Doctors Of Madness – “Perfect Past: The Complete Doctors Of Madness” (2017) review
Doctors Of Madness “Perfect Past: The Complete Doctors Of Madness” (RPM, 2017)
During their original lifespan, 1974 to 1978, the Doctors Of Madness defied definition as a band as well as the norms of the music industry. Only in retrospect were Richard Strange and his bandmates credited as being “new wave before people were punk” and by logical extension were, therefore, punk before there was punk! RPM Records has collected the band’s complete musical legacy, three LPs and a lone single, supplemented by thirteen previously unreleased tracks in Perfect Past a soon to be released three CD career retrospective box set..
Citing their major influences as author William S. Burroughs, (the band’s name giving a nod to Burroughs’ character, Doctor Benway), poet Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and the Velvet Underground, the Doctors Of Madness were not your conventional rock band by any stretch. This point is further reflected by the fact that their lead instrument was often an electric violin played through fuzz boxes and wah-wah pedals by someone called Urban Blitz (born Geoff Hickmer), who also played some pretty amazing electric guitar. The band was rounded out by bass player, Stoner (born Colin Bentley), drummer Peter DiLemma (born Peter Hewes) and blue haired vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, Richard Strange (born Richard Harding). Despite, or perhaps because of, these factors, the Doctors Of Madness music has withstood the test of time as evidenced by Perfect Past.
Disc one presents the band’s debut LP Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms released in 1976. The album’s opening track “Wait” is a rocker, showing Bowie (Ziggy vintage) and Ferry (Roxy Music) influence, and showcasing Blitz’s electric violin, sounding like a cross between Roxy Music and Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as his inspired guitar solo and a tasty bass solo by Stoner. The eight minute plus “The Noise Of The Evening” has a cacophonic opening with its spacey feel, the gorgeous mixture of guitar and violin from Blitz, tasty tempo changes and gorgeous vocals by Strange. However, the show stopper is the sixteen minute magnum opus “Mainlines” with its Ziggy-esque intro and gorgeous melody fueled by DiLemma’s driving drums and Blitz’s fuzzed out guitar. Without question “Mainlines” is the highlight of the LP. Five bonus tracks fill out the disc, including an unissued take on the group’s namesake song “Doctors Of Madness” featuring more guitar and violin by Blitz and the driving beat of Stoner and DiLemma. There is also an interesting run through Bob Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man” which sees light of day for the first time here, and the album out-take “Out” with its stark sound and vocals reminiscent of John Lennon.
Disc two centers around the album Figments Of Emancipation from October 1976. The album concentrates on longer tracks and includes finished versions of tunes demoed for their debut LP, “Doctors Of Madness” and “Out.” Standout tracks include the nearly seven minute “Suicide City”with its guitar and vocal intro, an incredible chunky guitar riff and a killer electric violin solo by Blitz. This would have made a wonderful single. The box set’s title track “Perfect Past” opens with acoustic guitar, leading into a Lennonesque tune with gorgeous vocal harmonies and understated, snaking lead guitar line. The nearly seven minute “Marie & Joe” features Blitz putting his wah-wah pedal to good use with his guitar, adding a stinging lead line before he puts the pedal to the metal and drives the song home with even more inspired wah-wah. The group’s namesake song “Doctors Of Madness” is a hot little three minute rocker, guitar and violin locked in unison and drenched in feedback. “Out” features heavy guitar from Blitz and Bowiesque vocals by Strange, the band settling into a Roxy Music like groove before Blitz turns up the heat with yet another wah-wah driven solo. The LP is joined by three demo tracks from November, 1976.
Prior to the release of their final LP, the band issued its only 45, shortening its name to The Doctors for this release, which coupled the then newly written and recorded “Bulletin” a punk rock number featuring a heavy guitar intro and more inspired feedback. In their review of “Bulletin” New Wave Magazine said of The Doctors, “they were new wave before people were punk.” Thus, The Doctors were punk before there was punk. The single’s b-side was “Wait” taken from their debut album.
March, 1978, brought the release of The Doctors Of Madness’ third and final album, Son Of Survival. The songs on this album were shorter, and varied from punk rock numbers like “50s Kids,” “Into The Strange” “Network” and the previously mentioned “Bulletin” to more acoustic tunes like “No Limits” and “Kiss Goodbye Tomorrow.” However, there are some real gems here. First, the title track, with its chugging electric guitar and violin and lyrics such as “religion’s just a fetish.” Next, the under two minute “Back From The Dead” a punk number, reminiscent of The Clash or The Sex Pistols, with Blitz’s guitar racing, then filling the air with feedback, and finally “Cool” the album’s rollicking, live, eight minute closer, featuring Stoner and DiLemma playing at breakneck speed, while Blitz’s electric violin shines running through his wah-wah pedal and his gorgeous lead guitar line leading to even more stunning feedback as the album closes. Bonus tracks include a prospective single, cut with The Damned’s vocalist Dave Vanian, recorded after Urban Blitz had exited the band over musical differences. As the perfect ending to the package, three songs from the band’s final concert on 26 October, 1978 are included as well as a taped recording of William Burroughs played to introduce the band.
Well, there you have it. Thirty eight tracks spread across three CDs, sounding better than ever thanks to the mastering job done by Simon Murphy. The package is rounded out by a twenty-eight page, full color booklet which includes an informative essay by Mojo’s Kieron Tyler, as well as tons of photos and memorabilia. Due out 8 May on Cherry Red Records’ RPM imprint, this is one box set you don’t want to miss out on. If you are in search of the link between David Bowie and The Sex Pistols you have found it. Right here! Happy listening!
– Kevin Rathert
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