As I was reminded recently when I saw someone wearing black lipstick and black clothes reading a book called So Sad Today on the subway, it’s possible to be too goth. (But not if you’re this girl.) However, while such signifiers might have become almost cliche due to overuse, as a loosely defined genre of music, goth has remained evergreen, constantly reinventing itself as it’s branched off into new sub-genres and tributaries. Indeed, although formed in the wake of punk, more than a sound or a musical style, goth is an aesthetic. Seemingly very different artists frequently fall under the big black umbrella of goth, their commonality being darkened musical tones and a similarly murky lyrical bent. There may be too many variables to definitively define goth, but you know it when you hear it.
Cherry Red has taken on the challenge of encapsulating goth in a boxset. Not that they’re the first to do so—Rhino put out a leather corset–wrapped collection in 2006—but it’s nevertheless an ambitious undertaking. A quick glance at the track list for Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978–1986 reveals that there are a few big names of the genre missing. Whether that was a conscious decision or a matter of not being able to secure permissions for including such material, it leaves room for more obscure choices, which is, I think, preferable. Anyone with the slightest interest in goth is going to be familiar with Siouxsie and the Banshees, but perhaps not The Rose of Avalanche or And The Trees. Also included on the set are bands like The Associates, Public Image Ltd. and Adam and the Ants, who are not typically thought of as goth, but when placed in this context, show their dark sides. And while the set focuses solely on British bands of the ’80s, there seems to have been plenty of material to fill up five discs.
Silhouettes begins with Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” followed by The Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats,” and the two songs can be seen as a kind of goth yin and yang. The former is representative of the stoic, icy approach taken by many, while the former channels the kind of unhinged mania that can found throughout goth’s history. Meanwhile “Floorshow,” by goth figureheads The Sisters of Mercy, is representative of the mechanized approach that would spawn yet another offshoot. Meanwhile, All About Eve and The Mission, whose Wayne Hussey was a founding Sisters member, represent a strain inspired by flowerchild mysticism and ’60s rock.
Of course, goth central in London in the mid-80s was The Batcave, a club opened by members of Specimen, whose excellent “Returning from a Journey” is included, as is a live version of Tabathas Nightmare’s “Heroin” actually recorded at the club. Anorexic Dread (what a name!), who played the club several times, contribute “Tracey’s Burning,” which recalls Bauhaus at their most crazed, and batcavers Zero Le Creche are also represented with “Last Year’s Wife,” which seemingly antithetical to the goth aesthetic, is one of the set’s most uplifting cuts. Meanwhile Alien Sex Fiend, perhaps the Batcave’s most notorious alumni, contribute “Dead and Reburied,” a frenzied, clanking track typical of the Fiend’s output.
Instead of the more obvious choice of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” goth founding fathers Bauhaus are represented with “Stigmata Martyr,” but there are greater highlights, including Love and Rockets’ “Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven,” although maybe “Haunted” would have been more apropos. Elsewhere, Section 25’s Martin Hannett–produced “Charnel Ground” is a real ear-catcher, while The Chameleons’ “In Shreds” also sticks out. Another act not typically thought of as goth, the Cocteau Twins’ “In Our Angelhood” fits in here aesthetically, while also standing out as utterly unique.
Of course with this much material, some songs pass by without notice, but nothing feels underwhelming. Indeed, at 83 tracks, Silhouettes is remarkably cohesive, even while covering all of goth’s disparate bases. And with liner notes detailing each track—many written by the artists themselves—it’s also highly informative. Whether you wear black on the outside or just on the inside, there’s a lot to love here.