Lowlife - Diminuendo (+ singles)
By: Brett Spaceman
Have you got your own Lowlife story? I’ll wager yours is not so different from my own. You were a huge fan of Eighties Indie music? The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, New Order maybe even The Chameleons; they were your big four? You bought everything on Factory and everything on 4AD and then one day someone told you about Lowlife? It could’ve been Melody Maker and resident Lowlife champion Ian Gittens. Or it could’ve been that cassette given free on the cover of Underground Magazine, the standout track being Lowlife’s ‘Ramafied’ – and it blew you away. Or it could’ve been your Cocteau Twins obsession forcing you to follow the new career of original bassist Will Heggie. I was all of those things. Once bitten forever smitten. Lowlife became a pet love.
And it was hard to find other Lowlife fans. The band weren’t on 4AD or Factory. They seemed secreted away up in Grangemouth, Scotland, making records that only you bought. The debut mini album Rain wasn’t even up to much. But one song, ‘Sometime, Something’ had…..something. Something that kept us interested and made us listen to full, follow-up album Permanent Sleep and here Lowlife’s promise began to reveal itself. Permanent Sleep contains a handful of songs I would die for, but we’re not here for that one. It’s Diminuendo that we’re entering into this Hall Of Fame and you’ll know why, if you’re a Lowlife fan. This one’s special.
Diminuendo is the album where everything came together for Lowlife. The music is hard to describe, but easy to fall for. There’s mystery within Lowlife – a sense of unknowable wonder pervades all their music. Bass is very much the driving force of their best work; Will Heggie’s insistent, almost organic sounding rhythms nag and poke the listener forwards. Main guitars from Stuart Everest are broad brushstrokes, but sparingly used to beautiful effect. Keith Mitchell’s ‘minimal production allowed frontman Craig Lorentson to finally step out from behind the clouds and reveal himself as a force to be reckoned with. Lorentsons rich, sonorous voice had hitherto been buried in an all too democratic mix. But any lack of vocal range was more than made up for by Craig’s engulfing power and his dreamy, heartfelt lyrics. Somehow on Diminuendo Lorentson found the confidence to stretch himself as a singer and vocal melodist Somehow he let himself go.
Structurally Diminuendo is near perfect. Nine tracks presented a lack of symmetry for vinyl owners (those were the times) but it mattered little. What counted hugely in the albums favour was the strength and power of opening track ‘A Sullen Sky’, one of the great songs in the Lowlife canon. There was no going back from ‘A Sullen Sky’. The listener was hooked within seconds.
“I’ve got myself all wrapped together” intones Lorentson – and the whole song crackled with the drama and energy of an approaching storm. ‘A Sullen Sky’ is elemental. It’s weather made music – moody cloud formations, strange orange light, the hush of the birds and the surefire knowledge that the sky’s about to break. The electrical charge is palpable. But the storm never comes. Instead we have eight more songs full of grace and fragile melodies adding up to an album of hope, beauty and honesty. When we reach ‘Wonders Will Never Cease’ it sounds like an ending. Lowlife seem to have made it, their work done except the wonders didn’t cease. ‘Given To Dreaming’ would gently end the album, the title seeming to sum up both Lorentson the singer and Lowlife’s music generally.
In 2006 LTM Recordings re-released Diminuendo together with the singles of that particular Lowlife era. It was a rich cropping. ‘Hollow Gut’ is one of Lowlife’s catchiest moments, reminding many listeners of New Order. But it was the Swirl It Swings EP that really impressed. Four tracks, all included here and all quite wonderful. We mentioned ‘Ramafied’ at the start of this piece and the EP version differed little from that magazine giveaway. The song ‘Swing’ is also notable – another dramatically charged affair in the vein of ‘A Sullen Sky’. Those that own Swirl It Swings are likely to list it high in their favourite EP’s. As much as there cannot be a standout, I cannot help but single out ‘Eternity Road’. This song is arguably the Lowlife archetype, lamenting missed opportunities whist sounding utterly unsurpassable.
Did they ever really know how good they were?
There’s a whole other Lowlife story of course. Their story. We know patches, the stuff that appears in bio’s or on Wikipedia. After Diminuendo the band were hamstrung by distribution issues. The songs they had written for eventual follow up Godhead were never afforded proper justice in the studio. (Some of the Black Session versions are unbelievably lovely and I urge you to seek out those) Line-up changes ensued, Lowlife’s sound evolved but the band floundered. Eventually things ground to a halt after final album Gush. Comebacks were mooted right up until recently, then tragic events put paid to that.
Craig Lorentson lost his battle with liver and kidney problems in 2010.
Nothing more can be said.
And yet, a suitable post script appears in the offing. Production is in place for a documentary film, working title Eternity Road, the Lowlife story. We’ll be supporting this here at [sic] Mag. I hope you will too.