Fetish: Little Heart (Just Music, 2012)
Digging out my old Fetish albums to prep for reviewing Little Heart (2012), the band's first CD since 2006's Remains, I felt again the thrill of handling their debut offering, Fetish. I remember being at the launch in 1997, in a tiny jazz venue in the bowels of Longkloof Studios in Cape Town, and being utterly seduced by the handmade CD covers. They came in four colours, I think (I own red and blue copies), and were made of a strangely ridged cloth, with Fetish scrawled on the front in dark gold letters. Contrast that to my first touch point for Fetish's new album – a link in an email.
It seemed part and parcel of the band's mystique then, although we now know they just couldn't afford to have their CD professionally packaged. Spent all their millions on the band jet, I assume. But the DIY aesthetic seemed appropriate to the intensely personal music they made, and the dark and venomously sexual persona of singer Michelle Breeze. Whether any of this was reality is immaterial. As a fan, you saw what you needed to see, you heard what Fetish made you hear, and it was beautiful.
They were – and possibly still are, despite their peregrinations – a ferociously local band. Songs such as Blue Blanket simultaneously celebrated and eviscerated Cape Town's artistic underbelly, and Breeze's own emotional maelstrom. "It's easy to be hip, cool and composed/ when you got R300 up your nose/ So I think I found God/ On the Lower Main Rd in Woodstock" is as cutting today as it was 15 years ago.
I was tempted to not bother writing this review, and just use this great one I found on the net while researching the band: "The Little Heart Flapper may look like one of the more innocent Fetish tools, but this weighty Little Heart packs lots of sting if used just right". It's as true of Little Heart the album as it is of Little Heart the Flapper. You need to really listen to this album, with dedication, to fully appreciate how far Dominic Forrest's guitars range across a terrain of rhythmic repetition punctuated with sudden power. I find it hard to describe the sound of Fetish, possibly because I feel it too much. You'll get a sense of perfect pace from the songs, as if trip hop became a ballad. It's elegiac without being heavy, big on intricate guitar-driven melody and the sort of skillful drumming that underpins without being ostentatious.
But the crucial question is whether the dark wave susurration of 90s rock can translate into the buzzing digital monochrome of 2012. Is Little Heart a homage to the past, a placeholder for the present, or a gesture toward the future? Even more simply – is there a potential new audience for Fetish, or is this a nostalgic offering to die-hard fans?
Short answer: it's a lovely album that will win Fetish many new fans, while at the same time remaining true to the dark vision that converted so many people at the beginning. It's tempting to see Merry go round, possibly my favourite track off Little Heart, as the manifesto for Fetish's rebirth. "Merry go round, merry go round/Everything changes/Pity we got off so soon/When we were young/We did things for fun/Not to pay the rent/Nobody cared if tomorrow was there/Or if we would make it."
Because Fetish did get off the merry go round, that pretty-near thankless carnival ride that is alternative rock music in South Africa. So why are they back? I could ask them, but it's more fun to deduce their motives from their music. On Paper Skies, a collaboration with Shadowclub's Jacques Moolman, Breeze sings: "There must be something in the pressure/pushing us together/ all the air has gone".
Let's imagine that this is about the creative lack that the individual members felt when the band took its hiatus, and that this album is the joyous sound of them breathing again.
Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisroper
Check out Fetish in the recording studio, on Rolling Stone
There's some super-interesting background info about Fetish on Daily Maverick.
Watch the video for All Time Low.
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