Melody Maker, April 23rd 1983, "Biting Tongues: Libreville "
A GROUP of some magnitude, Biting Tongues unleash forces that go way beyond the commonplace. If banality seems the watchword of most music, these people are its negation; a collective that achieve a fusion of unholy, fierce intensity and fertile, bubbling intelligence.
It may not be our complete salvation, but "Libreville" is a very special record indeed.
It's easier to say that Biting Tongues represent a solidity of purpose and openness of approach than it is to sum up the group sound, for their identity is one that can't be pinned down with a smattering of simplistic phrases. Bassist Colin Seddon is a player who manages to mesh the lithe syncopation of funk with the bellicosity of rock, and is a central propulsive force; likewise drummer Eddie Sherwood plays with a crisp precision that sometimes brings to mind A Certain Ratio's Donald Johnson during the "Flight" era and the fluidity of Jaki Liebezeit, yet the group's sound is always shifting, their ploys varied.
Things happen in all eight of these exhilarating performances – events occur and are displaced, sounds ricochet. There's always a movement involved – the rhythmic power is enormous – but its final goal is frequently never obvious until the end; the pieces twist around tortuous chicanes, hurtle fearlessly like scramblers around a dirt-track of sound.
"Libreville" is frequently other-worldly, but firmly placed in inner space, not outer limits. Sound sources are often hard to identify; the familiar is re-arranged and given alarming new emphasis, the result being an enticing, dislocated dream-like quality.
Biting Tongues began as a "jam" to a film of the same name, so it seems fitting that some of this record's more mysterious moments could profitably be used as part of the soundtrack to "Eraserhead". It wasn't so much the narrative of that film that provided its effect as its devious atmosphere, lack of obvious logic, the unexpectedness of its occurrences and ambiguity and absurdity of its image.
Likewise the Tongues' pieces are not memorable for any conventional melody – vocalist Ken Hollings "raps" rather than "sings" – so much as their shadings.
The hidden corners, the details and the relationships between constituent parts provide rich ground for exploration in Biting Tongues' music; like a table crowded with bric a brac, we can have hours of pleasure shifting through its contents, discovering previously unnoticed segments. I've played "Libreville" at least two dozen times over the last couple of months and its still hasn't lost its freshness.
Hollings' words are one of the sources of intrigue; though occasionally veering towards the unnecessarily obscure (why "Doctor Restore He Sight"?), they provide a tangled network of clues, images and ideas for the listener to unravel, or simply feel. On "Dirt For 485", the throes of childhood and the act of dying are mingled with an eerie detachment that recalls the best of Ian McEwan's tales of suburbia, youth and perversion.
If that sounds "difficult", it's not. "Libreville" is, as much as anything, an irresistibly physical record. Though there's very little similarity, fans of Can will have to buy, and are virtually guaranteed to love it to death. The rest of you: Investigate.