Retrospective: Sisters of Mercy – “First and Last and Always”

the sisters of mercy first and last and always

Last week Dan talked about The Sisters of Mercy’s (hereinafter “Sisters of Mercy” because…come on) second full-length album, Floodland.  Long before Floodland was a reality, before the members began openly filing lawsuits against each other and before Sisters of Mercy became a sort of German leaning industrial-goth band there was their beautiful debut album. Draped in all the British dark wave crowns possible. And that album, in all its glory deserves a day in the sun. As the senior statesmen here at Nine Circles, the task was handed to me to talk about Sisters of Mercy’s first album, First and Last and Always.

Let’s just say that Sisters of Mercy had a lot of turmoil throughout their extensive history. Even before their debut album was released on WEA (Warner Music Group), the band had already lost members, expended budget after budget and finally been brought into an actual studio (Maida Vale Studios), with a real producer, (David M. Allen who produced The Cure, The Human League, Depeche Mode, The Chameleons and countless others) by a real record label to record a real, full-length album.

Enter me. First and Last and Always was released in 1985. At the time I was a mere four years old and living in a quaint New England farm town called Ledyard, CT. Two factors converged to change my life. First, my parents had both come from previous marriages and I had a half-brother from each. These brothers were much older than me, about six years and almost nine years older actually. Second, quaint New England farm towns, especially ones steeped in not only Native American lore but Viking lore usually have ample wooded forests and hills for teenagers to develop serious obsessions with being goth.

My older brother fir the profile. His teenage years were spent playing Dungeons & Dragons (switching to Vampire: The Masquerade around its release in 1991). Early in high school my brother pierced his left ear and from it dangled a cross. He stockpiled leather. He moved to the basement. He adorned his walls with creepy posters and black lights. My parents took it in stride (much as they did when I did similar things throughout my life). So, around 1988 or 1989 when I began to get curious about music other than what my parents were playing, my brother was already about to graduate high school and head to college. He was still steeped in new wave, dark wave and goth and was more than happy to leave me behind influenced by all these subjects to terrorize our parents.

Now. I will confess that the first Sisters album I actually heard was Floodland. For much the same reason I choose albums these days; the cover was fascinating. I loved full moons and oceans. And the double exposure laid over that scene enticed me. So my brother began my indoctrination. I should note that my brother and I do not get along. We didn’t then and we don’t now. We haven’t spoken in at least thirteen years. But we did connect on a few things. And the memories I have of him (the positive ones) are of him tearing around our country town in his pickup playing music that was meant to scare me. So after hearing Floodland I needed to hear more. All the dark and new wave favorites were dumped upon me (to this day I still love The Psychadelic Furs, The Church, Echo & The Bunnymen, Oingo Boingo and Tears for Fears).

But I digress. Although it wasn’t first, First and Last and Always, is easily my favorite Sisters of Mercy album. It’s not only the most compelling to me but it’s also the most complete. The lyrics written entirely by Andrew Eldritch are dark. Even at the age of ten they speak to you. They still speak to me at thirty-five. It’s the basic tenements of the human condition. Suffering, insomnia, loss of love, depression, anxiety, addiction, etc. Those things never change and when laid out so bluntly and coarsely through his soul-gripping delivery, are an instant connector.

Another reason to love First and Last and Always is the immediate connection what can only be described as the sound of the 80’s. While The Cure may have made depression sound fun and angelic and Depeche Mode may have taken things to the club, Sisters of Mercy rode a line in between. The drum machines, guitar overlays and recording techniques are frozen in time. They are, I should say, perfectly frozen in time. It was a time, technologically, where the top recording methods still took advantage of organic methodology for capturing and combining different instrumentation. Digital production, with it’s hospital clean feel hadn’t taken over. Thus, much like the devices used, the resulting product was tangible. It was real.

No matter how I feel about my brother, Sisters of Mercy will always link me to that time when I was the younger brother and my older brother, no matter what, was an infallible person. It truly is an age of innocence where ignorance is bliss. And when I want to have good memories while still feeling like myself. When I want to throw on a record that I can dance to (when no one is watching) without feeling cheesy, I turn to First and Last and Always. And I shut the blinds, close the doors, turn up the volume and dance until the candles burn out.

– Manny-O-War

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