Narcotic Lullabies

Review of “A Dozen Drugs” CD by Mick Stannard

By Michael Kemp

Review of A Dozen Drugs by Mick Stannard

cover of A Dozen Drugs

Take a visual artist or graphic designer. Deprive him of his hands, his fingers. What becomes of him, then? Does he first recoil in shock, then slink away into the dark places, alone and neglected, desolate, and divorced from the creative process? Or does he lick his wounds, then, step by step, painstakingly acquire new skills ~ the way of the disabled, the paraplegic ~ learning, gradually, to paint holding the brush in the mouth, or the foot?

Now take a musician, guitarist, a singer-songwriter, if you will. Shoot him full of some malignant cancer, and then apply radical surgery. Now, although he lives and breathes among us, he is, initially, no longer able to talk ~ to speak ~ to communicate his thoughts; let alone sing songs…

So, what becomes of him? Does he, too, retire from the fray, find solace in the dark places, and extinguish his creative spirit in isolation? Or, if you’re Mick Stannard, do you think “fuck this shit” and crawl back to your home studio instead and record an album of instrumental tracks?

Which is what we have here, with the accurate if prosaically titled A Dozen Drugs CD.

Taking, possibly, a cue from the late William Burroughs (who would ingest various substances and then present his findings to the British Medical Council) Mick Stannard here samples a dozen different narcotics (including a couple of imaginary ones ~ many of us are familiar with morphine and thiamine, but not so many with “fluckoffucyllin” ~ proof that his sardonic sense of humour remains intact) ~ and presents his findings here as an eerie, post-op, instrumental album.

Freed from the constraint of lyrical concerns where the emotional terrain is already signposted, and meanings are carved in stone ~ and featuring fine empathetic artwork by daughter Kate (who also contributes phantom, and feral, vocals to several of the tracks) ~ Stannard is now at liberty to create new sonic landscapes, and sail unchartered seas, of his own design.

We are advised to listen in the dark at midnight using headphones and facing magnetic north ~ we comply…

From the spectral opener Potassium, the slow burner (fading in and out of landscapes, dioramas ~ alternate silences and sounds ~ a still picture burning with light ~ like an old Hollis Frampton film ~ a memory ~ an absence ~ a forgotten detail) ~ up to the final track Malpractizine, the angel of death ~ we encounter, on our journey, such stimulants and sedatives as Simvastatin, the troubled child (chords thrashed in mute anger) and Tamazepam, the restless spirit (church organ mists ~ the ghost of Rick Wright speaking from beyond the gauze, coming back to haunt Roger Waters’ solo albums ~ abstract themes ~ music from beyond the veil ~ the coach stop after consciousness)…

The amphetamine madness of Fluckoffucyllin, the anti-optimist ~ all hell breaking loose here ~ the compass needle goes haywire (never mind magnetic north) ~ spinning like some crazed roulette wheel ~ awakening forgotten ordnance survey maps and Ouija boards all over the planet ~ like an infernal bowling alley ~ replete with Kenneth Anger-type lightning strikes ~ obscuring a measured pastoral track playing quietly beneath…

Followed by almost ten minutes of Myrasol, the murderess ~ backwards tapes, back masking ~ hidden voices of the ancestors reveal themselves ~ Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti would be proud of this one ~ a drifting reverie ~ he was quite young… ~ (the ghost of Myra Hindley speaks to us) ~ did you bring the knife? Ominous exchange ~ terrible events unfolding underwater ~ in slow motion ~ You don’t have to watch ~ (the banality of evil) ~ I wish it would rain…

We also encounter Thiamine, the stalker (waiting in shadows ~ no rhythm to guide us now ~ crime scene pictures ~ images that can’t be unseen ~ assassin blood ~ endless hospital corridors ~ Dandy Nichols on a tea-trolley ) ~ and Hallucigenocide, the bringer of animals (strange hallucinated creatures ~ zoos of the great unknown ~ nebulous beasts ~ music boxes, spinning ballerinas and cries from the jungle ~ Impressive, if unsettling fare) ~ and Morphine, the night watchman ~ an unobtrusive, reflective piece ~ (an echo at night ~ flashlights ~ sleeplessness in extremis) ~ and, finally, Malpractizine, the angel of death ~ (we always knew she would find us, and claim us, here ~ but she didn’t say when…) as sweeping doom-laden beats swerve in ~ a fitting resolution to this long day’s journey into night ~ and then, at the denouement ~ natural sounds, a dawn chorus ~ odd birds in the trees ~ the voice of Alice Liddell (as channelled by Jonathan Miller, circa 1966) ~ The things which I have seen, I now can see no more

It may not sound like an easy listen. But this is fine stuff indeed, a testament to the human spirit (the good one, not the one that crowds the morning headlines or dominates the news feeds) ~ and a refusal to bow down to whatever indignities fate (and the cures and rigours of modern medicine, no matter how well-intentioned) may choose to throw at us. The jury is out. The case continues…

A Dozen Drugs by Mick Stannard is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).