The Sisters of Mercy (Merciful Release, 1985)


Andrew Eldritch (vocals, lyrics)
Gary Marx (guitars)
Wayne Hussey (guitars)
Craig Adams (bass)
Doktor Avalanche (drums)

  1. Black Planet (Eldritch/Hussey)
  2. Walk Away (Eldritch/Hussey)
  3. No Time to Cry (Adams/Eldritch/Hussey/Marx)
  4. A Rock and a Hard Place (Eldritch/Hussey)
  5. Marian (Version) (Eldritch/Hussey)
  6. First and Last and Always (Eldritch/Marx)
  7. Possession (Adams/Eldritch/Hussey)
  8. Nine While Nine (Eldritch/Marx)
  9. (Amphetamine) Logic (Eldritch/Marx)
  10. Some Kind of Stranger (Eldritch/Marx)

After a couple of singles, not all good, several EPs and with a solid following that helped them survive but didn't quite fill the coffers, 1985 saw the Sisters of Mercy, led by the chainsmoking artificial enigma that went and still goes by the pseudonym of Andrew Eldritch, reach musical maturity and recognition. First and Last and Always stands as an, if not seminal, at least defining album of the British and European gothic scene of the early to mid-1980s.

This goth classic begins with two distinctive, foreboding piano chords. "In the western sky..." is one of the most recognisable opening lyrics of any album from the 1980s. This is how it starts as Black Planet introduces the album with a simple repetitive guitar motive, in the band's signature style, that's relatively low-key and subdued. The first vision of First and Last and Always is the spectre of nuclear stupidity (disaster implies nobody's fault) but from a detached, romantic standpoint with visuals akin to some 1950s science fiction story. This song is not one of the electrifying tunes from their earlier work but has a more elegiac tone. The way Eldritch spits out the word "black" leaves no doubt about his feelings or intentions. This song is a cold war song.

Walk Away is classic Sisters. More droning and personal than Black Planet and a bit reminiscent of Temple of Love. Both this and the next two tracks, No Time to Cry and A Rock and a Hard Place, stand very well themselves but unfortunately some sloppy mixing makes the words only semi-intelligible and that's where their strength lies.

Everything I ever did right or wrong
Hid out of sight where I belong, belong...

Marian has always been one of my favourites. In terms of sound it's the very definition of gothic. The added German lyrics, sung by Eldritch himself, leave no room for doubt. The subject is a drowning man but it leaves the question open of why he's drowning and in what. It could be the story of a sailor in a storm (sea shanty, someone said about it), it could be the pain of distance in a relationship. It could be something we can't fathom.

In the wake of this ship of fools I'm falling further down
If you can see me, Marian, reach out and take me home.

The title track, sixth on the album, suffers from the same problems as tracks 2-4 and doesn't come through as well, as does the seventh, Possession. After this, though, there is nothing but pure brilliance that no technical deficiency can hide.

Nine While Nine is a story in itself. Doubtlessly some of the most beautiful lyrics Eldritch has written, this classical "waiting at a railway station" kind of story is an aethereal dirge of love found and lost.

Shadows grew no longer
I knew no other friend but you

Amphetamine Logic carries more than a hint of a drug culture that was nascent but would explode by the early nineties. This song begins with a slow beat and a simple melody that turns into a frantic bad trip. The world is a cold and lonely place and we beg for a little comfort, a little pain.

Watch them do
The falling over
Watch them do
The standing still

Some Kind of Stranger provides a magnificent finale to a brilliant album, letting it fade out with a cry. Probably the most emotional Sisters song there is beside 1959, comparable to Alice in mood but with half the tempo. You perceive this song as having a true story behind it. It drones on in your head long after the song is over and resurfaces when something brings on the same feelings.

Come here I think you're beautiful
I think you're beautiful
Some kind of stranger come inside.

It echoes on and on... and on.

First and Last and Always is an album of poetry as much as music. Sadly it suffers badly from poor production on the musical side. Notwithstanding the technical imperfection, the content makes it one of the defining albums of a cultural generation. At the time of its release, the US public wasn't quite ready for this sound and success had to wait until More a few years later.

If you're into the Sisters in even the smallest way you should already have this album. If you ever had doubts about purchasing it, forget them. First and Last and Always is one of the rare albums that leaves you unsure which is the best song and where you would find it hard to pick any single track if you were asked to discard one. This album was the last before their acrimonious near-dissolution, when the Sisters were a band that was much more than just Eldritch. A must have.

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