The Bolshoi - Friends
The Bolshoi were late comers to the UK post-punk party. As a result, it is hardly surprising that they were not the most original members of it either. Yet their 1986 debut, Friends, was undoubtedly their finest work. Marrying together elements of Echo and the Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs and Bauhaus they ticked all the right boxes. But don’t let this put you off. Although the band’s influences are clear, the Bolshoi put them together in a way which is quite unique to them.
For instance, while the guitars frequently comprise the double rhythm section and utter dark sounds and atmospheric effects, they are surprisingly upbeat and almost cheerful at times. Of course, the main atmospherics are provided by the swirling synthesiser which is almost obligatory for the genre, while the bass and the drums are solid if somewhat unobtrusive. Perhaps little more pounding drums, resonating deep across the music would have been better, but I imagine that was a production choice the band made early on.
Like a lot of the post-punks, the Bolshoi often provided comment on the society of the times. Often satirical, at times this could be quite biting. For instance, “Modern Man” is half a comment on the shallowness of the eighties image-conscious male -
“He used to care about important things/Like doing his hair and wearing rings.”
Yet at the same time it is a condemnation of society which has provided nothing meaningful or useful for a man to do, due to mass unemployment, with the result that he has no choice but to live his life in the shallow world of image and affectation.
Much of the source of the lyrical content is autobiographical insofar as vocalist-guitarist, Trevor Tanner, draws his inspiration from his own experiences. On the opening track, the best on the album, “Away”, the Bolshoi describe the beautiful but scheming girl who uses her charms to wheedle her way into the life of the rich and famous while forgetting her own true friends, an experience that will come back to haunt her. On “Sunday Morning” Tanner describes his own journey from religion to atheism. Yet, unlike many such songs, it is not a criticism of God or even religion, but a criticism of the hypocrisy of the people who attend church services in an appearance of purity while living sordid lives at other times. These are perhaps the same people on “Looking for a Life to Lose” who fill their kids’ heads with the bitterness, hypocrisy and malice which undermines those children’s ability to start a life without cynicism. When Tanner and the Bolshoi take aim at wider society in general, they again hit the mark. On “Books on the Bonfire”, the band take aim at those who have burned books in the past, and warn that the same is happening again.
Unfortunately, not all the songs are as strong. “Fat and Jealous” is a bitter personal attack on a variety of people, while “Waspy”, a song about fascination with a trapped wasp in a jar, is a clever idea, with a hint of sadism, but is let down by the fact that it is essentially a one verse song which has been stretched out way beyond its shelf-life and ends in an awful spoken word faux-mania.
It will come as no surprise that the Bolshoi never made it anywhere. Another in the long list of British post-punk outfits which were ignored by the media and consequently by the public. They gained some cult status but never got beyond that. With the reawakening of interest in British post-punk in recent years it is therefore timely that this CD has been reissued on the original Beggar's Banquet label. While the Bolshoi may not set your world on fire like the Chameleons or Fischer-Z, Friends is certainly an album worth getting if you are a fan of the genre.
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