About the interpretations
References and Contributors
Prior to First And Last And Always
"But, Roger, why have you called our record 'Brutality, Religion And A
Dance Beat'? That's got nothing to do with us."
"Bill, if it hasn't it should have; without those three ingredients
pop music is nothing. All great pop music, from John Lee Hooker to the
Bay City Rollers, from Captain Beefheart to Augustus Pablo, from the
Buzzcocks to Johnny Kidd And The Pirates has it. 'Brutality, Religion
And A Dance Beat', it's rock'n'roll; rule number one, and don't forget
Bill Drummond (quoting Roger Eagle), Brutality, religion and a dancebeat
Most of these notes by Chris Sampson; random additional ramblings
by Oliver Duke-Williams. Errors supplied by the local off-license.
NB: These songs are listed in rough chronological order, but they
have been rearranged in some cases.
"Hard to find and even harder to listen to" - Andrew Eldritch
The Sisters debut single was a three track 7 inch-only affair. The
guitars were recorded through a three watt practice amp, and the bass
part was played on the same six string as the lead. Eldritch - famously
"the worst drummer in town" - played drums. Badly. Not surprisingly
the resultant recordings are appalling - with hindsight a few guitar
riffs show promise, but there is little here that hints of later
glories. That John Peel polluted the nation's airwaves with this is
probably more indicative of poor quality control on the early 80s Peel
Show than any genius for talent spotting at Peel Acres. Perhaps the
most important result of this single was the establishment of the band's
Merciful Release record company and the experience gained by recording
and producing their own record and getting the thing into the shops and
on the radio.
The official Sisters chronology cites the band line-up as Andrew
Eldritch (drums, guitar) and Gary Marx (guitar, vocals). This seems to
be an example of Eldritch's selective amnesia as a detailed listen
reveals that Eldritch sings on The Damage Done, with Marx
handling vocals on Watch and Home of the Hitmen.
Whether this indicates anything about who wrote lyrics is open for
conjecture. None of the lyrics to these songs appears in the official
- For Spiggy
The run-off groove
has the inscription "For Spiggy". Spiggy
was Eldritch and his then girlfriend's cat. Unfortunately the cat went
the same way as the relationship, and was found one day a mess of blood
and guts on the unforgiving Leeds tarmac. Incidentally, if that copy
you've just paid 200 quid for doesn't have the inscription then it's a
- The Damage Done
The phrase is possibly inspired by Neil Young's The Needle and the
- The Royal Ballet on a blitzkrieg bop
NB: The line is not very clear; I think that this is
what the lyric is...
Blitzkrieg Bop is the title of a Ramones song; the
line would seem to be about debasment of high culture: deliberate?
accidental? to be regretted? to be hoped for? Maybe just a line
written by someone who thought it would sound good, and/or liked the
idea of shagging a ballerina.
- This is the way the world will end
From the famous couplet in T S Eliot's The Hollow Men:
"This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper"
HyperRust - a comprehensive
Neil Young website.
T.S. Eliot - links to most poems, plus essays and biographical information.
The Ramones - a rather graphically intensive site, but with plenty of information.
More information about the Royal Ballet than you can shake a tutu at.
No references that require explanation
The last word of the first line is `aluminium'; the pronounciation
perhaps being unusual for those used to the traditional American
pronounciation of the word. This is of course the internationally
accepted correct spelling, but before British readers start
feeling too smug about this they should note that, horrifically,
the correct spelling of the sixteenth element is `sulfur'.
Contemporary cashflow problems at Merciful Release meant that the
Sisters second single was released on the CNT label out of York. CNT
(Confederacion National de Trabajo) was the name of an anarchist
worker's collective which was active in the Spansih Civil War. The
cover features Francis Bacon's excellent Head VI, one of a series of
Bacon pictures based on Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X.
Musically and lyrically, Body Electric/Adrenochrome represent a
significant advance on the Damage Done single. Dr Avalanche (Drums) and
Craig Adams (Bass) had been recruited along with some decent equipment,
and the furious, intense, thrilling wall of noise was impressive enough
to bag the `Single of the Week' slot in the Melody Maker.
- Body Electric
The title is taken from Walt Whitman's poem I sing the Body
- Idiot Children
I have a suspicion that this is a phrase from some ultra-famous
Shakespeare soliliquy. ??Clarification??
Adrenochrome is a schizophrenia-inducing drug produced by oxidising
adrenalin. It was famously featured in Hunter S Thompson's
ripped-to-the-tits road novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Despite the sale and purchase of this drug being legal in the UK, the
authors really wouldn't recommend taking any unless you really want
- The Catholic girls now, stark in their dark and white
Nuns, obviously, and their black and white habits.
- Not black and red boys
Possibly a reference to Stendhal's novel Le Rouge et Le Noir
Not a classic Sisters single being let down by thin production, Anaconda
tends to be a weak link in the string of vintage material released in 82 and 83.
Perhaps the unreleased but powerful
Good Things would have been a
better choice of single, with Anaconda on the B side. However, Anaconda
does have a strong lyric - a horrific tale of the destruction of a woman
by Heroin addition. Both Alice and Anaconda seem to advise caution in
one's drug usage. This caring attitude has been ditched in more recent
songs; at the Brixton Academy show on 9 June 97 Anaconda was followed by
War On Drugs with the comment "but in the grand scheme of things...who
- (cover image)
The cover is adapted from that of the Alice Cooper album Billion
Dollar Babies. The original is designed to look like a giant
snakeskin wallet, with gatefold versions of the sleeve opening up
to show the interior of the wallet.
- Baby buy the number three
No idea. ??Clarification??
- Baby shoot Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is the chemical used to preserve bodies after death.
Good Things was recorded for a Peel session first broadcast
in September 1982. It has not had a formal release, which is
disappointing, as the song stands comparison with comtemporary songs
such as Body Electric and Adrenochrome.
Utterly fabulous. A ripsnorting, heady mix of razor-sharp riffing, a
battery of tactical attack drumming and crazed, urgent vocals. The
Sisters' power is under control and focussed, targets are sighted and
dispatched with ruthless panache. One of the all-time great singles.
Undoubtedly, much of the credit for the brilliance of this record goes
to the Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton, who produced the record,
and taught Eldritch that there's more to this production lark than
turning all the sliders up to 11.
- (cover image)
The cover picture is a version of Nu bleu (IV) by Henri
- Mein Irisch Kind, Wo weilest du?
This quotation is scratched onto the
run-off groove. This
translates to English as "My Irish child, where are you now?",
or "...where do you rest now?" It's from
Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, and is quoted
in T.S.Eliot's The Wasteland (lines 32-33). Eldritch
refers to this quote in UTR 8: "The mentally wayward child of the
Goethe quote is of course, Alice". I assume Eldritch meant
Wagner instead of Goethe.
- Im Westen nichts Neues
Again, this is scratched into the
run-off groove. It is the
title of a novel by Erich Maria Remarque about a day in the life of a
soldier in the First World War. The literal translation is 'In the west,
nothing new', though 'All quiet on the western front' is the more usual
translation. Eldritch again refers to this in UTR 8: "I borrowed it to
reflect the lyrics to Floorshow in a certain sense. Someday I may
write a long piece on the tenuous relationship between disco music
and the Great War, but it's a long story...".
- Alice in her party dress
Alice is partly inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and partly by
Jefferson Airplane's alleged hippy `classic' White
Rabbit. Drugs and innocence being the themes.
- Pass the crystal spread the tarot / In illusion comfort lies
"Black magic is a way of covering up the inability of making
any intelligent comment. Like the reference to Tarot on the new
single says: "In illusion comfort lies" which means black magic is
just another illusion that people use to wrap themselves up in and
hide from the real world." - Eldritch, Sounds 1982.
Notes supplied by Chris Sampson and a bottle of Chilean Cabernet
- The bodies on the naked on the low damp ground
A reference to T S Eliot's The Wasteland, line 193:
"White bodies naked on the low damp ground". The white bodies in
the Eliot poem are corpses.
- In the Violet Hour
- Again, this is taken from The Wasteland, line 220:
"...the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
- Slow Slow Quick Quick Slow
This is the rhythm of the quickstep.
"Use sparingly. Hide all sharp objects." - Adam Sweeting,
The Reptile House EP was released in May 1983 and marked a
considerable and significant change of style for the Sisters. Previous
singles (Body Electric, Alice, Anaconda) had established a furious,
intense wall-of-sound as the Sisters' modus operandi. As a sharp
contrast, the Reptile House presented a suite of five slow, massively
disturbing songs. Allegedly recorded single-handedly by Eldritch
(though there is evidence that Craig Adams wrote the bass lines to some
of the songs), the songs are characterised by stark, tense drum
patterns, and brutally sharp guitar riffs, over which Eldritch laid his
reverb-heavy baritone vocals. The Reptile House also heralded
Eldritch's maturing as lyricist - here the Eliot quotes are woven into a
coherent theme, the tension of the music reflected in the sinister,
sinistra, lyrics, which are sung with (a frankly scary) relish.
Though this new facet to Eldritch's songwriting appeared fully formed,
it can be justifiably said that without the pioneering work done on The
Reptile House, Floodland would have sounded a much different record. If
you're in the right mood then this could be the Sisters' finest record.
The menace of these songs persists to this day, and it is always
revealing to take a look at the audience response when Burn or Kiss is
performed live; the distress is almost tangible.
unfortunate that the glossary compilers do not have access to any
contemporary Eldritch interviews which would give insight on the
Vonmeister's thoughts on The Reptile House lyrics; in the absence of
such illumination the following explanations are offered.
The song's use of a woman as a metaphor for amphetamines is all too obvious.
I'm not aware of any references in this song.
- The lights shine clear...red turns green
The lights are clearly meant to be traffic lights.
- Ignore the voices ... but there's a voice in the distance...
Disembodied voices appear in other Sisters songs, for example
Bury Me Deep and
Marian. Hearing voices is a
classic sign of schizophrenia, a condition which can be exagerrated
by massive drug abuse.
- Sodium haze
Street lamps often emit an orange light, presumably the result
of the sodium composition of their filament.
- The razor bites and the shriek subsides / he arches clutching at his sides.
The opening couplet is taken from T S Eliot's 1920 poem
Sweeney Erect, the eighth verse of which reads:
"Tests the razor on his leg
Waiting until the shriek subsides
The epileptic on the bed
Curves backward, clutching at her sides"
Eliot's poem is one of a series of three Sweeney poems which deal
with the infamous Sweeney Todd murders. Todd, a barber, murdered
his clients and disposed of the bodies by using them as the fillings
in the meat pies sold in the shop situated below the barbers.
- A people fed on famine
Previous lines in Valentine introduce TV as a numbing
influence on mankind's ability to deal with catastrophic
events. A repeated image on early 80s TV was the African
famine; there is, of course, an ironic oxymoron in being fed by
famine. Eldritch, for once, misses his target as the
Band Aid/Live Aid organisations in late 83/84 demonstrated that
famine was the one thing that was still horrific enough to shock
the populace out of their complacency. Of course this just
spawned a series of increasingly reflex, meaningless 'charity
events': the genre reaching its crepuscular zenith with the
nauseous Freddy Mercury tribute concert.
- A people eat each other
Literally so in the case of Sweeney!
- Waiting for another war and waiting for my Valentine
It has been suggested that Valentine is inspired by the
juxaposition of Falklands war and the Charles/Diana Royal
Wedding on TV in 1981.
- Watch the body hit the files
This may refer to the burgeoning UK unemployment count in
the early 80s under the so-called Thatcher economic
"miracle" (also "a people stand in line"), or possibly it might
be a reference to the death toll in the Falklands War.
The first four lines progress via a series of ribald rhyming juxtapositions,
of which "corpse" and "corporation" is surely the most
- Burn me a fire in The Reptile House
Reptile refers to the elemental evil present in every human mind.
"The Reptile House" is a building common in zoos where, obviously,
the Reptiles are housed. I would like to think that this is a
metaphor for the Houses of Parliament; given the extreme political
nature of Valentine and Fix, torching the Palace of Westminster would
seem a suitable conclusion.
The syntax of this line is also reminscent of the opening line of
Eliot's Sweeney Erect (q.v.): "Paint me a cavernous waste shore".
I'm also reminded of Turner's famous painting of the 18?? destruction
of the Houses of Parliament.
The Reptile House was also adopted as the name of the Sisters'
information service which existed in fits and starts from 1987 until
1992 when it blossomed for four years into the most literate,
enervating fan club going. Official Reptile House T-Shirts always
identified the wearer as a "REPTILE" which was a dubious privilege
at best. Sadly, these days it appears to be in decline, though
There is a verse in Burn which is recorded backwards, and is not
listed in the official lyric book. It has been transcribed as
"The Catherine wheel around on fire
We will burn this circus down
The wheel goes round and the friends get higher
For the juggling men and the idiot clown"
This version of Body Electric is a re-recording of the
original release made with a somewhat more generous budget. Comparison
of the two versions demonstrates the progression of the band's technical
skills, but the song itself is more or less identical.