Albums Revisited: Cigarettes, Shades and Skin: The Sister’s of Mercy’s Vision Thing at 25
By: Peter Marks
The American album. That’s what they called it in the press when it hit the streets on October 22 1990. Bigger production values, grittier topics and naturally those riffs… oh the grief this band endured for using a different effect on the guitars. Patricia Morrison was out by the end of 1989, and from the sanctum of Hamburg Andrew Eldritch had already been busily assembling the next incarnation of The Sisters. The label was adamant about a follow-up as they’d gotten a pair of hits from ‘Floodland’ but Eldritch wasn’t too terribly concerned about much of anything.
Mainly recorded at legendary Puk studios, Vision Thing had pretty much been fleshed out by the time the final two players Tony James and Tim Bricheno were brought on board for added firepower. Naturally, James drew the most attention because it confirmed that the ‘difficult to work with’ Eldritch had once more sacked someone. It didn’t matter that Andreas Bruhn was an unknown quantity who’d co-written a number of songs on the upcoming album and would help evolve the overall sound of The Sisters.
Pedigree was everything and still is to the kids online who continue the worn out arguments they weren’t even alive for at the beginnings of.
When the first single for More appeared as a preview of things to come the English press did what it always does: wring their own particular truths out of thin air and vindictively pass judgement before the first minute is up.
The video alone demonstrated that Andrew intended to continue his quest to create a record which was gloriously stupid. Bombast on a scale heretofore unattained in the realms of rock music; I think he achieved this myself, Jim Steinman no doubt would agree (he assisted just as he had in the pursuance of a similar goal entitled This Corrosion) and naturally so did the clubs. You couldn’t go to one and NOT hear More, if you asked nicely enough you sometimes even got to hear the hysterically cynical b-side You Could Be the One.
With the countdown underway, The Sisters got down to the business of arranging some live dates and conducting the obligatory interviews. The highpoint of this would be the two dates they headlined at Wembley Stadium, both shows sold out I might add. To get an idea of how massive they were at the time, go to YouTube and look up others concerts from that venue. It had, or has, an 80,000 seat capacity. I still cannot imagine the atmosphere and of course there is no audio or video record of it whatsoever, thanks East/West. You’re the best.
Once the album was out, all bets were off. The title track opener left little doubt as to how this record was going to be remembered. A searing indictment of US government policy, it was followed by a song which remains a live favorite about love being a many splintered thing. A juxtaposition of Marx and Engels, god and angels… no one still really knows what for.
Eldritch had a brother of sorts in Torquemada, didn’t want to be the last and sniped at people who’d be better off not seeing him for some of the other songs; his best incision into the madness of America’s instant gratification syndrome played a piano in the Sheraton. Just to stitch things up in time as they say, Vision Thing ended with mercurial defiance.
I was wrong/I was wrong to ever doubt/I can get along without/Oh I can love my fellow-man/But I’m damned if I’ll love yours
A tour of the United States began in 1991 and featured Gang of Four, Public Enemy and Warrior Soul as the other acts but America being what it was (and is) would not allow it. Halfway through the dates, cities began to ban this project and the whole thing was cancelled before it had any chance to build momentum.
I think this is what led Eldritch to throw in the towel with regard to ever making another Sisters album more than anything else. James left around the same time and Bricheno followed suit in 1992. Bruhn played his final shows in 1993.
So in the final analysis, did this record deserve the scorn and derision it received at the time? Nope. But as metal was such a hot commodity then it was unfortunately grouped in with the meatheads who dominated the airwaves with their teased hair and saucy eyeliner. Debates carry on as to the true meanings of the lyrics on this one, god knows there’s little else left to discuss.
There will never be another Sisters album, this was it. Not the highly polished alienation of Floodland or the simmering egos of First and Last and Always, Vision Thing remains the best likeness that Eldritch’s approach to a purely rock and roll album could achieve. It’s the sort of record so loaded with in jokes and multiple entendres that even Alan Moore would be reticent to dissect it. Best of luck.
Have any fond memories of The Sisters of Mercy’s Vision Thing? Tell is in the comments.