In June 1990, Jealous appeared on the radio, as a single to introduce the imminent new album. Unbeknownst to most fans however, Gene Loves Jezebel – Jay Aston, Pete Rizzo, James Stevenson and Chris Bell – had been struggling to keep the ship afloat, let alone on course, through three years of storms. They made it through the writing and demoing period in London in 1988/89, then through the recording and mixing stage in California in 1989, then to the album being resuscitated with its own kiss of life back in London at the beginning of 1990. The album was finally released in July.
It had been quite a road of twists and turns and on more than one occasion during the previous couple of years, the band had thought its time was up.
Jay: The earthquake marked a poignant end to what had been a very difficult three year period that separated House Of Dolls and Kiss Of Life. It was a miracle that Gene Loves Jezebel (James Stevenson, Peter Rizzo, Chris Bell and I) were even making an album. The odds at one stage looked poor. I called the album Kiss Of Life because I felt we almost drowned and were dramatically rescued and that there is a kiss to life.
James: The album had come out paradoxically cohesive, considering the disjointed way it was recorded.
Here then is a record sounding strong and assured, empassioned and human, and in that respect, reflected the way the band had to be to survive the previous years and to have Kiss Of Life finally released. It may well have been twenty four years ago, but it still sounds as fresh and as vital today as it did then.
The songs themselves are subjects that everyone can identify with.
Jay: The songs on the album reflect different aspects of that period when we all lived within a mile radius of each other in London.
Jealous was released at the very end of June. The b-sides were Last Year (J. Aston), the instrumental While You Were Away (J. Stevenson / P. Risingham / C. Bell) and Jealous – UK Remix. It was issued in the UK with the novelty of a limited edition presentation box.
The album was released a couple of weeks later in July.
Jealous (J. Aston / J. Stevenson)
Jay: There’s a reference to the Old Brompton Road where I used to live and walk to hook up with Pete or Chris Bell in Kensington (and go to buy expensive shirts from Harvey Nichols). We’d all often meet at The Drayton Arms, with it’s famous Butterfly Room. A critical verse was knocked out by the powers that be, which tied up the song perfectly. It asked “Why are you lying with that piece of shit, when you could be happy in my arms again?”. A bitter song about wanting something you can’t have.
It’ll End in Tears (J. Aston). This had reputedly begun life as a much slower song.
Jay: I really like the vocal melody and I think James came up with a perfectly joyful guitar riff. This is the story of 99.9% of relationships.
Kiss Of Life (J. Aston / J. Stevenson)
Jay: Oh how I would love you! Often seen as a song about a Vampire (hence Anne Rice’s love of it).
Why Can’t I? (J. Aston)
Jay: I remember crying in a restaurant. I was very unhappy and it also relates to my Uncle John. Tough period. Took me a while to get up and build some castles.
Syzygy (J. Aston). This word means a connection between opposites.
Jay: Just a feeling I get sometimes, somewhere.
Walk Away (J. Aston / J. Stevenson / P. Risingham)
Jay: A relationship is over. Moving on.
Tangled Up In You (J. Aston)
Jay: An ex always played Tangled Up In Blue. So it’s a kinda homage to her and Dylan.
Two Shadows (J. Aston / J. Stevenson)
Jay: Two Shadows and Walk Away are related. Two Shadows comments on a dying relationship.
Evening Star (J. Aston / J. Stevenson / P. Risingham)
Jay: The agony of battle and a glimmer of hope.
I Die For You (J. Aston)
Jay: When I worked behind the bar at the ICA in London (on The Mall), I was seeing a clever girl and she gave me a copy of Ian McEwan’s First Love, Last Rites. The lyrics relate to what she wrote on the inside cover to me.
(Pic above: Jay in the dressing room during the album cover photo shoot)
There are other versions of Jealous – a Francois mix and a House mix – which appeared on a promo. A song called Julia had been demoed but did not make the finished album (although subsequently released on the Anthology compilation).
Pete: We had quite a few songs we’d demoed that didn’t get recorded during the album sessions. There was a funky version of American Dreamer. We reworked it for the Heavenly Bodies album without the funky bass line.
James: A song called Just A Jezebel that Jay and I wrote on the writing trip, with Alee Willis was recorded and nearly made it – it was vetoed at the last minute.
The song writing and recording process wasn’t all that was influenced by the record company and management. The video made to promote Jealous was also a huge compromise.
Pete: Jealous was filmed in a typical Hollywood way, using b-list tv actors and busty blonde Californians. We had little involvement really and just turned up on set in LA without knowing what was going on. It cost a fortune and is fairly embarrassing to behold and gives little insight into what Gene Loves Jezebel is about.
James: The Jealous video still makes me cringe – befitting an LA metal/hair band – not Gene Loves Jezebel. I can’t believe we didn’t argue on set. Jay said let’s just get it done and sort it out later when we edit it – but that never happened. Jeff Stein, who’d directed The Kids Are Alright [1979 documentary film about The Who] and also the Desire video (where he did a much better job) directed.
The sleeve design for Kiss Of Life (see pic, left) was a different approach for the band. It was designed by Kevin Reagan, with photography by Jeffrey Newbury.
Pete: We decided on the photographer. I was interested in photography at the time and I liked Jeffrey Newbury’s portfolio. It was a tad artier and less commercial than the others that we looked at. I liked the simple lighting he used and the grainy quality his shots had.
And where once the bands image was the dominant promotional aspect, this time it didn’t feature any of them on the cover, and not even the usual logo.
Pete: We’d decided to not have the usual band shot and wanted something darker and more intriguing. We were sent mock sleeves with a few different ideas and there was a good sleeve with Jay on the front but we felt it looked like a solo album. We did use that sleeve for one of the versions of Tangled Up In You. The final sleeve design was rather drab but by then I think we were just surprised to have a finished album. The architectural photos were taken at a mansion somewhere along Sunset Boulevard.
Tour dates were arranged and the band played some European dates, but the US tour unfortunately fell through, denying them the much needed publicity and promotion to back up the single and album.
Pete: We were booked to play a co-headline tour with Concrete Blonde around the States and at the last minute they pulled out with no explanation. We found out a couple of years later that one of us had apparently slagged the singer off in an interview, which pissed her off so much that she cancelled the tour. Jay denies it, so it was probably Mike.
(Pic above: James, Jay, Chris and Peter backstage during the Billy Idol tour)
Once more the band were let down by the organisational process and weren’t able to promote the album to the same extent as previous albums.
Pete: We ended up being in Europe supporting Billy Idol, whilst Jealous was on heavy MTV rotation and getting lots of airplay in the US.
James: Yeah, Jealous was a hit in the US and we went on tour in Europe with Billy Idol after the Concrete Blonde tour didn’t materialise. What were we thinking of!? I remember saying to Jay, “Jealous is a hit in the USA, why are we playing in Leipzig tonight?”
It was a few months after the album’s release that in December 1990 Tangled Up In You was released as a single, probably to coincide with the Billy Idol tour in Europe. It was an edited version with additional guitar, and was backed with Suspicion, Heartache, and Stephen – tasters from previous albums The House Of Dolls, Discover and Immigrant respectively. A video was also made, this time a much simpler scenario.
Pete: Tangled Up In You shows the band in slightly better light. We spent the day filming at a ruined mansion somewhere in Hertfordshire or Essex, all very summery and wistful. We had more involvement in that video and went through the dozens of ‘scripts/ideas’ sent by directors. There was one idea that was quite bizarre. It had Jay walking through a Portuguese fishing village with an old lady throwing fish at him. We didn’t go with that director. In hindsight maybe we should have, at least it would have been memorable!
Jay: Pete adopted two wild cats whilst we were filming the video. Someone stole James gold jacket. People always steal the clothes you love.
The band had come through the recording and release of Kiss Of Life but it had been a rocky road and it didn’t fail to impact on them and their visions of the future.
Pete: During the European tour Jay and I hated being in the freezing cold van so we occasionally took an overnight train to the next city. I remember on the night train from Milan to Munich we were talking about the next album. Jay already had some visual ideas for it, (Scarecrow and the Moon) although no songs had been written yet. We also talked about the chemistry of the band and both felt that something didn’t seem right. We didn’t get along with the guitar tech, who was a friend of Chris’s, so maybe that’s how it started with Chris being ousted from the band. It was rather childish how minor disagreements sometimes got blown out of proportion, especially on tour, but I don’t think there was any malice intended. Beggars Banquet released us from the contract not long after the European tour. Without doubt the huge cost associated with making Kiss Of Life, and the fact that they didn’t sell as many copies as they hoped, had a bearing on their decision.
Even so, it wasn’t an easy process making the break from Beggars Banquet and Geffen. The band had to negotiate their way out of contracts that weren’t as rewarding as they should have been in order to move on and keep going, but they managed it.
Jay: James had to make a personal plea to Gary Gersh at Geffen to let us go too. We couldn’t survive on the money they were paying.
Pete: We were free to look for a new deal so we decided to relocate to LA as a three-piece but we didn’t want Chris included. We all respected Chris; he was (still is) a brilliant drummer and had gone through a lot with the band so it was a very difficult thing to do.
Chris has continued to drum for the band on occasion, and as part of Spear Of Destiny has toured with them, namely in 2003 and 2005. He is now in Specimen, who played at Slimelight in London in summer 2010 on the same bill as Gene Loves Jezebel.
For a long time Kiss Of Life had been deleted and therefore no longer officially available (although original copies occur on ebay), but some tracks were available on other releases: Voodoo Dollies contains Kiss Of Life and a slightly longer version of Jealous; The Anthology (also not currently available) contains Jealous, Kiss Of Life, Why Can’t I? and I Die For You along with the demo versions of Jealous and Julia. In November 2013 though, Beggars Banquet reissued the album, together with demos and b-sides, as part of a 5-album boxed set.
Gene Loves Jezebel went on to find another drummer, Robert Adams; another record company, Savage; and producer, Peter Walsh; and released a subsequent album, Heavenly Bodies, in 1993….but that’s another story!
The album review in Melody Maker, written by Michael Bonner, read as follows:
The Jezebels et al are the results of an early-eighties flirtation with the lighter side of goth — too pretty to be real goths and spend an eternity playing the Astoria, they chose instead to encourage 15-year-old girls to soak themselves in patchouli oil and scream at them instead. Julianne Reagan described the Jezebels in ZigZag as “a light in the stagnant pool of music”, or something, before she went on to play bass for them for a time. All this is very well, but this was hardly the right road to mass critical acclaim and platinum discs. So the Aston brothers packed their bags and went Stateside, and became disturbingly famous. But their success has never been equalled back home in the UK.
So it comes as little surprise to learn that with “Kiss Of Life” the Jezebels (now minus one of the twins) hardly seem to have bothered re-working their formula to try and gain access to the UK charts. Instead, the album is mostly light US rock in the vein of Poison and Guns’N Roses — catchy-but-safe guitar riffs and the sort of ballads that people sway lighters to at concerts. The single, “Jealous”, is a boot stompin’, air punchin’ track with a guitar hookline purloined from GNR’s “Paradise City” — the sort of song that one sees Judd Nelson or Andrew McCarthy rockin’ out to in John Hughes films.
Ironically, though Americanisms such as this glut the album, the better moments are those when they borrow from the new wave of UK bands to find success in the States. “Why Can’t I?” employs that same relentless, weaving bass sound of The Mission; “I Die For You” echoes the ambient keyboards and cute guitar strumming of Simple Minds or even All About Eve. Tim Palmer, Tin Machine/Mish and now Jezebel producer, gives the album quite an epic stature in keeping with their large-scale live performances.
[Article originally written 2010]