Crime & The City Solution - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
Although Crime + the City Solution failed to ever even break even on any other their recordings and all the members had to continue working other jobs on the side just to make ends meet. Daniel Miller, founder of Mute, continued to bankroll their releases whilst knowing that each would almost assuredly be a money-losing prospect, further testament to the zealotry they inspired in their faithful flock. They were one of those bands whose fans’ enthusiasm helped them overcome public indifference and underexposure to make some of the best music of the ‘80s.
Crime + the City Solution were, almost from their inception, primarily a vehicle for vocalist Simon Bonney, who was the sole member through each of the four distinct lineups. Whilst born on the Australian mainland, Bonney spent his childhood on a remote farm in Tasmania where his family grew wheat, barley and opium poppies (for morphine) and his father worked as a butcher. Later, Bonney moved to Sydney. In 1977, he (along with another vocalist, “Rock”) sang in a band, Particles, alongside future Crime + the City Solution member Don McLennan and Mick, later of semi-legendary Aussie punk band, Last Words.
That same year, Bonney and McLennan formed the first version of Crime + the City Solution with Bonney’s neighbor, Harry Zanteni, on guitar. After adding Phil Kitchener on bass and Dave MacKinnon on soprano and tenor saxophones, they began gigging often around Sydney. Although Sydney had spawned several notable post-punk bands, at the time it had a reputation for its pub rock and more commercial acts. On the other hand, Melbourne was generally stereotyped as the town with the artsy acts.
At the encouragement of Melbourne’s darlings, The Boys Next Door, Crime + the City Solution relocated there in 1978, losing most of the original lineup along the way. In Melbourne, Dan Wallace-Crabbe took over on guitar, Kim Beissel replaced Dave MacKinnon, Lindsay O'Meara took on bass and Chris Astley joined on keyboards. The band’s official recorded debut was a live performance of their song “Moments” which was included on a double cassette compilation called Fast Forward 008/009 in 1979. The rest of the performance it was culled from was later released as Seaview Ballroom, Melbourne’79 (Inner City Sound). The band’s sound at the time was a fairly unmelodic breed of understated, brittle post-punk with squonky saxophone that made them sound something like Roxy Music crossed with Wire, albeit with Bonney’s characteristic moan already dominant.
The following year, The Boys Next Door had become huge in Melbourne and relocated to London where they successfully expanded their fame, signed to the 4AD and subsequently made amazing music as The Birthday Party. Meanwhile, Simon Bonney completely disappeared from the music scene until four years later when The Birthday Party broke-up and Bonney received a call from Mick Harvey who convinced him to move to Berlin and, with Harvey, resuscitate his old band. Bonney agreed and the two were joined by The Birthday Party’s former guitarist/songwriter, Rowland S. Howard, and his brother, Harry Howard, on bass.
The initial fruits of their labor, The Dangling Man EP (1985 Mute) and the Just South of Heaven mini-LP (1985-Mute) (on which Epic Soundtracks joined as drummer) were bourbon-soaked bluesy, doomy affairs that showed great promise. With an apparent combination of influences that included Johnny Cash, Scott Walker, Jim Morrison, Lee Hazelwood and southern gothic literature; the band fashioned music so relentlessly dark and atmospheric that it was almost comical. With Bonney a new name to most critics and Howard and Havey well known from their work with Nick Cave, Crime + the City Solution were often initially viewed as an outgrowth of The Birthday Party. But whereas Nick Cave favored darkly humorous narratives; the dense, impenetrable lyrics by Bonney and his wife, contributing violinist Bronwyn Adams, were remote, abstract and inscrutable yet evocative, proving Crime + The City Solution were no mere clones, despite their similarities.
Whilst subsequent generations came to associate the word “grunge” with the long underwear-loving, affectedly angsty commercial rockers of the ‘90s, in 1986 the seminal grunge compilations Deep Six and Sub Pop 100 were released and defined what was initially a skuzzy, heavy rock and punk hybrid. First used to describe sludgy, slow, noisy rock by Mark Arm in 1981, by 1985 Crime + the City Solution were occasionally and inaccurately tarred with the tag and audiences were invited, on one instance, to “Grunge out to Crime & the City Solution at La Rox on Friday 10th January!” Never comfortable pigeonholed as grung, the crazed, lurching psychobilly of the “Kentucky Click” 12-inch (b/w a slow version of “Adventure” and the jaundiced waltz, “It Takes Two To Burn”) pretty much put an end to any comparisons between them and the Seattle underground. Unfortunately, as of now, the songs on this excellent single are long out-of-print and very rare.
Their full-length debut, Room of Lights (1986 Mute) was greeted with mixed reception by critics at the time. Some felt that, denser and more inscrutable than previous releases, it was a step in the wrong direction. In fact, the songs staggered violently between momentously tumbling cacophonies and pretty, haunting numbers laced with Adams’s sweet, mournful violin. For many fans (especially those of Rowland S. Howard’s Morricone-inspired guitar work), however, it remains a favorite. That year the band memorably performed its classic “Six Bells Chime” in Wim Wenders’ film, Der Himmel über Berlin (hideously translated as Wings of Desire in English speaking countries). When released on CD, The Dangling Man’s title track and Just South of Heaven (minus "Stolen & Stealing”) were added as bonus tracks.
The following year, tensions between Rowland S. Howard and Bonney came to a breaking point, with Bonney claiming that Howard’s guitar and his vocals problematically occupied the same range. As a result, the Brothers Howard quit the band and took Epic Soundtracks with them to form These Immortal Souls, joined by Rowland S. Howard’s partner, Genevieve McGuckin, on keyboards. Now, with just Bonney and Harvey remaining, Bronwyn Adams joined as a fulltime member. Chrislo Hass from D.A.F. joined on keyboards, one of Einstürzende Neubauten’s two guitarists, Alexander Hacke, (the other, Blixa Bargeld, was two-timing with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) took over guitar and Thomas Stern picked up the bass. Even with the Einstürzende Neubauten connection, the Aussies-in-Berlin factor and the fact that Adams was collaborating with Nick Cave on his novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel; this line-up moved into vastly different territory than the Bad Seeds and should’ve moved them out from their shadow. Their new direction was conveyed a vast, romantic, cinematic expressiveness that marked all of the band's subsequent endeavors. Along with The Swans and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Crime + the City Solution played their new material in a memorable Hamburg performance that was billed as Kings of Independence.
The new line-up’s first release, "On Every Train/All Must Be Love," showed the influence of country and folk creeping in like kudzu where blues had previously been the root. Shine (1988 Mute) followed and is considered by most critics to be their best work. It focused all of the elements that made Crime + The City Solution sound unlike anyone else: the uniquely inflected, almost spoken-word vocals intoned over a distinctly structured instrumental backing where clamorous guitar, rumbling bass, haunting violin and writhing rhythms are used more to underscore the vocals than to produce catchy, hummable melodies.
The Bride Ship (1989 Mute) was even more grandiose than its predecessor, if not quite as enjoyable. With an expanded sonic palette, it was Crime + the City Solution at their most baroque. In a trend that some found worrying, the band even betrayed quasi-prog tendencies, at times approaching the sound of Cockney Rebel or Doctors of Madness. Even more damning for prog-haters, the second half of the album is a multi-suite grotesque about a nightmarish sea voyage.
Crime + the City Solution’s final album, Paradise Discoteque (1990 Mute), was another step forward and to many a return to form. The first side was breathtaking in both its fearless variety and supremely confident execution, veering from the country-folk/thrash mash-up of “I Have the Gun,” to the goth/cocktail jazz of “The Sly Persuaders,” and the more familiar poetic realist grandiosity of “The Dolphins and the Sharks” and “The Sun Before the Darkness.” The second side was again dominated by another multi-suite historical/allegorical epic, this time inspired in part by the fall of Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu.
The following year, longtime fan Wim Wenders asked them to score his next film, Until the End of the World. Instead they contributed only one song, albeit one of the best of their career – the menacing, yearning, Leonard Cohen-esque "The Adversary." Then they disbanded and Bonney and his family moved to the US. After the band’s break-up, a live album, The Adversary- Live (1993 LP) was released which captured the band firing on all cylinders, plus the inclusion of the studio recording of “The Adversary.”
In 1992, Simon Bonney made a uniquely memorable solo record with his wife, J.D. Foster and others, Forever, which married the elegiac bitter sweetness of Crime + the City’s late period to country-inflected tunes appropriate to a guy who's rambled the globe, at various times calling Sydney, Berlin, London, Vienna, Los Angeles and a sleeper cab his home. After a stint driving big rigs, Bonney released another country-infused experiment, a concept album called Everyman. By 1998, Simon had finished recording Eyes of Blue with Jim White (Dirty Three) and Chuck Prophet. The album was ready for release in 2000 but nothing of it appeared except for two songs, "Lonely Stars" and "Water's Edge," which were included in the film Underworld, but unfortunately not on the soundtrack. Currently, some of the songs are available through Bonney’s MySpace page.