Raincoats, ‘The Kitchen Tapes’ (1983)

Disorderly Naturalism

The first thing to be said about the Raincoats is that they are the most appropriately named London band in the history of pop music. The second is that their music has moved from emotional manifestations of situations and events to statements of emotional positions taken on situations and events–and that the music here, recorded at the Kitchen in New York City in December, 1982, is a result of the latter approach. In other words, these are performances of songs. As such they can speak for themselves, but the Raincoats did not always “perform songs,” and before they are subsumed into rock history–the band may well be gone by the end of 1983–or marked off as a half-page in one more new-women-in-rock book, it might be worth noting what they did instead.

What I’m talking about is the process of punk: the move from enormous feeling combined with very limited technique–more to the point, enormous feeling unleashed by the first stirrings of very limited technique–to much more advanced technique in search of subject matter suited to it. It’s a move from the moment an anonymous person dares to demand that someone listen to her (and then discovers that she has something to say, that she likes saying it, that one thought and one feeling leads to another, that she likes being talked back to…) to the moment when that person (perhaps still ‘anonymous,’ or anyway not famous) wonders what she will say to those who she can rightly expect will listen to her as a matter of course. It’s this move that the Raincoats’ music has captured, perhaps more fully than that of any other band.

Their first shows and discs did not suggest influences, whatever the Raincoats’ might have been, because the Raincoats could not then play well enough to sound like anyone else. On The Kitchen Tapes, the Raincoats do indeed occasionally sound like other people: you might hear Fairport Convention. On the other hand, while some members of Fairport Convention might be able to replicate some moments of The Kitchen Tapes, no one–not even, you had to think, the Raincoats themselves–could have replicated five minutes of an early Raincoats show.

Early recordings– “Fairy Tale in the Supermarket”, say, from 1979, the band’s first single–did not seem to have subjects; they seemed to be in the way that other music was about. Listening, you were part of an argument, or an argument struggling to turn itself Into a celebration, or a celebration that could without warning break up into unpredictable component parts: whimsy, slyness, rage, for example. The records did not sound like statements, which can, after consideration or new evidence (or new technique) be altered or maintained; they sounded like events, one-time in­cidents, that, as in life, resulted from the band’s inability to exactly follow its intentions. I mean, clichés about “life as a performance,” or the-presentation-of­-the-self-in-everyday-life are all very well–but what about when you trip? How do you turn that into music?

It’s out of this sense of disorderly naturalism that the Raincoats built something of a career for themselves, and fashioned a set of songs–what you hear on this cassette–that do what the band wants them to do. This is, then, their statement–just as “Fairy Tale in the Supermarket” was their event. The punk process is incomplete without both.

Liner notes for The Raincoats, The Kitchen Tapes (ROIR cassette, 1983)


One thought on “Raincoats, ‘The Kitchen Tapes’ (1983)

  1. Pingback: <i>20th Century Women</i> Gets Early Punk Right | RedotZone | Rating and awarding artistes and creatives across Africa

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