Monday, November 5, 2007


In the summer of 1992 I was interning with a concert promoter, and had the opportunity to work some of the major tours that came through. Even though my love for Cure was waning at the time, I jumped at the chance to work the Wish show, and there's no denying it was a fantastic moment in their history.

Cure had taken a shining to Cranes and gave them a huge international push with the opening spot on Wish Tour. Based around siblings Alison and Jim Shaw, Cranes are in many ways a refracted mirror of the Cure aesthetic: moody and reflective, but also childlike and even playful. I don't remember them being incredibly well-received that night, but surely they picked up thousands of new fans because of that tour. When the show was over and I went backstage to help clean up, I had the pleasure of chatting with Alison Shaw and the guys for a little, and I remember two things in particular. Alison's speaking voice doesn't sound like her singing voice (which is only remarkable if you've heard her singing voice.) And the whole band were so obviously enjoying every moment, just soaking everything in, while remaining completely humble and gracious about it all.

I did my homework on Cranes, though at that time much of their earlier work was not widely available. But Forever, the album they were beginning to promote in 1992, and their next album, Loved, make a great point of entry for Cranes. Robert Smith gave them an additional push by remixing 'Jewel' from Forever, and the 12" remix is just that - a jewel that I didn't find until a decade later when I heard it at a goth club and literally stormed the DJ booth to find out where this lovely version of the song came from.

The original 'Jewel' is ethereally grungy (and even grunge-y in the sense that it wears its floral print dress with heavy boots, as the grunge girls were fond of doing.) It manages to plod and float at the same time, and epitomizes their dream pop identity, though that's an unfairly narrow characterization of Cranes; their experimental penchant has taken them through a great diversity of musical terrain over the course of their career.

Robert Smith's remix of 'Jewel' has recently become much easier to find because it is included with other bonus tracks on the reissue of Forever. The biggest change to the song is the replacement of the heavy traditional drum track with a programmed percussion ensemble that bounces and pops much more lightly, making ethnic references. The original wash of shoegaze guitar is also replaced with an ensemble: no fewer than four minimal guitar parts ranging from low and gurgling to high and fuzzy, with a sitar sound in between. If all this lushness isn't enough, a shimmering synth sparkles over key moments.

Left intact are the strummed acoustic guitar part that drives the song, and Alison's dreamy waif's vocal. When Siouxsie sang 'Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance / we are entranced, spellbound' she might have been anticipating Alison Shaw. Some of the best Cranes songs meld her vocal quality with lyrics that similarly contrast innocence with depth, as 'Jewel' does: 'If I could keep this hour / and hold it gently next to me / it would sparkle like a jewel / and all this means so much to me.'

But she can't keep that hour, holding it gently next to her; it's a sweet dream she remembers, but one that is gone too fast. She is wistful, and the fact that she sounds like she may still be in the process of waking from that sweet dream brings the ache home even more.

Recently Cranes have made more electronic, atmospheric music; in the past they've incorporated everything from orchestral arrangements and Greek tragedy to industrial noise and Dada references. There is a strong continuity, nonetheless, starting with Alison's voice and ending with a delicate but pointed aesthetic. The 12'' remix of 'Jewel' is one of their most precious moments.

Cranes official website