107. LONG FIN KILLIE - Houdini

A subtle, gentle guitar/bass groove, a rattling metallic percussion line, maybe the hammer dulcimer on the credits? And then a sweet, light soul voice, perhaps a little bit like A R Kane but as equally an even more elegant Al Green, perhaps, and it sings. It sings this:

"He said -- I'm just a little faxinated by the female form
But sadly you're as near as I'll ever get
But if I fail to catch that wounded goddess in you
Well, I've a flair for porno."

And then the soft sweet sax rises up. Wait, what did he say?

Luke Sutherland is a certified genius, a fellow of African background, quite possibly gay, adopted and brought up in Scotland and able to view a dominant culture from more than one outsider's perspective, and as mentioned, a genius. At least I think so, and I for one can't wait to read his prize-winning novel if I can ever get my hands on a copy, because if it's anything like the vicious, barbed character sketches that he sung over the course of three amazing albums with Long Fin Killie, then it deserved it and then some. Scotland has always enough jokers in the pack, and these guys may have had the nicest sweetest of smiles for all I know, as they ripped through jugulars without even blinking and without even letting others know quite what had happened.

The full instrument credit list partially demonstrates what's up: drums, assorted percussion, bass, guitars, bouzouki, violin, mandolin, saxophone, hammer dulcimer, thumb piano. A bit folksy then, you might think, except this sounds nothing like the Pogues, or alternately Dead Can Dance, say. Everything is used in a relentlessly modern way, if you will, because the signifiers don't bring up the expected reactions. There's the most careful of blends, an integration that doesn't call attention to the fact that hey, we're being so damned arty here! A gentle, beautiful lushness that is most joyful to listen to, rolling songs that flow and move, as it were, than jump and shout, though the guitars can fully kick in from time to time when needed, but sound like nothing that would be played on the Well-Meaning Yup Scum public radio station of your choice, because, you know, that sounds sort of weird, doesn't it?

Match this with Sutherland, and no wonder this album is just so flat-out amazing. Sutherland worships Mark E. Smith to the point where he invited him to record a song, and a fine one it is, "The Heads of Dead Surfers," the usual MES ramalama underscoring Sutherland's sweetness. And that's the trick -- rather than simply trying to sound like Smith, Sutherland instead aims for the same lyrical zone in many ways, observing these creatures called humans and their myriad ways of strangeness and idiocy, but without the easy comfort of empathy, all while singing in this lovely, lovely voice. And so Sutherland sings lines like "I'm looking for a sensitive intelligent man, but all those guys have boyfriends, so you'll have to do for now," or "So you're walking on your hind legs again," or talks about "this beach boy achilles, a former leading light of radio, drowned in suntan lotion," or "fumbling in the back seat with some effeminate anarcho-rocker until I found out I was allergic to his lipstick, but by that time he let me know that I was too natural for him anyway."

Poet laureate in thirty years' time, I think.

Ned Raggett, October 1999

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