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Arthur Russell is best known for his experiments in folk and minimal avant-garde, but in 1982 he took a more conventional pitstop. Contributing keyboard, cello and vocals to New York quartet The Necessaries, the late musician helped create a power-pop gem that’s been wrongly forgotten. That is, till now. April Clare Welsh explores a new, long-overdue reissue of Event Horizon – the best Russell album you’ve probably never heard.
Power-pop super group The Necessaries’ one sole album – released initially as Big Sky in 1981 before being reworked and re-released with a new name a year later – is rarely mentioned in discussion of its most celebrated member, Arthur Russell, and understandably so. Event Horizon, as the album eventually became known, is on paper the antithesis to the cult icon’s famous minimalism. The album is a full-fat blast of melody that burns as brightly as Big Star and jangles as frantically as The Feelies – one that allays myths about the late star in its ranks, showing another side to a modern musical enigma who, 25 years after his death as a result of AIDS, continues to beguile.
A supergroup featuring The Modern Lovers’ Ernie Brooks on bass, Red Crayola’s Jesse Chamberlain on drums, Ed Tomney on lead vocal and guitar, Randy Gunn on guitar, as well as an appearance from legendary trombone player Peter Zummo on ‘Sahara’, Russell joined The Necessaries a few years after they initially formed in 1979. It wasn’t his band, yet he did write some of their standout songs: ‘More Real’, ‘Driving And Talking At The Same Time,’ ‘Detroit Tonight,’ ‘On The Run’ and ‘The Finish Line’, all of which feature on Event Horizon. Dig beneath the electric guitars and blustering drums that contrast his more trademark hushed folk, and you’ll find his inimitable stamp all over the album, finally reissued this week on Be With Records.
From the propulsive disco chords on ‘Driving and Talking At The Same Time’ and the funky bassline of ‘On The Run’, to the widescreen, lovelorn rock of Replacements-esque ‘Detroit Tonight’, each Russell-penned track tips its hat to his other musical projects, including Dinosaur L and Loose Joints.
‘The Finish Line’ is Event Horizon‘s most progressive standout – a maelstrom of heavy, distorted guitars, psychedelic disco swirls and freaky cello folk all pulled together by Russell’s undulating voice. ‘More Real’ meanwhile runs counter to that challenge – a shiny testament to conventional guitar pop songwriting that is catchy as hell.
Event Horizon channels angular new wave, post-punk and art-rock into what FACT writer Mikey IQ Jones describes in the reissue’s liner notes as “damn fine songs for road trips.” Contextually, Event Horizon is a document of a groundbreaking era in US rock – quietly influential but criminally underrated, a time of Talking Heads, Devo, and The B-52’s. It’s also the most potent realization of Russell’s finely-tuned ear for melody, which was typically refracted through experimental echoes throughout much of his repertoire.
There’s much to love on Event Horizon, but try telling that to Russell, whose ultimate disdain for the band he joined in the early ‘80s is referenced in Matt Wolf’s vital 2008 documentary Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, and signalled by a single act of revolt. Following the release of Event Horizon in 1982, while on the way to play an important gig, the famously restless artist quit the band in the only way he probably knew how – by jumping out of the tour bus at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel in New York. Russell may have chosen to walk away from The Necessaries, but for any fans of his work, it would be a high crime to abandon Event Horizon by the side of the road.
April Clare Welsh is on Twitter