StarsDie.com Retrospective – Love, Death & Mussolini E.P.
One of three cassettes made under the Porcupine Tree name by Steven Wilson in the late 1980s, The Love, Death & Mussolini EP was only released privately (in 10 copies!). Along with Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm and The Nostalgia Factory full-lengths, it forms nearly the entirety of SW’s early material that would later be compiled on the On the Sunday of Life… and Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape CDs (with some tracks left out). However, it remains the ‘black sheep’ of this early wealth of material, as it was not released to the public through Freakbeat magazine as the other two cassettes were; both Tarquin and Nostalgia would sell out all 300 copies each, spurring on the creation of Delerium Records and thus the distribution of every PT release until the turn of the new millennium.
Oddly, the cassette runs 40 minutes, which would disqualify its status as an EP. This is comically addressed in the cassette’s liner notes, which state that it “takes advantage of the cassette medium” by providing “an extra 17 minutes of music, taking it to long player length” and that this is “known as ‘value for money’.” The best lines follow this explanation: “In the music industry, it is known as ‘marketing.’ Do your accounting to the sound of Porcupine Tree.” SW’s wit was clearly flourishing with this outlet!
And not just in the liner notes. Over the span of its 40 minutes, LD&M travels through a wide variety of genres and approaches, and most of the tracks were considered good enough to be included in the latter half of the first full length Porcupine Tree CD (OTSOL — even in the same running order!). Each is executed with youthful gutso and an ear for exploration and concept, traits many fans still cherish about PT today. Here is a waltz through the psychedelic forest they present.
“Hymn” & “Footprints”
Unchanged from their more familiar presence opening the second half of OTSOL, these two tracks provide a slow, yet dynamic opening. “Hymn” fades in from silence as a spacey declaration of SW’s early cassette recorder experimentation, the sort of thing that later feels right at home with “Music for the Head” and “Space Transmission.” As for “Footprints,” it remains one of my favourite early PT songs, its dynamic range really unmatched in the approach of this cassette material (and still rarely engaged, though SW has done so recently on some tracks like “Port Rubicon”). The quiet verses are backed with a harmonically neutral but uneasy riff, splashed with a keyboard pad every second bar and laying the bed for fairly nebulous and creepy Alan Duffy-written lyrics spoken disturbingly straightly. Choruses open up considerably louder, with thundering drums — well, as thunderous as that early Alesis drum machine got — and mellotron backing SW’s yells about “looking glass eyes.” In particular, I find the guitar solo among SW’s finest in the early work, with the riffs underneath the song’s bridge just as indicative of future PT travels as the oft-cited “Radioactive Toy.”
“Linton Samuel Dawson”
It has to be followed, of course, by a fun – if juvenile – romp through psychedelic fields in “Linton Samuel Dawson.” A sister track to “Jupiter Island” and perhaps a younger cousin to “The Nostalgia Factory,” SW’s vocals are warped into chipmunkland here, giving this track an added ridiculousness at which “JI” only hints. The lead melody is quite catchy, but I’ll admit to finding it difficult to sit through the song, especially considering the excellent tracks surrounding it here and on OTSOL. Its importance is perhaps understated in their stead, however; “LSD” (ha!) is an absolutely essential piece of the large puzzle that is early Porcupine Tree, and without its exploration, things would not have developed as they did.
“And the Swallows Dance Above the Sun”
SW notes via the Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991-1997 compilation that this track remains his favourite from the first record, and I heartily agree with his opinion of its excellence (though it isn’t my top favourite). “And the Swallows Dance Above the Sun” evolves more than it warps like the other material; it’s an entrancing, rhythmic flow through a sort of pyramid-esque landscape, SW’s calm-yet-affected singing, keyboard pads, and guitar volume swells bouncing off every surface and mingling and dancing in the air. The keyboards especially provide an amazing atmosphere that truly envelopes the other elements and the listener, in the same way they do on later tracks like “Dislocated Day.” I’m sure many fans over the years consider the sample at the end of the song — “I want you to put Felix’s penis on me,” from an obscure b-movie about genital transplants — ridiculous enough to ruin the track, and while I certainly agree it takes away more than it adds, I look at it with an appreciation for SW’s early sampling techniques and the off-the-wall psychedelia informing the vast majority of material from the period.
“Queen Quotes Crowley”
The first side of the cassette ends with this track, an earlier mix that runs about 50 seconds longer than the final version thanks only to introductory quiet, echoing, atmospheric keys-and-guitar ambience. The meat of “Queen Quotes Crowley” is driven by a repetitive, mostly eighth-note bassline, forming a bed with the simple drum beat. As reversed words battle with multiple layers of confused guitar scribbles, SW alters the speed in blocks, the song’s tempo suddenly speeding up a bit or slowing down together. This gives the already odd jam track an extra level of quirkiness. It becomes quite chaotic toward the middle of the track, the drum track becoming suddenly reversed and panning manically around the poor bassline, which doesn’t seem to really know what to do! This side of the cassette ends on a rather nutty note.
“Begonia Seduction Scene”
It’s followed by the very short “No Luck With Rabbits,” a nostalgic and reversed carnival-esque music box fade in that begins the second side and leads into the next track with chimes. One of my favourites of the early instrumentals, “Begonia Seduction Scene” is an acoustic guitar-led track glittering with distant electric leads that suddenly turns sinister with a dark keyboard bassline toward the midpoint. I find it quite cinematic, its lush tones perfect for the opening scene of a desert film. In this way, I think it’s a bit similar to “Belle de Jour” from Grace for Drowning.
The side really takes off with the lengthy, repetitive track “Out,” later only available on the vinyl edition of YHD (replaced on the CD with a cover of Prince’s “The Cross”). The guitar riff itself is fairly middle-of-the-road to me; while it’s not particularly bad, I find it rather generic, perhaps something also influencing SW’s decision to leave it off OTSOL. The chorus of the track is quite catchy, SW somehow finding a way to repeat “darkness, get out of my head” without annoying me! This early mix also buries the rather dry vocals throughout, another offputting feature; while I tend to listen mostly to the instrumentation as a whole rather than focusing on the voice, the muffled vocals simply work against the mix of the song. As always, in my opinion, his guitar soloing work is absolutely stellar, and a highlight of this track. The dynamic build in its bridge is another highlight for me, its swirling focus on single notes breaking away to impressive drum programming (especially given what SW had to work with!) before eventually working up to the main riff again with another excellent solo. To be honest, I’m not convinced “The Cross” is the better track, but I can see why SW swapped the two, as they both run about 9 minutes, are built around verses and choruses but with lengthy jams, and flow into “Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape” fairly well. The blueprint is followed somewhat similarly on “This Long Silence,” the song replacing this one in the OTSOL tracklist after “Begonia;” I find “TLS” catchier than both “Out” and “The Cross,” its melodies ‘stickier’ and its bass and drums following closer to the OTSOL approach. Ultimately, I think I’d rather this track on YHD, but I like “TLS” on OTSOL more.
“It Will Rain for a Million Years”
Flowing directly out of “Out” is absolutely one of my top favourite tracks from the early days, a 4-minute track titled “It Will Rain for a Million Years” that has absolutely nothing to do with the track of the same name that ends OTSOL. As far as blueprints go, it follows one similar to instrumental tracks like “No Reason to Live, No Reason to Die” (another top favourite), building on one absolutely entrancing and spiralling clean guitar riff backed by atmospheric organ synthesizers (an approach explored fully later on Staircase Infinities). Beautiful, echoing solos gather around on top as tom-led drum tracks slowly pick up the pace, themselves echoing with absurd yet atmospheric amounts of delay. Underneath, SW speaks a monologue about something — perhaps the rain, as he goes on to repeat “it’s raining, it’s raining” later on — “coming to take the words.” Once the track reaches the peak of its incredibly intense crescendo and finds its cadence, SW recites the ancient “rain, rain, go away/come again another day” line, yet somehow it doesn’t feel tacky; instead, it ends the cassette with an emptiness, the words truly taken away, a large void in their place. I’m not convinced the other, longer “IWRFAMY” track on OTSOL is superior (as its placement on that album suggests, at least for SW in 1991), but I do think the two tracks achieve a similar mood, and would work well if combined together tastefully. I think it’s a shame this cassette track was left off both OTSOL and YHD, as it’s a stunning example of SW’s approach to tension and release, and contains some truly beautiful music he didn’t use anywhere else.