111. Killing Joke – Almost Red LP – Island, 1979 – $12
Considering that I have nineteen other Killing Joke releases, it’s a minor miracle when I stumble across something that appeals to me beyond a vinyl-doubling itch or pure cover art yearning. I have two of these songs on compilations—“Turn to Red” is on Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!, their 1992 best-of compilation which I found helpful at the time of purchase but now looks downright curious (Okay, the live version of “Pssyche” from the Ha! EP is an inspired choice, but nothing from Fire Dances? No “Adorations” (the linked official music video is a hysterically funny reason why) from Brighter than a Thousand Suns? Half of What’s This For…!?), and “Are You Receiving” is on Wilful Days, a 1995 odds-and-sods compilation that has a few stray highlights (the title track) and too many extended dance takes (if [x] is greater than zero, then…)—but “Almost Red” and “Nervous System” were somehow unfamiliar. Its iconic cover art was adapted for the later compilation, but the picture looks more menacing in black, white, and red than colorized with yellows and greens.
It’s striking how different this EP is from their 1980 self-titled LP and the eleven other full-lengths in their discography. There are elements in every song that were handed down to future generations of Killing Joke tracks, but its 1979 release date seems crucially important, since they grapple with trends like disco, punk, prog, and dub without a true commitment to any of them. To put it more clearly, Almost Red is prototypical post-punk from a group I usually associated with the beginnings of industrial. The spare “Almost Red” features a repetitive electronic lead and a cymbal-heavy disco beat. “Nervous System” takes a rarely used mid-tempo pace and relies on an almost funky bassline. “Are You Receiving” couples a charging guitar line somewhat reminiscent of the Ramones with a 1970s prog organ line. “Turn to Red” ends the EP with a comparatively amorphous structure recalling What’s This For…!, tossing that organ, some repetitive slogan shouts, and dub influences into the stew before ending on a ghostly locked groove.
So what’s missing? Foremost is Jaz Coleman’s aggressive, threatening presence; aside from one mid-song rant reminiscent of “Age of Greed” from Extremities, Dirt, and Various Repressed Emotions, he doesn’t take a strangehold on these songs. The lack of abrasive guitar noise is the big gap between this EP and Killing Joke, the disco-oriented drumming the gap between this EP and the tribal thump of “Wardance” and What’s This For…!. The lack of these signature elements is curious, but not damning; these four songs are more interesting, if not throat-grabbingly compelling, than I’d expected.
Almost Red is perhaps most interesting for the path not chosen. Killing Joke could have logically tightened up this sound without throwing away most of the post-punk motifs and been an interesting, timely band. That would’ve been the safe route. But they’re a far more interesting band on Killing Joke and What’s This For…! because those albums are so firmly against type and free of the clear late 1970s touchstones found here.