Originally released 31st August 1981. Review originally published April 1st, 2007.
Author’s note: The first drafts of this piece were originally done in 2005, when research online was a little less of an established practice. I now freely acknowledge that Fire of Love wasn’t recorded in New Orleans, but in Pierce’s home state of California, however the reference is too much fun to remove now. AP
Allegedly recorded in New Orleans in just six speed fuelled day for less than $2,000, The Gun Club’s unsettling and inspirational debut is essential listening for all lovers of the White Stripes and The Kills to name but two. Driven/Sermomised by quixotic frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Fire of Love is a shit sandwich size taste of his visceral world, in which the lines of religion, morality, ethnicity and most importantly of all the blues, punk and rock and roll are twisted beyond recognition.
Using the likes of Robert Johnson and Blondie as his muse, Pierce conjured up an unsettling Bayou panorama full of menace, soaked in blood, bourbon and voodoo. Operating in a musical space almost all their own (Nick Cave’s Birthday Party were in the neighbourhood) with Pierce taking on the mantle of a deranged southern preacher, the band proceeded to hone their claustrophobic delta chassis into a formidable weapon, complemented by the singer’s down-home hollers, yowls and screeches.
The results are wide eyed and adrenaline spiked, like a midnight ride in the backwoods being chased by deranged Creole lois. “Ghost on the Highway” opens, all uptempo scuzz-country with Pierce getting right to his subject matter, furiously scene setting for the things to come. “Preach the Blues” is a coruscating punk shower with St. Vitus shaking his bones in the graveyard, but it’s when less chaotic that the minimalist production puts you right in the studio/front parlour with them. The bare bones sound on the cover of the soul-selling Johnson’s “Cool Drink of Water” and the sublime Cajun violin on “Promise Me” help to entrench you in the band’s mummified but reverential interpretation of a much plagiarised genre.
Live, depending on Pierce’s state of lucidity, The Gun Club were either a parody of themselves or a vital affirmation, a baptism into the church of a maniac, speaking in tongues Jeffrey Lee. As with all religions, sex and sacrifice are never far beneath the surface, here explored with salacious glee on the then to be classics “Sex Beat” and “Jack on Fire”.
The record’s centre piece “For The Love of Ivy”, is a tortuous story of psycho sexual obsession and the fomentation of murder. Pierce was a narrator par excellence and his lachrymose but chilling words chart a descent into jealous adolescent madness framed by swampy slide guitars. Supposedly inspired by The Cramps “Poison” Ivy Rorschach, it also contains the inspired closing sobriquet “I was all dressed up like an Elvis from Hell”. (Caution: it also contains other less than politically correct lyrics)
In it’s weaker moments it’s perilously close to sounding like a moribund Cramps-meets-Stooges pastiche but Pierce’s vaudevillian effervescence carries the day. Like many of his prodigiously talented blues forebears, Pierce’s demons were sadly very much of the real world, and his inability to beat alcohol and drugs until it was too late conspired to rob the world of his unique but by then tempered perspective, with his death in early 1996. Although he and his band went on to record half a dozen more official albums (Of which both Miami and comeback effort Mother Juno are also highly recommended) the vitality that makes Fire Of Love a seminal piece of work were mostly lacking.
The Gun Club’s influence was slow burning, mired by the loss of direction following Miami whilst commercial success was never likely due to Pierce’s diva-like approach to record label authority, but Fire of Love is an undoubted primeval classic that still demands your immediate attention.
9/10 Best Tracks–Jack on Fire, Sex Beat, For The Love of Ivy