Label: Blackest Ever Black
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Blackest Ever Black presents to you Dead Unique, an album by Officer! recorded in 1995 but - outrageously, inexplicably - never before released into the public domain. This then is not a reissue or a revival; it’s a new record that just happens to have been maturing in the cask for, oh, a little shy of 20 years. It also happens to be a lost classic of English art-rock, and the crowning achievement in the career of its mercurial creator, Mick Hobbs. Londoner Hobbs’ roots are in the fecund RIO scene of the late ‘70s and early 1980s, initially as guitarist in The Work (alongside Bill Gilonis, Rick Wilson and Henry Cow’s Tim Hodgkinson), and subsequent related groupings The Lowest Note, The Lo Yo Yo, and The Momes. Over the course of the decade he became closely associated with This Heat and their Cold Storage studio in Brixton, working with the likes of Flaming Tunes, Family Fodder, Catherine Jauniaux and Zeena Parkins, to name but a few.
Officer! – the project that this incorrigible collaborator and connector calls his own - surfaced in 1982 with a cassette tape entitled Eight New Songs By Mick Hobbs. It marked the blossoming of a singular writer and improvisor, with a gift for plangent melody, ingenious arrangement and lyrics at once caustic and courtly, playful and profound (two songs from this tape, ‘Life At The Water’s Edge’ and ‘Dogface’, have been remastered for a limited edition 7” release on Blackest Ever Black later this year). The Cold Storage-recorded Ossification LP arrived a year later, followed by Cough (1985) and Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes (1988). Megaphone Records, responsible for Ossification’s recent 30th anniversary reissue, rightly describe it as “one of the most unusual, pleasurable and character-filled ‘pop’ records anyone has heard…a timeless anomaly in the history of recorded music.” Dead Unique is also the culmination of Hobbs’ lifelong collaborative impulse: his visionary ability to bring musicians together, galvanise them and wrestle coherence out of the collective free play of ideas, arriving at something far more than the sum of its parts. The tension between composition and improvisation is key to the LP’s power, with Hobbs abetted by an extraordinary supporting cast that includes Tim Hodgkinson (bass clarinet), Pleasant Livers’ Fred Collins (vocals), Legendary Pink Dots’ Patrick Q (violin), filmmaker/animator Martha Colburn (vocal), Gilles Rieder (drums), Jad Fair (vocals) and Jason Willett (bass, keyboards, trumpet). Special mention must go to John Dierker, whose superbly expressive clarinet and saxophone parts are a fixture throughout, and to Joey Stack, who takes lead vocals on ‘Good’ and the show-stopping ‘Elephant Flowers’. Nonetheless it is the voice of Hobbs – as principal writer, performer and protagonist of these songs – that resonates most powerfully. Blurring the roles of storyteller, poet and prankster, he turns memorable line after memorable line, booby-trapping them with mischievous puns, fleet-footed literary allusions, sudden digressions and shifts of register, nonsense rhymes and other wordplay. But his acute wit and flair for the absurd is moored by a deep romantic sensibility, and though it delights in the minutiae of the human comedy, Dead Unique ultimately addresses its biggest themes: love, loss, commitment, independence, the mutability and inconstancy of all things. “You lose, you learn, you advance…but you always go back.”
Mastered and cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy, London, in January 2014. Housed in gatefold sleeve with original artwork by Claudia Schmid; contains riso-printed insert featuring sleevenotes by Mick Hobbs and Julia Brightly.