Carved in Sand
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Reviewed by Will Harris
Though he first achieved prominence in the Goth community via his stint as a member of the Sisters of Mercy, Hussey also had some unexpected pop chops as well as a result of his work with Dead or Alive. When both he and bassist Craig Adams got fed up with Andrew Eldritch, they abandoned him and quickly formed their own band. Unfortunately, Eldritch wasn’t going to sit still for their cheeky idea of a name – the Sisterhood – and after he balked, they came up with an alternative: the Mission.
Fast-forward a few years, to when Hussey and Adams are preparing to begin work on their third album. Having worked with Tim Palmer on their debut (1987’s God’s Own Medicine) and former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones on the follow-up (1988’s Children), the Mission’s experiences with the latter were so thoroughly unsatisfying that they opted to return to the former for Album #3, to be entitled Carved in Sand. The end result was a record filled to the brim with a blend of rockers and ballads which should have done for the Mission what Disintegration did for the Cure: take the group to the top of the charts and the stages of arenas around the world.
But it didn’t.
The lack of Stateside success for Carved in Sand was particularly surprising, given how profoundly mainstream the band’s sound had become over the course of their evolution. Not that it wasn’t still dark, but it was in no way difficult to imagine an epic rocker like “Deliverance” becoming an instant smash on album-rock radio, nor was it a stretch to envision lighters being held aloft during the chorus of the glorious “Butterfly on a Wheel.” Was it that the drama of Hussey’s voice on songs like “Grapes of Wrath” or “Into the Blue” was too much for Americans to embrace? Actually, maybe it’s because the band itself was going through a bit of a bout of tremendous self-medication.
In his liner notes for the album, Hussey acknowledges, “I actually have very few clear or fond memories of this particular time, and I have no real recollection of how I or the band felt whilst recording.” Well, you have to applaud the man’s honesty, anyway…especially when he follows by admitting that “our drug use was reaching its zenith at this point. Rather than the cheap speed that fueled the first two albums, we could now afford more up-market drugs, and I do remember that I personally was using a lot of cocaine and LSD during the making of Carved in Sand.” For all of their pharmaceutical intake, the band still managed to produce one of the best albums of their career, with Side 1 of the record (for you kids out there, that would be the first five songs of the CD) verging on immaculate. Granted, the second half of the record is, at least comparatively speaking, a bit of a drag (in particular, “Belief” never needed to go on for seven-plus minutes), but it’s in no way bad, and with this new 2008 reissue, Hussey has been gifted with the opportunity to right one of his great regrets.
Fans may recall that, within mere months of the record’s original release, the Mission spat out a companion piece for Carved in Sand which offered up a fab new single (“Hands Across the Ocean”), a pair of well-chosen covers (the Kinks’ “Mr. Pleasant” and John Lennon’s “Love”), and several originals which had been recorded at the same time as Carved but didn’t make the final cut. Hussey concedes in the liner notes that he made the poor-in-retrospect decision to allow Carved’s track listing to be decided by committee rather than by himself, but the subsequent collection – given the appropriately-similar title of Grains of Sand – allowed him to get some of those songs into stores after all. Now, in 2008, the two records have been paired together as a two-disc set, providing for a fuller picture of the Mission’s output during this era. In particular, “Grip of Disease” and “Heaven Sends You” are top-notch tracks which should’ve made it onto Carved.
Also included are a plethora of B-sides, demos, and alternate takes, including a vaguely country take on “Butterfly on a Wheel” and the Casbah mix of “Tower of Strength,” but certainly the most fun inclusions are the nine tracks performed by the Metal Gurus. If you’re unfamiliar with this side project, it’s Hussey and friends having an absolute blast as they bash their way through their favorite glam-rock covers. If you ever thought of Hussey as being a dark and dour individual, you’ll never look at him in the same way after hearing him storm through “Ballroom Blitz,” “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” and “Merry Christmas Everybody.” The sound quality on the tracks isn’t crystal clear, but the enthusiasm shines through.