5 June 2010

Fatima Mansions - Bertie's Brochures

Fatima Mansions - Bertie's Brochures

Label: Radioactive
Year of Release: 1991

We covered The Fatima Mansions' debut album "Against Nature" here, and the breathtaking follow-up "Viva Dead Ponies" was recently remastered and reissued by Cherry Red. The third album "Bertie's Brochures" is less talked about, and that's probably due to the fact that it's not really a proper album as such, but a mini-album (or extended EP) of ideas which, as Cathal Coughlan put it in the sleevenotes, "overran the borders of any coherent year planner". Like "Against Nature", "Bertie's Brochures" is another rattle bag of ideas without any central theme or purpose, but more than any other FM album, this frequently echoes the subtlety of Microdisney releases.

Unlike Microdisney, however, there are no elements of west-coast rock hiding beneath Cathal's contemptuous lyrical tirades - this continues the strain of absurdist piano fronted pop set by "Against Nature". Not that this makes the content of any of it similar to a Mrs Mills party album, but there's certainly a fluid accessibility going on with most of the tracks which could not be claimed for their other albums.

The title track alone (sampled below) remains one of the band's finest achievements. Apparently influenced by a run-in Coughlan had with the law at some point in distant history, it's a piece of storytelling which leaves question marks hanging over the precise details, as well as having one of the finest choruses since Microdisney ceased to be. Sean O'Hagan may well have achieved wonders with The High Llamas, but there's clear evidence here that it wasn't just him providing the melodic suss to go with the salvo, the critical cliche which has been rolled out ever since.

Most of the other tracks, too, show a keenness to emphasise the lyrical coherency of the work, pulling back on the sonic artillery to allow the ideas room to push through. "Behind The Moon" is a depressive, post-split ballad, mentioning a "green bed of bottles", and the telling line "She says 'go', meaning 'stay'/ meaning 'you have to pay'". "Smiling" manages to be both chilling and intelligent, touching upon terrorism with the lines "We see the biggest killers of all/ say they are appalled/ they say 'our rage is extreme'/ but you know what they mean/ upstairs they're smiling/ still scared and still smiling".

So as not to disappoint the hardcore faithful totally, however, the cover here of "Shiny Happy People" is both hilarious and ridiculous, choosing a thudding primal electronic beat to murder REM's most famous pop song, and a chorus of daleks and a rap about a government filled with "closet queens who make it a crime to be gay" just to up the ante further. The song appeared to come about after Michael Stipe stormed out of a Fatima Mansions gig complaining he hated "art rock bands" (which would be rather like Don Henley storming out of a Microdisney gig announcing that he despised West Coast inspired rock, but who are we mere mortals to judge?).

Elsewhere, the Scott Walker song "Long About Now" sounds stronger than it ever did on the "Til The Band Comes In" album, and only the cover of Richard Thompson's "Great Valerio" seems in any way uninspired or dreary.

This probably isn't the best place to start if you're unfamiliar with FM, but it does have some truly brilliant moments, and I'd recommend downloading the album and sampling it anyway, treating the more throwaway moments not as filler, but amusing or entertaining vignettes. At its best, this outshines most supposedly intelligent pop being produced at present, and actually outshone the best of its day as well.


1. Behind The Moon
2. Bertie's Brochures
3. Shiny Happy People
4. V.N. (apology)
5. Mario Vargas Yoni
6. Smiling
7. Long About Now
8. The Great Valerio


Michael Mooney said...

Great piece.

LLC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aaron said...

Great collection. This was on constant-play in my 1991. Smiling, in particular. I disagree re: The Great Valerio. I find their version captivating. And Bertie's Brochures itself is a wonder. The story grows and progresses each time Cathal performs, often hilariously, but always with the underlying truth: "I do it for myself, and so should you."