Year of Release: 1990
Following the collapse of Microdisney (whose "Clock Comes Down The Stairs", "39 Minutes" and "Peel Sessions" albums are already available on this blog) Cathal Coughlan appeared to waste precious little time in moving on. No sooner had the last single from "39 Minutes" been thrown carelessly out by Virgin like an unwanted gift than the Fatima Mansions project appeared at the end of 1989.
It would seem that the early line-up of the band was tentative, and Coughlan was scrabbling his way around in the dark for some kind of identity of his own. In the liner notes for the compilation "Come Back My Children" he even mentions that this period of the band's history saw a lack of "any recognisable style or identity". It was under such meandering circumstances that the mini-album "Against Nature" drifted out in 1990. Whilst it carries the Fatima Mansions badge, it actually sounds more like a solo project than anything else, lacking the abrasive, harsher edges that many FM records boasted.
However offputting it may be to hear about albums that lack cohesion, however, "Against Nature" is still a marvellous little record to behold, being a ragbag of gothic baroque ballads, stomping riffs, and even Hi-NRG disco. It sounds more like a compilation than a studio piece, but - provided you can tolerate swallowing so many conflicting tastes in one mouthful - is frequently a revelation for anybody with an open mind. This is effectively the sound of a brilliant and criminally under-rated songwriter letting go and dabbling with a wide sonic palette, discovering noises and devices which would later be put to more strident use on later LPs.
Coughlan's love of Scott Walker is no secret, but "Wilderness on Time" and "Big Madness" are the closest he's come to that man's more melodramatic moments. Both have spartan backings, with the former only having a harpsichord keyboard setting to keep Cathal's voice company, but are rich with drama and intrigue. "Wilderness" is almost ridiculously surreal lyrically, pushing matters to a point even Jimmy Webb dare not take them, yet sounds so woebegone as to make the most bizarre lines sound significant, and demand to be taken seriously. It's probably one of his finer moments, and that it should be buried as the third track on a mini-album is a tad unfair. "Big Madness", too, is filled with end-of-the-affair obsessive attention to detail, containing the simultaneously disturbing and heart-wrenching lines "I phone you just to hear your voice/ so please don't judge me so/ it's just that I don't think I'll rise again/ 'til I've seen how low I can go". The whole track explores the fine line between obsession/ depravity and common-or-garden romance, backed again minimally but effectively.
Beyond the ballads, "Only Losers Take The Bus" is probably the best-known track here, and trailing it is "The Day I Lost Everything" which almost explores MOR rock territories whilst simultaneously mentioning Jimmy Tarbuck. Precious few people could get away with this sort of thing, you know.
Opening Side Two is also the Stock Atiken and Waterman apeing disco belter "13th Century Boy" which seemed spectacularly contrary at the time, but seems charming now, as well as smelling like a possible hit single in another parallel universe somewhere perhaps, where Jason Donovan styled singles referring to the dark ages regularly visit number one.
The Fatima Mansions are an unjustly sidelined band, and of all their catalogue, "Against Nature" is probably the most unjustly sidelined album. It's not their best piece of work, but it's certainly a long drop away from being their worst, and is a fascinating glimpse of a great songwriter with his guard down, free of the constraints of a contact with a major label and doing a smash-and-grab session through various genres and sections of pop's great music store. Coughlan still frequently performs "You Won't Get Me Home" live, which seethes with fantastic one-liners which haven't dated one iota, and most of this album has aged in a similarly graceful way. Like most of their back catalogue, it deserves a reissue.
1. Only Losers Take The Bus
2. The Day I Lost Everything
3. Wilderness on Time
4. You Won't Get Me Home
5. 13th Century Boy
6. Bishop of Babel
7. Valley of the Dead Cars
8. Big Madness/ Monday Club Carol