Nikki Sudden & Phil Schoenfelt - Golden Vanity
Recorded in 1998 in a Berlin bunker this prized artefact and very dusty relic from these two ex-pat troubadourin' English outlaws and ever elegantly delapidated dandies finally surfaces after being lost to all seas, several hues of smoke and scratched masters. A welcome resurrection from fabled dereliction indeed by Easy Action's songwriter imprint Troubadour as, virtues be extolled and hats liberally festooned with feathers for this is a free-flowing ship encompassing several aspects, strides and tides of Sudden's work. With no traces of the dread vanity project, the perhaps lesser-known Schoenfelt is definitely a partner in crime and no mere foil - equal if not moreso, though in a style less flagrant than old Jacobites compadre Dave Kusworth. Since that sparring partnership split asunder Sudden's solo work increasingly cavaliered across country straits only previously hinted at for better and worse (suffice to say that Wild Horses on mid-eighties curio Crown Of Thorns isn't the best cover version...(he) ever did), hooking up with REm minus Michael Stipe on 1990's The Jewel Thief and memebers of Wilco on '98's Red Brocade (whose Broken Door is here as Golden Door). Had it been released at the time, Golden Vanity would have marked a departure of sorts for the times, harking back as it does to those halcyon Jacobites days of Robespierre's Velvet Basement and ensuing solo work, especially its dark-eyed, hanging by a thread bearing.
Bookended and interspersed with the Mott-stomp n' Thunders-boogie bawl the Dollshouse down to the Velvet Underground of Hanoi Jane and Love Makes Her Shine and experimental noise shards Portcullis / Cullisport (see what they did there?) via midway ten-minute freeform marathon Jamboree Bag belying Sudden's earliest Swell Maps work aswell as Schoenfeld's apprenticeships in New York's early eighties art-rock scene with Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth (as well as Nikki and brother Epic Soundtrack's love of Alex Chilton), it's the bedraggled balladry depicting tainted fairytales and fading dram-damned glambitions that are by far the more beguiling bounties to bear repeat begs from this banquet table. Out in the hall scurrying in and out the shadows of Crazy Horse-style gravel paths criss-crossing countryroads, Cloak Of Virtue, Hangman's Daughter and Angel Wings have them swapping verses, their distinctive decaying drawls draping round each others shoulders like Bowie and Ronson in shock-pop '72. Schoenfelt shares a similar disinclination for vocal exactness, intoning his narratives with a Nick Cave-type demeanour in contrast to Sudden's Dylan-y disposition. His wintry Waiting For You is both centre-piece and contender for centre-stage, its ashen rememberances more than a cursory cast-adrift dalliance, symbolising the resonance of this recording.
It may be a cliche in a class that some would stain at least one of this pair with but this serves as a fitting tribute as well as introduction and lost treasure trove for devotees. Acolytes will revel in eternal fan, naawww, veritable, proverbial electric courier Sudden being never more than a (blagged) round from unfurling his ragged roll-call of references. Whether the blatant vocal Bolan affectations, musical and, um, marital (Maria McKee once more receives mention as on The Jacobites Travelling European Blues) of Hanoi Jane or the love-ode to the Tyranno-Slider that is Bang A Gong as well as Cloak Of Virtue's lyrical allusion, nee steal, of old chum Mike Scott's All The Things She Gave Me, they're always endearing nods by which he's ever self-referential as well as reverential - ...Jane is seduced with the Going To A Go Go riff that crashed on the rocks of Texas's re-recording of Waiting On Egypt's Back To The Coast; Jack Ketch having more than the last lingering lung-rattle of the formers Death Is Hanging Over Me (a collaboration with recently deceased Roland S Howard) - as does, atmospherically, much ofd this recording - and Angel Wings resembles a more decadent Blond Angel from Jacobites late period masterpiece God Save Us Poor Sinners.
Throughout, it's a thrilling tilt and twirl to the edge, casting eyes over crumbling coastlines, brittle but boneshaking, bruised but unbuckled, scarred but effervescently soaked to the bone. A delightful glimpse into decadent antechambers cluttered with the debris fallen from stained scarves and sleeves singed on flickering candles and stark romances snatched from gutters of sidelong glances underneath someone else's stairs.