Tuesday, June 03, 2008
ZIRCON LOUNGE- Regal Vigor 12" LP
(WEA Records Pte Ltd 1983)
Zircon Lounge's game are the aesthetics of decadence; a deconstruction of the plebeian Singaporean fable. Their poetic prose and pose built a post-modern consciousness in a doomed romantic backdrop of Singapore as Dystopia, with soundscape of very cold and bleak nature and a dire undertone seeping. “The vigor of the deepest despair, where despair was strength itself...”, a statement that harbours the “way of life, a regal vigor” in all essence which is this very album that transcends local music to a whole new level of expression. “Regal Vigor”their debut LP, released in 1983 became the first drop of ink to smudge the clean slate of Singapore music and tainted it forever ever since. Their New Wave sound is a new creative pastiche of art in the higher order and their gut-level catharsis exorcising pain, angst, ennui, and celebrating joy, triumph and desires, causing a reaction to an otherwise sterile machine and setting off a chain of successive “waves” that touched the hearts of many a then young Joe Ngs, Pat Chngs, etc. Chris Ho's dejected visage on the red (= revolution) album cover speaks of subtle subversion that sees him becoming the Singapore Rebel.
Originally formed as Transformer, Zircon Lounge, got together on this album as a unit featuring the legendary Chris Ho on vocals, long time collaborator Yeow Tan on guitars and vocals, Woo Huay Pin on bass and Chung Shih Loong on drums. They started out as a bunch of clean cut dissidents before spotting rocker's locks sometime in the mid 80s and of course Chris Ho later became X'Ho and experimented with different outlooks in his various transformations. “Regal Vigor” also featured a string of “guests” like Jacintha, Anita Sarawak, Dick Lee, etc playing different roles, spreading their talent in almost every tracks on this album. I would say that despite a lot of reference pertaining to Lou Reed, straight down to two covers of “Sweet Jane”, the band is actually making a dark Coldwave sound that thrives on dread and almost gothic romanticism.
This LP features mostly original composition, but there is two “Sweet Jane” covers of Lou Reed and a Romeo Void cover “Myself to Myself”. The first “Sweet Jane” cover includes notes from “The Thief's Journal” by Jean Genet, a philosophical justification of vice made into virtues. Here Zircon Lounge narrated their yearnings to invert the system of ideals that is made from this republic, to realise an outsider dream. The second version of “Sweet Jane” is Zircon Lounge's own interpretation of this song, without bearing too much semblance to the original.
“Shivers, Shivers” starts the LP on Side A with a long piano intro, so typical of many New Wave bands and leads into a uplifting post-punk number joined by a good amount of tenor sax. This opener is actually very different from what is to be expected on the rest of this album, as this one has a certain positive, radio friendly vibe going on. Now, “Myself to Myself” is the first penumbra in the shadow of the moon, with technical metallic guitar pickings accompanied by ghostly lead guitar wailing in the soundpicture. This Romeo Void cover cast a hypnotic spell, which brings a more early The Cure touch to it. Now, “Savior” is interesting. The bassline that starts the song is very similar to Depeche Mode's “Tora Tora Tora”. This ballad is written like a sociopathic obsession, with Chris Ho's edgy vocalisation of “maybe I know you, maybe I hate you, maybe I want you (maybe I need you)”. “Tight Rope” is the darkest moment on this album, a very creepy song that begins with menacing pulsing bass, thumping cold forceful drums, plenty of scary guitar feedbacks and Chris Ho in his werewolf motion. Here Zircon Lounge is bordering on Bauhaus territory with its strong gothic fixation and surreal imagery. Side A ends with “Sweet Jane/Notes from “The Thief's Journal”.
“4 Hours” is one of my most favourite from Side B. Here the music flirts with the naughty SM bondage groove that reminded me of Visage's “Night Train” or “The Anvil”, those leather trannies, peacock punks and blitz kids. The keyboard passage is robotic and Kraftwerk-like and the guitar riffs are pure funk licks. Great track to dance along to. On “Chanachai”, there is a greater emphasis on melodic songcrafting, which sees a more traditional riffwork in a standard rock setup. Here, Chris Ho took on a more airy vocalisation, not as heavyweight like the Side A numbers. “Cover Your Eyes” is a normal romantic ballad whereas “Strangers” is a really great folk-structured (think Leonard Cohen) crestfallen torch song which speaks better with its melancholia and the sad, surrealistic way Chris Ho carried it out. The last track on Side B is the aforementioned Zircon Lounge's interpretation of “Sweet Jane”.
Speaking of the band and the debut album's reputation as undoubtedly the first New Wave band in Singapore, there is no question that “Regal Vigor” is an important benchmark in the history of Singaporean music. This album is also the first in the sense to offer an alternative voice to the many standard lounge rock cover bands that saturated the night joints on our island city. On a more crucial note, Zircon Lounge conceptualised a revolution in the attitude of local musicians, elevating and pushing artistic expression beyond the boundaries confined by the media controllers and media slaves. “Regal Vigor” was pressed in vinyl LP and cassette tape format by WEA and there was not a sign of CD reissue from any company. This vinyl LP (or even the tape) is even impossible to get in the early '90s, as they simply seemed to vanish without a trace. Which is really a pity because this album is simply too important to not be heard by anybody who calls himself a supporter of Singapore music, notwithstanding the fact that the LP comes with a very excellent presentation and layout. When most of Singapore cannot get access to an important musical legacy like “Regal Vigor”, there is definitely something going wrong here.
--sojourner at 8:50 AM