Don’t you just love progress? well, not if you’re a goth it seems. Now The Sisters of Mercy changed my narrow little musical world when I got into them in 1988 with Floodland and like all good adepts I hoovered up their back catalogue as quickly as my weekend job money allowed. If truth be told I didn’t rate any of it as being anywhere near as good, but I stuck at it, it was my duty after all.
One central plank in The Sisters of Mercy greatness, in most people’s eyes was Temple of Love, released in 1983 before their debut LP by their ‘classic’ line-up. Goths of my acquaintance revered this 12″, the 7 minute title track, which treads(as all Sisters releases did) the thin line between portentous and pretentious. As always, over the beats and the pleasingly uptempo acceleration of the thrashy-guitar chorus Andrew Eldritch in his darkest stentorian voice intoned,
With the sunlight died and night above me
With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain inside
You run for cover in the temple of love
You run for another it’s all the same
For the wind will blow and throw your walls aside
We lapped it up, despite the slightly tinny production values. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the sort of thing that you either get, or you don’t. To like this sort of music you have to give in to it and just roll with the psycho drama, you can’t be too detached from it, you have to feel it, that whole ‘we’re all doomed along with this fucked up world, so before we quit this palsied, troubling plane of existence let us throw ourselves together and couple in a frenzied manner like the beasts of the field’ atmosphere. If you had developed emotionally beyond that terminally adolescent state, which I never really have, then you won’t like this; that’s fine, pity us. Andrew Eldritch always used to bang on about The Stooges in interviews, long before I’d had a chance to investigate them, they covered ‘1969’ of course and when I saw them in 1991 they played a lot of brutally lo-fi live Stooges bootlegs before they came on. I think you can actually hear their influence in this track though, as much as any group using a drum machine can get close to those king filth pigs.
The B-sides? really rather good actually. A cheerful little ditty called ‘Heartland’ a mere 4 minutes of sprightly beats and mournful chorus, intriguing lyrics dealing with loss, love, nobility, vast distances and love and loss again and a chorus that just consists of Andrew Eldritch repeating the phrase ‘My Heartland, heartland, heartland’ until all the words blur and bend through repetition and you just can’t hear the woods for the trees (so to speak) – this is art folks!
Lay me down the long white line
Leave the sirens far behind me
Paint my name in black and gold
My heart my flame my heart my road
Rather famously, or at least in the circles I used to move in, the third track was a cover of The Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’, which I honestly thought was a Sisters of Mercy original for a year, or so* (my parents’ Stones collection having stopped at Their Satanic Majesties) I think it works really well, shorn of anything remotely uplifting in the original, you can tell Mr Eldritch really doesn’t expect to get any shelter.
So far so good, another entry in the Goth All-Star Hall of Fame and 24-hour drive-thru mausoleum**, but The Sisters of Mercy did what no band is supposed to do, they fucked with their legacy.
Looking for a big splash to publicize their compilation, Some Girls Wander By Mistake, in 1992 they^ decided it would be a bit of a wheeze to re-record ‘Temple of Love’ – with a female Israeli singer. Not that most Sisters of Mercy fans harboured strong views on female Israeli singers but this news went down like, umm, an airship made from a dense metallic substance. Oddly enough for a group of individuals relishing the inevitable collapse of society under the weight of its own consumption and decadence, most goths seemed to feel this was the end of civilization as they knew it. I rushed out and bought Temple of Love (1992) (subtitled, ‘Touched by the hand of Ofra Haza’) the day it came out.
I think it’s a huge improvement, not that there was anything too wrong with the original that a little beefing-up wouldn’t fix. I think that Ofra Haza’s brilliant vocals add so much atmosphere, texture and heft to the song, her wailings add to the sense of glorious doomed inevitability that abounds in this song,
In the black sky thunder sweeping
Underground and over water
Sounds of crying weeping will not save
Your faith for bricks and dreams for mortar
Yes! The far rockier guitar and stronger production values help too. It gives it all a much more commercial, rockier sound – which fitted with where the band were at that point in time. It worked too several of my friends who’d previously mocked me for liking The Sisters suddenly ‘got it’; not that I was/am childish or needy enough to say ‘I told you so’, but IN YOUR FACE! This was just so much better than the original, this was progress, the band had progressed. It also went straight into the charts at #3, or so my fan club newsletter (carefully preserved inside the 12″; I know, I know…) tells me. It also came with a giant gold-tinged poster of Mr Eldritch in pure rock mode.
B-side? the Canadian Club Remix of ‘Vision Thing’, which as far as I can tell just adds a bit more reverb and emphasis on the guitars, which is no bad thing but, in that case, the original was better.
*in the same manner that I was astonished to learn that Jane’s Addiction hadn’t written VU’s ‘Rock and Roll’; for years I thought it was their best track.
**only 10 minutes from this cinema.
^I say ‘they’ purely for grammatical correctness, just like The Cure, The Pretenders and Wham – this was no democracy.
There was no official video released for this track – this is a fan-made one I found on Youtube, wish I could do stuff like that.