Quite amazing that the chaotic deluge of reissues that have materialised since Peter Christopherson’s passing have almost succeeded in making Coil seem boring. Yes, you CAN have too much of a good thing - no one likes to have a starter of chocolate cake followed by a main course of chocolate cake and then chocolate cake for dessert (except my old mate Dean and he would be the first to admit he is FAT and not entirely happy). Coil records are generally speaking rich, bountiful, complex and multivalent things, and you need time to savour them, immerse yourself in them, and then, ideally, enjoy some distance from them. Some kind of patient, coherent and above-all chronological reissue programme - I think there was talk of Mego doing something like that at one point, but it didn’t come to pass - might have served the band’s legacy better, and might have better narrativised their evolution. But I suppose that approach might have been annoying and limiting and de-libidinizing in a dozen other ways, and also wouldn’t exactly reflect the disorderly way in which their work was published when they were still alive. Why try to make sense of senseless of things? So…it’s fine.
Following on from recent revivals of Worship The Glitch, Time Machines, Another Brown World, Astral Disaster and who knows what else, comes another outing for The Ape of Naples, more accurately a second pressing (2LP gatefold) for Important’s robust 2016 reissue. Enough time has elapsed since its initial release in 2005 for us to say, with a fair bit of confidence, that Ape is Coil’s masterpiece (and to be fair that sort of praise was pretty forthcoming even at the time). Completed by Christopherson in the aftermath of Jhonn Balance’s untimely death, you can’t help but feel it is, at some level, the sublimation of Balance’s deepest desire: to speak not TO “the absolute elsewhere”, but FROM it, to literally become a ghost, free of bodily limitations, a purely metaphysical, ethereal, and ultimately mythological being. An angel, a daemon, a god… or just a flux of deterritorialised energy. Working with Balance vocal takes and other material recorded at Trent Reznor’s New Orleans studio for the blighted Backwards LP, Christopherson created a work of sonic necromancy that is also, quite obviously, a devotional act, an expression of love and unimaginable grief.
Although it's Sleazy's inspired arrangements and glinting, gleaming threshold-electronics that bind The Ape of Naples together, he was fortunate to have a crack team of musicians in his employ as well: not just established lieutenants Drew McDowall and Thighpaulsandra, but also Ossian Brown (“synths and sensibility”), Cliff Stapleton (hurdy gurdy) and Mike York (pipes and duduk). All are crucial to the realisation of Ape’s vivid, transdimensional traumascape, its droning, cyclical songs which marry the mechanic and the organic, the astral and the shit-under-your-fingernails earthbound. Not for the first time, but never more so than here, Coil sound like a (cyber-)gothic folk band - Comus in space. Unsurprising that Sleazy’s next project was TG’s Desertshore installation, the Nico/Cale influence is really noticeable here.
'The Last Amethyst Deceiver', 'Cold Cell', 'Teenage Lightning'...every single track is stand-alone magnificent, and vital to the architecture of the whole. Closer (in the truest sense of the word) ’Going Up’, sung by Balance in teetering falsetto, is almost unbearably poignant, which only makes the realisation that the lyrics are taken from the theme tune of Are You Being Served? more delicious. It’s the perfect epitaph for Balance, Coil, and now Christopherson: more serious than you’ll ever be, even when they’re taking the piss….having their cake and eating it (hold tight Dean!).
Heavy, delirious with loss and pain, but also strangely optimistic and effervescent and empowering, The Ape of Naples will surely be remembered as one of the last true expressions/documents of England’s Hidden Reverse, and among the greatest albums ever made in any list that matters.