“I cried so often, I was the laughing stock of the dockside…”
This new 7″, available in a limited edition of 300, represents the first outing on vinyl for one of the most idiosyncratic and affecting songs in the Officer! catalogue: ‘Life At The Water’s Edge’. In fact, we’d go far as to call this piece of ambiguous, ecstatic, anguished art-rock one of the finest songs of its era, or of any era for that matter. Those that suspect hyperbole are advised to listen below.
Previously only available on the 1983 cassette release 8 New Songs By Mick Hobbs, ‘Life At The Water’s Edge’ was captured on 8-track at This Heat’s Cold Storage studio in Brixton, with Officer! ringleader Mick Hobbs on vocals and bass, accompanied by Rick Wilson (drums), Terri Robson (violin), Anna Piva (vocals), Richard Wolfson (keyboards) and Family Fodder’s Alig (guitar). As we have noted before, Hobbs’ genius lies not simply in his songwriting and arrangements, but also in his sharply tuned collaborative instinct, his knack for coaxing unforgettable, semi-improvised performances from ad hoc ensembles of his talented friends, each player bringing something vital and individual to the feast.
Lyrically, ‘Life At The Water’s Edge’ has the whiff of a blackly comic fairytale, but at bottom appears to be a brutally frank account of childhood hardship and suffering. Hobbs’ vocal delivery is rueful, with flashes of barely contained rage, but the music ultimately suggests healing and rebirth, Robsons’s strings in particular offering an escape into the pastoral sublime. One thing is for sure: once heard, this startlingly vivid, intricately patterned pop song can not be forgotten.
By contrast, ‘Dogface’, sung by Judy Carter, is Officer! at its most impish and surreal, inviting us to “call [a] cat ‘dogface’ and see how the time flies.” A different version of this song appeared on Officer!’s celebrated Ossification LP, but this more smudged, dissolute-sounding take from 8 New Songs edges it for us.
Both tracks were remastered and cut by Matt Colton at Alchemy in January 2014, with Hobbs in attendance. The artwork for the limited edition 7″ is derived from the illustrated lyrics included in the original 8 New Songs artwork; the lyrics are also reproduced in full in the form of a two-sided 6.5″ x 6.5″ insert.
For those of you as yet unacquainted with Officer!, some background: Londoner Mick Hobbs came of age in the RIO scene late ’70s and early ’80s, playing in The Work, The Lowest Note, The Lo Yo Yo and The Momes, and becoming closely associated with This Heat and their Cold Storage studio, where he worked with the likes of Flaming Tunes and Catherine Jauniaux. The Officer! project formally surfaced in 1982 with the AAA cassette Eight New Songs By Mick Hobbs, a dry-run for the Cold Storage-recorded Ossification LP (1983) – a modern classic given a long overdue reissue earlier this year by Megaphone/Knock ‘Em Dead This was followed by Cough (1985) and Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes (1988); then a long pause, during which Hobbs joined Half Japanese (he remains a member to this day). In 1995 he recorded a glut of new Officer! material in Baltimore, material which was shelved until 2014, when it was compiled under the title Dead Unique and released on Blackest Ever Black.