Theatre of Hate - Westworld (Deluxe Edition)

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:2016-11-25

They may have been produced by Mick Jones of the Clash but Theatre of Hate sound nothing like them. Or anyone for that matter. While they were certainly political like The Clash, Gang of Four and The Pop Group, Theatre of Hate had a style all their own. A few things that set them apart were their melodicism, Kirk Brandon’s operatic styled vocals and some outstanding sax work courtesy of John Lennard.

The band did not last long. Two years at most. Brandon and bassist Stan Stammers later forming Spear of Destiny and Billy Duffy and Nigel Preston going on to lasting success as the Cult. However, Theatre of Hate’s one LP, Westworld is a buried treasure. The music isn’t fast and furious so much as eerie, bleak and yet irresistibly accessible. As a producer, Mick Jones was clearly going for a sound that wouldn’t date the band but last the ages.

The opener, ‘Do You Believe in the Westworld,’ is an irresistible call to arms. Aided and abetted by a driving bass line and Mick Jones’ Les Paul (his only appearance). Musically, it’s a mix of Punk, Funk and Reggae. Despite the grim lyrics it’s got a good beat and you sure as hell can dance to it. It's the tune that got them on Top of the Pops for good reason.  “The yellow sun settled on Tombstone,” Brandon intones before begging the question, “Do you believe in the Westworld?” As singles go, it’s a lost classic. Consider it their hit. Kirk Brandon’s valkyrie like vocals accompanying the marching legions, both agitator and propagandist for a more just world.

‘Judgement Hymn’ is an apt description of what awaits the listener while ‘63’ keeps up the morose, driving anthems. However, on ‘Love is a Ghost’ the band slows things down and here Brandon’s ghostly vocals are extremely effective. Meanwhile, Lennard’s menacing sax solo verges into demented Jazz territory. A striking example of this band's signature sound.

‘The Wake’ is an intense number with Brandon snarling his way through. None of which prepares you for the epic, ‘Conquistador’. Strident Gregorian chants, a military march beat. An occasional strum of the flamenco guitar. Brandon’s vocals at times reminding me of a mix of John Lydon and Robert Smith of the Cure. It’s quite simply Theatre of Hate at their finest.

‘New Trail of Tears’ strides into punchy synth Pop territory with Brandon’s anxious vocals a touch over the top and at odds with the music. At one point the sax launches in the circus clown theme as the song devolves into an atmospheric mess that ends in good natured band laughter. The whole thing sounds like the band are just experimenting for experimentation's sake. I confess, it’s a complete let down from the predecessor but happy to report it's Westworld’s only misstep.

The somber ‘Freaks’ follows and finds Brandon crooning, ‘Hush, hush, hush’ in a spooky, tortured falsetto. For Goth fans, there’s more than enough gloom and doom to chew on until Lennard’s keening sax goes on a bender. The song ends with sinister B- movie laughter. Like, ‘Love is a Ghost’, it simply defies categorization.

‘Anniversary’ is another genre defying track which can’t help but send a chill. However, ‘The Klan’, Westworld’s finale, is one of the most dramatic and ambitious cuts on the album. Revealing without doubt, Theatre of Hate were truly one of the most idiosyncratic bands on their era.

Westworld’s bonus tracks feature alternate mixes of ‘Westworld’ and furious singles like ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Original Sin’. Both are welcome additions to the album. Also included is an entire disc of BBC sessions and rarities to browse through.

Listening to Westworld of course, makes you wonder how they sounded live. Fortunately, with this box set you get the chance. The answer is, amazing. One hears right off the bat that they were a lot more ferocious live than their moody debut album suggests. Live in Vienna 1982 also features live versions of singles and songs like ‘Africa’ and ‘Poppies’ that never made it to wax.

I can say with all certainty there has never been a band quite like Theatre of Hate. While they may never achieve the cult following of Joy Division or The Cure, they are truly unique. One of those great bands like Folk Devils who blazed for a couple of years, never to be heard again. Until now. Essential listening.

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