Fire Dances (1983) ***
This is what we call a transitional album, kiddies. Reforming cold on the heels of a vacation in volcanic Iceland, the Joke rejuvenate from the sonic dead end of their third LP (see the pun?) with a sharp nudge forward into the melodic poppy fields of later '80s KJ. But not too poppy, see; mostly this album conjures the adjective 'tribal' - moreso than any other Joke album. If I were a lazy reviewer I'd base that last sentence entirely upon the opening track, the blatantly titled, "The Gathering," which lyrically calls itself forward as a rallying cry for afterdusk pagan bonfire ritual. Or maybe just spotty goth-punks hoisting lager pints in a dingey north England dive at 2 A.M. But since I'm not that lazy of a reviewer, I did listen to the next nine tracks as well, and guess what? As with all Killing Joke albums, the sound is ridiculously monochromatically uniform, so the opening track tells you all you need to know - you like it? You'll like the rest of the album, since it's all more of the same. And as always with all Killing Joke albums, there are some duffers: "Dominator," does indeed dominate as the painfully suckiest track, proving once again (see the debut's "Change") that these extremely white and extremely English boys should never try to get down and funky. (You say, "Jaz isn't white! He's a Brahmin Indian!" Well, the sitars and ragas of India don't exactly spell funk, either.) Overall this album equals concurrent Siouxsie & the Banshees (jangle-goth) + Adam & the Ants (songs centering around tribal drumming) + the last couple of Killing Joke albums (they've still got their unique style and there's no mistaking who this is). It seems that the Joke are deliberately going for a 'tribal' concept here - rock'n'roll as primitive Druidic jig around the bonfire - with "Song and Dance," making the link most explicit. In other words the songwriting's purposefully simplistic and chanty ("Fun and Games," "Feast of Blaze," but those are just random grabs, I could've pointed to any track on the album). The title track - "Let's All Go (To The Fire Dances)" - which inexplicably arrives at track #9 instead of #1 (or #2, "The Gathering," being such a fitting opener), is easily the catchiest and most fully developed anthem here, and mildly overshadows the rest. It points the way to the full-blown dive into goth-pop anthemic triumph that would flower upon their commercial breakthrough a couple of years later.