Psychic TV - Allegory and Self

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:8 Release Date:2017-07-14

Psychic TV has been reissuing their oldest albums the last year. So now we have Allegory and Self easily available for the first in a while. It's a deceptive album, featuring some extremely solid pop/rock songs that channel the musical zeitgeist of the late 80s, making the listener think Genesis P-Orridge, Alex Fergusson, and Peter Christopherson have settled down into a well-written, predictable set, before hitting other tracks that are just bizarre meanderings that don't fit into any simple categories. In the end, it's just what you'd expect from professional subversives when taken as a whole.

The album leads with a pair of amazing, radio-friendly songs. Well, perhaps not entirely. 'Godstar' sounds very much of its time, the late 80s, but mixes some classic rock angles (even name-dropping the Rolling Stones, which the band is aping to a certain extent) with gothy, new wave elements. I watched the video for this song, and that drove home its psych influences, as well as making it feel a bit prescient, heralding a lot of the stuff that came out in the mid-90s, sort of a grungy-yet-folky rock. It was even a minor hit in the UK. 'Just Like Arcadia' has a very cool countrified swagger, and again sounds like something that should have come out in the mid 1990s but managed to predate the style of that time by years. It's absolutely the highlight of the set, and the song I keep coming back to. I'm surprised it didn't get tons of play when it came out, but again, it seems like it was ahead of its time.

But after this easy-listening introduction, the album goes wildly off the tracks into some very dark places. 'Southern Comfort' is much more in the style of Throbbing Gristle, with creepy atmospherics and P-Orridge grating, hooting, and gargling his way through the audio equivalent of a haunted house, complete with piano played by poltergeist. 'Thee Dweller', too, is like the insane ramblings of a madman trapped in castle deep in Transylvania, with endless wolf howling, scratchy guitar feedback slabs, and seemingly randomized beats that occasionally follow a coherent pattern. 'We Kiss', is mellow and sweet, all tinkling pianos and maudlin singing, but still gives off a sense of disquiet, like a love song to a corpse. It hints at things unseen and unspoken.

Then there's 'She Was Surprised', which bounces along with a fun and funky guitar and synth combo. It's essentially an instrumental, aside from some sampled voices and a lot of "ooh ooh"ing from P-Orridge, but no less remarkable in the way it's distinct from almost everything else on the album in its personality; it's just a jam on its own terms. 'Ballet Disco' has some post-industrial beats, but also more funky guitar, and is perhaps the only song on the album that actually sounds truly of its time in the late 80s. 'Starlit Mire' is similar, but less orderly, an echoing, clanging mess of burbling bass, grinding guitar bursts, and relentless percussion, all topped by the mad wailing of P-Orridge. It's the kind of industrial song that can clearly be seen as an influence on the early work of groups like Ministry and KMFDM.

'Being Lost' sounds like a riff on the Beach Boys, with harmonized singing and simple counterpoints, and as always, it's impossible to tell how serious the band is being. P-Orridge has always come off as utterly inscrutable, but at the same time, completely true to himself. So it's not clear that there's anything necessarily mocking going on as opposed to simply a need to experiment with different forms. The song also features a lot of country twang between the steel guitar, harmonica, and plunking beats. And as the album moves to its conclusion, it drops another completely straightforward piece of pop confectionery with 'Baby's Gone Away', another track that could almost fit on a Beach Boys album except for the odd lyrics and occasional pitch-bending moments.

As with most of P-Orridge's work, it's impossible to tell how one is to take everything. At face value, there are a handful of nice pop songs, some industrial tracks, and some out-and-out weird shit. But you never know if it's all just a big joke. Much like Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, the pseudo-cult started by the group, at times it seems dead serious, and at others it feels like some kind of experimental meta-art, the Andy Kaufman of bands. Either way, the thing that's exciting about this album, and really a testament to the short-attention-span genius of P-Orridge and company, is the way it's impossible to know what to expect with each new song. There's no formula here, no consistent set of components used over and over. Instead, each song stands entirely on its own, as if crafted by a separate band. About a third of the songs are pop masterpieces, existing almost as if to simply prove the band could write them, but the rest seem to indicate the group's true desire to push the boundaries of sound while still maintaining some semblance of musicality.

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