|CD review - LOST ART BERGMANN|
The Big Takeover / April 25, 2009 / by Michael Toland
In some circles, ART BERGMANN is a legend. In the early 80s, the British Columbian songwriter led the YOUNG CANADIANS, one of the leading lights of the Vancouver punk scene. He then fronted POISONED, sort of Canada’s answer to the REPLACEMENTS (indeed, Bergmann has been referred to as the Canadian PAUL WESTERBERG), before embarking on a fruitful if ill-fated solo career. Despite (or maybe because of) a handful of records of dark lyrics, ragged vocals and untamed guitar wrangling, Bergmann never got far, with only a couple of minor Canuck hits to show for his hard work. (Truthfully, his bad habits didn’t help.) He released his last studio album in the late 90s and has been retired ever since, stymied by arthritis and lack of interest. (Note: check his website for the full story.) Except for a Young Canadians comp on the Sudden Death label, his catalog has fallen out of print, with his acknowledged masterpiece Sexual Roulette being damn near impossible to find.
In 1988, Bergmann released his debut solo record Crawl With Me, produced by JOHN CALE for the MCA-affiliated Duke Street Records. The combination seemed like a good idea at the time – Bergmann’s tales of murderers, junkies and losers definitely show a LOU REED influence, and Cale knows how to bring out the atmosphere of the dark side. Strangely, though, Cale opted instead to nudge Bergmann’s music toward the mainstream, smoothing out many of the songs’ musical edge (though not touching the lyrical outlook). It’s unclear what Cale’s motive was – maybe he worked under a record company edict to make Bergmann into the next TOM COCHRANE, or maybe he just didn’t care. Regardless, Bergmann was displeased with the results, believing that Cale had ripped the guts out of his music.
Lost Art Bergmann attempts to redress Bergmann’s dissatisfaction with Crawl With Me. Recorded with Poisoned in 1986 and featuring production assistance from PAUL HYDE and BOB ROCK of the PAYOLA$, these tracks comprise the demo that got Bergmann his record deal, presented as its creator intended.
Seven of these songs were re-recorded for Crawl, and it’s interesting to note that the arrangements the same. Clearly, Bergmann knew exactly how he wanted the songs to sound, even using the same musicians on both albums. The rockers “Inside Your Love,” “Final Cliché” and “Ill Repute” rage as they were meant to, finally breathing fire. The midtempo cuts “Runaway Train” and “Our Little Secret” (the single from Crawl, despite its unflinching look at incest) benefit mightily from the directness they’re given here. “Junkie Don’t Care,” Bergmann’s smack-sick anthem, is damn near apocalyptic, stripped of any attempt to make it listener-friendly beyond its own hooks. The version of the familial murder powerhouse “My Empty House” is strong on Crawl (Cale knew enough to leave that one alone, apparently), but here benefits from a more crazed vocal and a solo that sounds like a controlled atomic explosion. The three songs that didn’t reappear later are excellent – “Black Heart,” “Who Will Ever Know” and “To Tell the Truth” display all the grit, melody and soul of Bergmann’s best work.
Another notable thing about this collection is that these songs don’t sound like demos. It’s unclear whether the mix is Rock’s original, or a more recent re-do, but either way these tracks sound as bright and clear as any “real” record. Of course, there’s a dated quality inherent in the time period – the guitar tones and keyboard sounds immediately mark these recordings as being from the mid-80s. But ultimately these cuts’ quality comes down to the songs and the performances, and in those respects, Lost Art Bergmann is a triumph. And a good thing, too, because unless some enterprising music industry fan decides Bergmann’s records deserve saving, this is likely the only example of his distinctive vision neophytes are likely to hear.