Review: Coil ‘Stolen & Contaminated Songs’

Founded in London, England in the early 1980s Coil were a unique musical entity that defined the word ‘experimental’. Originally started as a one man project by singer/songwriter John Balance, the ethos of Coil very much tied into the avant-garde and art house collective that sprung to life in the late seventies. After cutting his teeth with Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, his solo project was conceived that sought to blend experimental pop, post-industrial, electronic, psychedelia and visual art in his own way.

Coil ‘Stolen & Contaminated Songs’

Later joined by Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, between 1983 and 2005, Coil would work with many collaborators including writer and musician Stephen Thrower, American Occult expert William Breeze and Thighpaulsandra (Tim Lewis, Welsh experimental multi-instrumentalist). They would release some fourteen official full length studio albums, primarily under the Coil name as well as a number of side projects, remixes, collaborations and film scores. Most notably for such a prolific band is that after four initial performances in 1983, it would take the band another 15 years before entering the live arena again.

Coil would challenge the musical landscape in terms of visuals and sound by applying their surrealist approach to multimedia and carve out a distinct legacy which was cut short when Balance fell from his two story balcony and died in late 2004. Mourning the death of not only his musical partner, but his life partner, Chrisptoherson announced following the release of their last record album Apes Of Naples in 2005 that Coil had ceased to be an entity. He, in turn would pass away some five years later.

But through the mist, late last year Cold Spring reissued Stolen & Contaminated Songs on a variety of formats including vinyl for the first time, in some stunning limited editions.

Originally released in 1992 …Songs is a collection of out-takes, reworks and unreleased tracks from the recording sessions of the previous album Love’s Secret Domain (original mix) and as such is hard to nail down stylistically given the vast nature of ideas crammed into 60 minutes and 13 sections (I hesitate to call some of the passages ‘songs’).

As such, sometimes it seems like you’re just listening to a random collection of noises like hearing computer game sound effects or recorded background noise in an arcade. In that respect, this album can be a frustrating experience at times as the band tap into something that just exists in a vacuum, an idea that they were playing with that doesn’t look to provide answers, just to ask questions.

However other times like on Loves Secret Domain they break out into unsettling tunes, raining industrial nightmares down through pulsing beats and off kilter sounds that tie together. It’s moments like these, combined with the willingness to throw the listener off balance that laid the groundwork for the likes of Trent Reznor, JG Thirlwell and can be traced through as a direct influence on the likes of Marilyn Manson’s Smells Like Children album.

Coil always had an experimental, dark and challenging edge to them and while listening to this odds and sods collection, it can often feel like being sat in a dimly lit room tripping on acid…

Among the noise and samples, there are tunes like Nasa-Arab which stand out on their own and you could easily imagine being folded into a DJ set playing to a packed dance floor creating genuine floor filling moments.

Fans of the collective will be able to spot the little references, like the opening track Futher (a misspelling of Further) being a rework of Further Back and Faster from the previous album, and the alternative version of Who’ll Fall? was released as the Is Suicide A Solution? single.

Most notably on this release is the packaging. Having been released with minimal ceremony and little in the way of fanfare, the 2019 reissue is a celebration of a band who were not as much of a household name as Throbbing Gristle but still have to be credited for the boundary pushing music they made.

There’s no doubt this is a difficult album to sum up in a review, Coil on a normal day were more interested in exploring the avant-garde and producing interesting new sounds, rather than penning chart-topping tunes. As such, Coil always had an experimental, dark and challenging edge to them and while listening to this odds and sods collection, it can often feel like being sat in a dimly lit room tripping on acid.

This is an album for the completest, along with those interested in the history of the music they listen to now seeing how the collective’s original ideas have subsequently worked their way into the more mainstream consciousness.

If you want to discover Coil there are possibly better avenues to explore, like 91’s Love’s Secret Domain, but if you’re a long standing fan, this is a collection now lovingly reproduced and packaged to bring joy to the experience – and if you buy the limited vinyl edition, you can also spend time pouring over the artwork when the soundtrack itself heads off down one of their more far out rabbit holes.

Label: Cold Spring Records
Band Links: N/A

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden