The Sporting Life (album)

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The Sporting Life
SportingLifealbum1994.jpg
Type Studio album
Artist Diamanda Galás and John Paul Jones
Release Date 6 September 1994 (US),
1 October 1994 (UK)
Recorded 1994 at AIR Studios, London.
Mastered at Metropolis Mastering, London.
Genre Alternative rock, experimental rock
Language English
Length 55 minutes 4 seconds
Label Mute Records
Catalogue Mute 61672 (US),
Mute STUMM 127 (UK)
Producer John Paul Jones
Engineer Richard Evans

The Sporting Life is an album by avant-garde singer Diamanda Galás and multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, released on 6 September 1994, on Mute Records. It is Galás' sixth studio album, produced by Jones.

Overview

The record was a notable shift in musical style from what was previously produced with Galás. The album's subject material incorporated various lyrical themes such as lust, revenge, violence, murder, betrayal, and death, mixed with sarcasm and dark humour. Galás' previous work centred around the theme of AIDS and subsequent deaths from it, after her brother and some of her friends succumbed to the disease.[1] This album was a change in direction, albeit a much more commercially accessible one, with the additional input of former Led Zeppelin bass player and keyboardist John Paul Jones on songwriting, performance and production duties. Jones was working on a live project with Heart at the time of this collaboration. When interviewed about his involvement Jones explained:

I was immediately impressed with her voice, and the power and the emotion. Our backgrounds are very similar. We both played in our fathers' bands when we were starting out, and we're both great fans of classical music, jazz, blues, Mediterranean music and Arabic music. A mutual friend suggested that we should work together, and I think she wanted to do a rock record.[2]

Jones had previously been introduced to Galás' body of work in 1983 via his wife Maureen, who brought home and played a 1982 compact disc containing 'Wild Women with Steak Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)'.[3] Galás intimated in an interview with online magazine Convulsion that she wanted to explore other facets of life outside of the AIDS epidemic, such as 'sick relationships.'[4] The 'sporting life' is street hustler slang for the place where affection is a commodity, where the only love that's not for sale is obsessive and destructive love.[5]

Writing and composition

After an initial evening meeting in London where they both agreed to work together, the album was composed both in New York (Galás) and in England (Jones). Demo tapes were exchanged, with Jones providing compositional ideas on an 8 string bass, while Galás added organ and lyrics to them. This continued until they were both satisfied with the material and a rehearsal arranged.[6] The recording process took three weeks in London, in which Thomas laid down drum tracks in the third and final week. With mixing, the entire project took two months in total.[7] Galás described the project as a collection of homicidal love songs:

I think that if you get together and decide to do an album called Homicidal Love Songs, which is what I originally wanted to call it, you've got to have a sense of humor. What makes this album possible in terms of lyrics is real life experience. Every single song, and John [Paul Jones] knows it, too, has a particular person in mind with whom I have had various provocations and entanglements.[8]

On the recording, Galás utilises both Hammond B3 organ and piano. The drummer used for the album was Pete Thomas, from Elvis Costello's backing band the Attractions. Due to his commitments with The Attractions, former Heart drummer Denny Fongheiser performed in place of Thomas for subsequent live appearances.[9] Galás has a 3½ octave vocal range which she uses to full effect on the album. Jones commented that 'With a voice like Diamanda's, a guitar would simply be a cosmetic device.'[10] The album opens with 'Skótoseme' which is Greek for 'kill me', on which Galás meshes her frantic, operatic voice with Jones' funky bass lines. A merging of heavy rock and Ancient Greek tragedy. The song 'Do You Take This Man?' mocks wedding vows by comparing romance to imprisonment, where the only solution is submission. Galás' haunting cover of Percy Sledge's soul classic 'Dark End of the Street,' reminds lovers that death is not far away. The title track 'The Sporting Life' meanwhile, tells the tale of a group of prostitutes who stalk and kill a man for fun. Death laments melt into Hammond-driven Cajun dance music on 'You're Mine'. 'Last Man Down', is a wailing blues drenched song about isolation and despair, with lap steel guitar embellishment.

Release and critical reception

A screenshot from the music video, depicting Diamanda Galás and John Paul Jones.

Alternate cover picture outtakes with Galás and Jones in a convertible, with Jones driving, appeared in a 1994 issue of Musician magazine. One of these images was used for the CD single cover of 'Do You Take This Man?' A video was filmed for the single and was completed on 29 July 1994, with director Jon Reiss. It featured Galás in various scenes throughout New York, with Jones playing an eight string bass guitar, and released on 22 August 1994 prior to the album launch. Jones also used 4, 5, and 6 string basses plus a lap steel guitar, while the pair toured throughout October 1994 - January 1995 to promote the album, with concerts billed as 'An Evening of Homicidal Love Songs.'[11] This was Jones' first full tour since Led Zeppelin's 1980 Over Europe tour.[12]

The album was released to mixed reviews. Entertainment Weekly offered the most positive with a B+ rating: '... Led Zeppelin bassist Jones and Pete Thomas join the demonic diva to form a power-mad trio on Galas' most rocking album yet ...'[13] while Musician magazine went further: '... At times, The Sporting Life sounds like the best album Led Zeppelin never made, with Galas' acrobatic, banshee-giving-birth caterwaul subbing for Jimmy Page feedback in a newfangled power trio ...'[14] Bomb arts magazine described it as: '... An expanse where divisions between what is electronic and what is "natural" smear, where the instrument is only as good as its ability to scalp you ...' [15]

Track list

Album information

1994 Vinyl listing:

  • Side One:
  1. 'Skótoseme' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones) – 6:27
  2. 'Do You Take This Man?' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones) – 6:09
  3. 'The Dark End of the Street' (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – 2:43
  4. 'You're Man' (Diamanda Galás) – 5:10
  5. 'Tony' (Diamanda Galás) – 5:37
  • Side Two:
  1. 'Devil's Rodeo' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones, Pete Thomas) – 5:37
  2. 'The Sporting Life' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones) – 5:45
  3. 'Baby's Insane' (Diamanda Galás) – 4:39
  4. 'Last Man Down' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones) - 4:50
  5. 'Hex' (Diamanda Galás, John Paul Jones) - 8:04

Chart positions

Album

Chart (1994) Peak position
US Billboard The 200 Albums Chart

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1994 'Do You Take This Man?' US Billboard Hot 100 Chart

Credits

Personnel
  • Musicians:
    • Diamanda Galás – vocals, keyboards
    • John Paul Jones – bass guitar, electric guitars, keyboards, piano, bass pedals, producer
    • Pete Thomas - drums, percussion
  • Production:
    • Richard Evans – engineer, mixing
    • Tim Young - mastering engineer
    • Patricia Mooney - art direction
    • Catherine McGann - photography

Notes

  1. Darnielle, John. Dallas Music: She Can't be Serious, Dallas Observer, Village Voice Media, 25 December 2003. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  2. Strauss, Neil. The Pop Life, The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 9 November 1994. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  3. Words by Arthur Durkee: Master of the Low End of the Street. Arthur Durkee (November 1994). Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  4. Wilcock, Jane (24 October 1994). "Diamanda Galas: The Sporting Life". Convulsion (4): 16. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  5. Words by Arthur Durkee: Master of the Low End of the Street. Arthur Durkee (November 1994). Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  6. Worley, Gail (April 2002). "Getting the Led Out: An Interview with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones". Ink 19. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  7. Wilcock, Jane (24 October 1994). "Diamanda Galas: The Sporting Life". Convulsion (4): 16. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  8. Strauss, Neil. The Pop Life, The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 9 November 1994. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  9. Pareles, Jon. Pop Review: A Singer Who Doesn't Play That Nice Girl Next Door, The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 12 November 1994. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  10. Barclay, Michael (May 2004). "Diamanda Galas: Diva of the Dispossessed". Exclaim! Canada. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  11. Augusto, Troy J (7 December 1994). "Theater Review: Diamanda Galas and John Paul Jones". Variety. ISSN 0042-2738. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  12. John Paul Jones interview. Electric Magic (October 1997). Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  13. McDonnell, Evelyn (23 September 1994). "Music Capsule Review: The Sporting Life". Entertainment Weekly: 70. ISSN 0042-2738. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  14. (November 1994) "Review: The Sporting Life". Musician: 88. ISSN 0733-5253. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.
  15. Albo, Michael (Fall 1994). "Diamanda Galas and John Paul Jones". Bomb (49): 88. ISSN 0743-3204. Retrieved on 2009-06-05.