It was Kurt and Courtney who first introduced me to The Raincoats, although not personally of course. Kurt was a big fan of the band, wrote the sleevenotes for the re-release of their self titled first album and booked them as a support band for Nirvana when the band reformed in the nineties. Courtney’s band Hole, who were my favourite band in my mid-teens, covered ‘The Void’ also from that same debut album.
So, given that it had the seal of approval of two of my musical heroes, it was unsurprising that I decided to go out and buy that debut album, despite never having heard a note of it. Released in 1979, it shared with other music of the immediate post-punk era a lack of interest in rock and roll conventions and traditions, a sense of wanting to build something completely new. It contained no 4/4 beats, no verse/chorus/verse structures, non-traditional instruments, and no men (all female bands were still pretty rare in the mid 90s when I was listening, let alone back in the 70s). It was so different to any music I had hear before that I just didn’t get it, I had nothing to hold on to (apart from a cover of Lola by The Kinks) and put the album away after a handful of listens, not expecting to return to it again.
Fast forward a decade or so, and I’m on a bus in Brighton and, on a whim, I decide to give it another try (my entire music collection being on my iPod by now of course). Suddenly it all makes sense. The intertwining vocals, the giddy rush of the changing time signatures, the little melodies that had been there all along, I had just failed to notice them. Lola was no longer the only interesting song on the album, but the least interesting (although still a great deconstruction of a rock standard). The Raincoats was now the only album I wanted to listen to, and I found new delights each time I did. No Looking and No Side to Fall In are particular favourites of mine, but the album is near perfect.
If you are a fan at all of music that is lo-fi and unconventional, I’m fairly confident that you will love The Raincoats, and that debut album is the place to start. Second album Odyshape is also a delight however. By this time, the band had incorporated even more unusual instruments and the influence of dub and world music. As a cohesive whole I don’t love it quite as much as the debut, but it has some fantastic songs, and is preferred by some (notably Kim Gordon). Third album Moving is a minor disappointment, not terrible, but not a patch on the first two. There is, however, one wonderful song from this era, which for some reason wasn’t included on Moving until the 1990s re-release. No-ones Little Girl is the equal of anything The Raincoats ever released.
The band split shortly after Moving, they had always seemed on the verge of doing so, with many line-up changes and constant pulling in different directions. They reformed in 1994 and released an album in 1996, which was interesting but inessential, and have played the odd show together since. But it’s really those first two albums you must listen to if The Raincoats are to become your new favourite old band, but if you haven’t time, my best of The Raincoats playlist is below.