should give My Dark Twin a listen, as it contains some of the most experimental and out-there material Love and Rockets has ever produced. Especially when you dig into the Coast sessions, which make up a good majority of the new set.
“My recollection of our time at Coast Recorders was of a band that was lost in a chasm between electronica and organic rock music,” explains drummer Kevin Haskins in the liner notes to My Dark Twin. “I was pulling for more of an electronic / trip-hop approach and David in a more organic direction, with Daniel caught somewhere in between.”
Indeed, Twin does find Love and Rockets in full-on exploratory mode, traversing that aforementioned chasm with wonder and daring. In addition to that Mink cover, recorded on an old boom box for maximum lo-fidelity, there’s also “U.O. Me,” a raw and spontaneous improvisational jam with Ms. P. Orridge captured at the Laurel Canyon mansion that’s 15 minutes long and saved from the fire by Haskins and his portable DAT machine, which he always took home with him, having lived close enough to the mansion to not need to stay there. With Genesis on her famous effects box the Gristleizer, “U.O. Me” is the closest Love and Rockets have ever come to the sound of Throbbing Gristle, a group who helped give the trio’s old act Bauhaus a break when they were first starting out.
Another song featuring guests is a track from the Coast Recorders sessions called “California (Have A Nice Apocalypse!),” which features Green On Red’s Chuck Prophet on second acoustic guitar and some lovely pedal steel work from American Music Club’s Bruce Kaphan.
“Chuck Prophet just happened to be hanging out and had his guitar with him,” J explains in the liner notes. “Also on board were Bruce Kaphan and the great Steve Carter on piano. Recorded in a single take at the end of a very long and productive day, hence the very languid, laid-back feel.”
Kaphan also appears on an early version of the Sweet F.A. track “Shelf Life,” a scathing retort to the news that David J was being dropped as a solo artist by MCA Records that, along with “California,” was also cut at Coast Recorders. Meanwhile, back at The Mansion, we get another improv jam called “Ritual Radio” that lasts nearly 18 minutes and sounds like the missing link between The Velvet Underground and Nine Inch Nails. Elsewhere, early versions of such Sweet F.A. highlights as “Sweet Lover Hangover,” “Sad and Beautiful World” and “Here Comes The Comedown” offer revelatory alternate versions to the LP favorites.
As writer Andrew J. Brooksbank pens in his thorough liner notes for My Dark Twin, “Sweet F.A. had gone through many running order changes, trials and tribulations during its two-year incubation period.” But from all that work and tragedy emerged a dark and complex song cycle whose moment of renewal is finally upon us. It’s a revisit that will hopefully leave you with a newfound sense of appreciation for this underrated record in the Love and Rockets canon.
The trio is currently on tour through June 17th. See the above poster for remaining dates.