One has to come to terms with one’s own mortality
I am finding Anathema We’re Here Because We’re Here a very difficult LP to write about. Not because it is a tough listen, or that there isn’t a lot to write about, but just because … where should I begin?
I know people who know the Anathema chaps from way back when, you see they started out in Liverpool as a doom/death/gothic metal band, my mate played on a bill with them in 1990 and thought ‘that death metal is rubbish, that won’t last long’ and then they shifted implacably towards becoming something other than …
Maybe not there, maybe I should start out by stating for the record* that I find ‘Hindsight’ and ‘A Simple Mistake’ so emotionally laden, so sad that, easy on the ear though they are, these two perfect tracks are not to be listened to lightly …
Not there either. I could start with the way that beaten down by HMO’s ceaseless championing of them it was the cover that tipped me over the edge into buying We’re Here Because We’re Here because of its’ Anthony Gormley reference** …
Possibly not there either. Look, We’re Here Because We’re Here is a great piece of work. Anathema have given us just short of an hour’s worth of engaging, elegiac, thoughtful music on the themes of mortality, persistence and loss. That’s where I’ll start.
From the Merriam Webster definition of ‘Transport’ (as a transitive verb): 2 : to carry away with strong and often intensely pleasant emotion
I think the reason I find We’re Here Because We’re Here such a difficult LP to write about is because it is such a transportive record. From the opening chords of ‘Thin Air’ to the slow fade out on the closing ‘Hindsight’ the album just transports me. I tend to experience this record as a whole suite, rather than as individual songs – which tends to lead to me bandying around lofty generalisations about moods and feelings; all that man stuff.
The musicianship on We’re Here Because We’re Here is top-notch, of course. The three Cavanagh brothers, Vincent, Jamie and Danny cover guitars, vocals, keys and bass between them, brother John and sister Lee Douglas are drummer and singer respectively and the line up is completed by keyboard player Les Smith.
Between them Anathema weave a deceptively low-key, melodic tapestry of sound, slipping from gentle piano and keyboard passages to clever guitar lines, through to pieces of narration and keening vocals. The gently peaking ‘Dreaming Light’ is probably the softest confection here, as I listen to it here and now I really like it in its’ context on the LP, but would shrug if I’d only heard it in isolation.
So far so Pink, but it is the places where their slip shows and you get a peek at their more menacing, heavier roots that fascinate me and add that essential tartness into the dish. It’s there in the unsettled push of ‘Thin Air’, the way that the restless piano figure leads into guitars that are only millimetres of restraint away from revealing some seriously sharp edges in ‘Summer Night Horizon’, certain chord sequences they use are very interesting and a million miles away from polite prog fare. Just check out the drumming in the forceful ‘A Simple Mistake’.
I would also argue that another thing that makes this LP so good is that it certainly doesn’t just plunder the usual prog tropes and reassemble them for our delectation, Anathema break up their song structures and give us presents like ‘Hindsight’ for our everlasting joy. Over some female spoken word, courtesy of Maren Svenning, the instrumental track takes off in pursuit of post-rock luminaries like Papa M with strong, clean guitar lines that build and entwine with some great bass playing from Jamie Cavanagh. I love this because we end up teetering on Mogwai’s turf and sounding so much fresher and more modern as a result.
The centrepiece of We’re Here Because We’re Here for me is the pairing of ‘Angels Walk Among Us’ and ‘Presence’. The former is a sweet, powerful affirmation of self-reliance and self-healing with backing vocals by Ville Valo and the latter is a very moving meditation on coming to terms with mortality narrated by Stan Ambrose. That this then segues into ‘A Simple Mistake’ just makes me want to swoon; just perfect sequencing^^.
Even putting one track on to write about it here and now, is really difficult I just end up transported to the end of whichever side of the LP it is. I do have to make a confession to make to you though this is an album that would benefit from being listened to in a format where you didn’t have to get up off your big fat hairy reverie and change sides every 20 minutes. Dang! If only someone could invent some sort of disc that did that, maybe even compacting the music somehow. Clearly, that’s a task for future scientists to solve in their space labs.
If I had a criticism of the album at all it is maybe that the lyrics lack a bit of bite for me at times – there is much talk of energy, light and love, which is nice, but a bit like Milton’s portrayal of God in Paradise Lost*^ it lacks any essential definition. When Anathema get it totally right, on ‘A Simple Mistake’ for example the result is much more powerful.
So next time you find yourself needing to be transported and/or fancy some pleasingly melancholy candlelit listening, or just want to hear a damnably fine LP then I commend We’re Here Because We’re Here to you and yours.
*For The Record was almost going to be the name of this blog. I think I once suggested it to Mike when he was changing the name of his fandango.
**although I am not totally sure if it is an edited photograph of the Another Place installation on Crosby Beach, or something else inspired by the cover of their own A Fine Day To Exit.
^preferably late at night in dim, or no lighting.
^^which is such an underrated part of putting an LP together. It should be taught in schools, I say.
*^seventeenth century epic poem, not them miserable buggers from Bradford.