Miscellaneous - Songbirds Lie
published: 17 / 10 / 2004
Bohemian New York art rockers The Scene is now have released just four albums in their 24 year history. Maarten Schiethart looks back over their erratic career, and examines their latest album, 'Songbirds Lie'
Chris Nelson and Phil Dray have been The Scene Is Now since 1980. The first I heard was Peel playing their song, 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee' off the New York compilation 'Peripheral Vision'. With no label picking up on their cabaret-styled avant-garde nu-folk punk , The Scene Is Now formed Lost Records to release the long deleted single '1150lbs' and then their debut album 'Burn All Your Records' which had a very different meaning in the vinyl records era. The jolly chaos, of what was then an offshoot band with members from Mofungo, The DBs and Pere Ubu, did not reach foreign shores but in Nelson's hometown of Minneapolis, Twin/Tone Records, was impressed and a deal for manufacturing and distribution was sealed. In 1986 The Scene Is Now showed themselves to be at a crossroads in styles and purposes when they released their second album, the superb 'Total Jive', which was picked up for release in Europe by yours truly biased( Maarten Schiethart ran his own label, Shadowline, for a number of years in the 80's and early 90's-Ed). It sophisticated ramshackleness plus glorious wit and melancholy received a warm welcome with John Peel and the NME. The Scene Is Now kept their day jobs though, funding time to play out and about rather than become pop icons. Unlikely at first thought, The Scene Is Now became a pop combo. Or as the distributor in Europe put it, mixing up title and artist 'Total Jive!' are an odd UK dance band." Yeah, they cared. The group released their third album, 'Tonight We Ride', in 1988. Years of broken promises from record companies went by until Greek globetrotter Theo Vlassopulos decided to include the fourth The Scene Is Now album, 'Songbirds Lie', on his Tongue Master Records roster. These recordings were originally recorded over scattered places with no future album-release in mind. The 22 years it took The Scene Is Now to record their four albums hold so many gigantic moments that it is almost impossible to grasp the full truths held deep down inside them. A compilation 'The Oily Years' was released 3 years ago. Although slightly extrovert and certainly with less wack, The Scene Is Now have more hidden punch drunk one-liner truths on 'Songbirds Lie', either whispered or ironically declared over loose post-pub pavement raves, than would fit on a New Rhythm and Blues Quartet album. Picking up the thread, the fourth album kicks off with 'The Fighting Song'. You hear the trash cans stumbling down an alley as The Scene Is Now prepare for their performance. It's the signature tune from a bunch of bohemians with a past joyfully drenched in no wave New York intravaganza. As if they're just jokers, the band leapt to greater highs with a hilarious selection of self-mockery ('Mediocre Wedding Band') and sheer irony ('Libertyville' and 'Going To Where It's Green'). 'Songbirds Lie' is not a masterpiece but a return to form, 16 years after 'Tonight We Ride'.
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