[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
The leaves are turning, the apples are falling from the trees. Everywhere a cold wind is beginning to rise. People walk slowly down the sidewalks, rain comes now and then; in my garden the plants of summer are rotting in their cages, the perfect time to do what I do each year: dust off the memories and play All About Eve’s masterpiece. A record which contains heady atmospheres and searing guitars, for a little while the room around me is filled with ghosts. The furniture takes on a deeper burnish, those gray hairs jump out a bit more but the content of this record is timeless; no one in rock and roll (not even the band) has surpassed what is on here. Drenched in the dying embers of failed relationships, lost days, well burned bridges and acrimonious nostalgia, ‘Scarlet and Other Stories’ is what the coldness of time sounds like. You couldn’t arrange this collection of songs without knowing what had been conjured.
From their humble beginnings in 1985, The Eves were destined to make this. With a voice like Julianne Regan’s how could they not? When you added in Andy Cousin’s bass and Mark Price’s drums it became obvious they were not destined to be consigned to history quietly. What pushes ‘Scarlet’ beyond anything they’d done before are Tim Bricheno’s explosive guitars. His solo on the song “December” is the equivalent to Gilmour’s work on “Comfortably Numb” – David Gilmour would later guest on their third album ‘Touched by Jesus’ but that’s another story all together -, it aches with beauty and cuts so deeply. Straight to the heart, one might say. Bricheno held nothing back all across this album, flawlessly transitioning from electric to slide guitar and even running a banjo ragged on “More Than the Blues”. Regan’s words have never been sharper or shown more detail than they do on here. She chronicles lost love, missed opportunities but besides creating so many memorable characters she somehow jots down the experience of leaving your youth behind. This is how adulthood feels.
‘Scarlet’ is a very mature release, the apex to years spent touring and recording; it’s no accident that The Eves have a fan base who even now still have faith that they will return. We are a die-hard bunch who only reveal our friends here after getting to know you, they are a band whose existence was and is still guarded very jealously. I originally bought this in October of 1989 on vinyl but given that the CD contained two additional songs, I traded up. How I wish I had held onto my record, All About Eve sound unbelievable on that format.
They’d had their hit, a few friends around me knew of them but they were far too varied for most. Who wanted to hear reminiscences about wearing scarlet or the tragedies of two pearl fishermen, Regan’s lyrics were very poetic and quite rooted in mythological influences. Not nearly as interesting as The Cult ranting about some fiery woman or Xmal cooing over a broken heart. I suppose it isn’t their fault, the state of things musically in those days was still primarily driven by hair metal and slickly produced videos. The Eves were and had neither. Oh they could rock when they chose to but it never defined the songs, if there were any riffs they were tastefully inserted and only allowed to punctuate a chorus or anchor the bridge. Perhaps this is why Bricheno left the band not long after ‘Scarlet’ saw the light of day. Rumors have always circulated that he and Julianne split up but that’s a bit too fanciful, too perfect for the papers. If I had to ascribe it to anything it is that guitarists are notoriously tempestuous as are singers, when you put two strongly drawn personalities up against one another something has to give. Or in this case, someone.
To hear this one now brings a sad and world-weary smile to my face.
Even their off the cuff pieces like “Hard Spaniard” are so thoughtfully arranged it takes center stage, never mind the hidden jewel of “The Empty Dancehall”. It made an impression on me then, it gets my attention now. I just wish there was more curiosity on the part of the kids today. This is what a band are supposed to sound like, they aren’t designed to sing or perform some petty hit maker’s material; write your own, have no second thoughts… get out there and show the world what you can do. That is what The Eves did here, they gave in to every whim they had and it paid out like one of their songs, in “Gold and Silver”. Proving once again that trying times and conflict bring out the best, ‘Scarlet’ is one of those works that only gains depth and meaning as the years pass. You feel what they felt, you share the triumphs and the despair.
Cousin and Price’s rhythm section is another oft-overlooked facet to this band, they melt into these tunes wonderfully never missing a step. Everything Regan and Bricheno step out with this pair shadow like a second skin. You have to listen closely to hear them but once you do it will amaze, it’s no stretch to say that without them this era would have fallen flat on its face. This isn’t an oversimplification, anyone who has ever been in a band can tell you that if the anchor isn’t secure it won’t matter how eloquent your words are or how much intensity that guitar brings out: there will be no staying power. It definitely stands no chance live.
‘Scarlet’ would be Bricheno’s last outing with them, a short while later he’d be drafted by another Leeds institution in the form of The Sisters of Mercy. The band would carry on with new recruit Marty Willson-Piper of The Church but they’d never recapture the magic they’d unleashed. Two more albums would be released by All About Eve but in 1993 they imploded. In the late 90s, lured out of the mothballs by The Mission, Regan and Cousin re-convened the band for a few live dates which would blossom into several full blown acoustic tours with Marty on guitar. Unfortunately, not long after Willson-Piper left them again it all came apart. The potent chemistry of Bricheno and Regan emains, however. In 2006, they collaborated on a new song, their first in many many years and you swore The Eves were back.
True to form, however, it would be a one-off. Julianne most likely has put All About Eve to bed for the last time and so we fans must go over what remains. A body of work that even at it’s most dubious is undeniably them, their musical identity cannot be questioned or denied. So now that so much time has gone under the bridge what can be said about this record? Happy 25th, Scarlet, you wear it well.