Words by Johnny Fry
It’s 1979. We’re in the Big Apple. The Apple is rotting from the inside out due to severe bankruptcy in the city. “All the straight people were trying to get out of New York,” recalls one visual artist, “but all the freaks were trying to get in.” One of these freaks was an ethereal French singer, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, who wormed her way into the decomposing Apple after befriending fellow hungry cultural scavengers Patti Smith and Robert Hell while visiting the city in 1975. No doubt this accidental acquaintance occurred at CBGB’s, a punk club in the city’s self made radical art district, Lower East Side.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s ‘Press Color’ came towards the end of the short-lived No Wave movement. A movement characterised by avant garde experimentation and the ability to flourish as a result of economic struggle. Making diamonds from dirt. The scene was put to a screaming halt by the city’s council commissioning a large-scale “clean up” of the Lower East Side, removing all the freaks and the artists alike. The clean up led to the dissolution of many bands such as DNA, The Contortions and Bush Tetras.
The album opens up with a scorching cover of Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’, which with a concoction of feminine shrieks – “MUMMY MUMMY” rings hard – dramatic drum breaks and massages from a brass section Lizzy lets everyone in the city know she’s come to liven up the place. The sizzling energy from the start of the record is cooled down with a dubby instrumental track ‘Aya Mood’ that’ll make you weak at the knees. The album features two other covers; a broad-brushed version of the Mission Impossible theme tune and a hazy Hawaiian sounding ‘Jim on the Move’. Lizzy’s sultry French warbles make all lines cut with conviction – an acapella rendition would have not gone a miss.
Press Color proves powerful today as we live in similar times of disarray. After the bubonic plague came the Renaissance, after the winter of discontent we saw punk and after an economic crash in 1988 came the second summer of love. What awaits us on the other side of COVID-19?
Listen to Press Color on Spotify!