I love a band that has no idea what it’s doing. I’ve always considered amateurism a virtue rather than a vice, and preferred a band that is capable of producing only a vile racket to the slick musicianship of so-called professional musicians. Which is why I adore The Raincoats, whose early gigs were so bad one eyewitness said that every time a waiter dropped a tray “we’d all get up and dance.” But amateurish as they were, The Raincoats had the good sense to turn their lack of chops into an asset, by writing a bunch of punchy songs that made the most of what they could do, namely produce a sound that was as perversely catchy as it was chaotic.
Personally, I suspect the motives of the guy with his waiter and falling tray. I believe he was a closeted Haircut 100 fan, and immune to the charms of the all-female post-punk band from London and their uncompromisingly anarchic, yet inexplicably melodic, sound. One listen to their 1979 self-titled debut should suffice to convince anyone in their right mind that The Raincoats were onto something totally unique. Sure, I hear faint echoes of Television, Talking Heads, Mekons, and the Velvet Underground in a few songs, but The Raincoats were beholden to none of those bands, just as they owed nothing to their punk predecessors, eschewing as they did speed and power for more off-kilter effects.
No, what they were doing was creating a sound all their own, and as a result they stand alongside The Fall and PiL in the ranks your wonderfully idiosyncratic English bands. That they never made as much of a dent commercially as The Fall or PiL is just one more glaring injustice of fate, like the fact that I wasn’t chosen in the NFL draft despite my own high estimation of my imaginary abilities as a running back.
The Raincoats’ sound is not easy to describe. Abrupt shifts in tone and tempo, multiple voices clamoring against one another, lots of truly off-kilter drumming and dissonant guitar scratching, and the wild pyrotechnics of violinist Vicky Aspinall all contributed to a sound that could swing from harsh to lovely in a heartbeat. And the difference between their sound and what was happening around them was deliberate; they wanted to set themselves apart from the rock tradition, which they considered both sexist and racist. They succeeded to the extent that they never attracted more than a cult following, which included John Lydon and, most famously, one Kurt Cobain.