Modern Eon – Fiction Tales (expanded edition) track-by-track album review

7 11 2022

The much-loved 1981 album from Liverpool’s influential band Modern Eon gets its first release on CD from Cherry Red.

Modern Eon - Fiction Tales - album cover

This expanded and remastered edition of Fiction Tales features a collection of complementary single versions, B-sides and previously unreleased recordings made in 1982, immediately prior to the band’s untimely demise.

Compiled with input from band members Alix and Danny, and accompanied by excellent detailed sleeve notes by Andrew Keeling, this is a long overdue re-evaluation of a lost post-punk classic.

Forming in Liverpool in 1978, built around the collaborative dynamics of Alix Plain and Danny Hampson, Modern Eon burned brightly but briefly, issuing a run of singles and the remarkable album Fiction Tales before disbanding prior to the recording of a second album.

Modern Eon expanded their following with a support slot on The Stranglers Meninblack tour of 1981, which is where a lot of fans picked up on the band for the first time.

I’ve still got my original vinyl copy of the album, but I am so happy to finally be able to own a CD version. A version of Fiction Tales appeared on streaming platforms a little while ago, that I presume was an un-authorised release, possibly sourced from 192kbps mp3s that were circulating on fan sites years ago.

The original album was produced by the band, with co-production / engineering by Laurence Diana (another Stranglers connection, as Laurence engineered several tracks on The Stranglers The Gospel According To The Meninblack masterpiece).

The transfers and remastering for this 2022 CD edition of Fiction Tales is by Andy Patterson. The original album has never sounded better. The remaster is not a brick-walling effort, and is very sympathetic. There is room to breathe, and key elements, such as the drums on The Grass Still Grows, shine as never before. So if you already own the vinyl, this 2022 reissue is still a must-have if, like me, you have loved this album for over 40 years.

Modern Eon - band promo picture

The album is a time-capsule of the early 80s post-punk and new wave sound. Second Still is a slow-burning but powerful opener. Metronomic drums, percussive synths and spagetti-western guitars and trebley bass are topped by the plaintive vocals of vocalist Alix.

The Grass Still Grows is wonderfully paced, with some Roxy Music-like saxophone and a powerful breakdown section. The album is well sequenced, with individual tracks flowing into each other, so the album feels like one sustained piece of music.

Playwrite features wonderful guitar work from Tim Lever, and great interplay between Cliff Hewitt on drums and bassist Danny Hampson.

Watching The Dancers is an absolutely beautiful piece of music, and a highlight of the album. The arrangement is quite sparse, which gives the song an absolutely brutal power. Watching The Dancers made me sit up and listen when I saw the band live for the first time. Oh to have a time-machine!

“I’m in a crowd
And they all surround me”

Each member of the band stamps their unique personality throughout Fiction Tales. I saw the band live twice supporting The Stranglers, and unless my memory is playing tricks on me I recall the drums were on tape, due to an injury sustained by drummer Cliff Hewitt prior to the tour commencing.

Real Hymn uses guitar harmonics to great effect, along with an intelligent use of space, military drumming and atmospherics to build a unique soundscape, with the song ending abruptly just as it hits its peak, which seems to suit the lyrics.

“Take off the clothes, I’d like to see how much of you I know”

Waiting for the Cavalry has the feel of a controlled wall of noise, with sustained, abstract synth drones adding to a feeling of paranoia and distrust.

“Maybe I saw you on a closed circuit TV in the Underground
Moving from the corners”

High Noon was another live highlight from the two gigs I saw in the early 80s. Synth bursts from the late Bob Wakelin, Tim Lever’s guitar lines that John McGeoch would surely have appreciated along with crowded, one line vocals from Alix set the scene for my favourite Modern Eon track that arrives next, the mighty Child’s Play.

The most commercial piece that the band ever recorded, it was an obvious single, and Child’s Play has really stood the test of time.

From the sombre, haunting keyboard intro, the Phil Spector influenced production to the fairy-tale lyrics, the song stands apart from the feel of the rest of the album, and offers a different perspective and mood that makes it stand apart from the other songs.

“Always, a handsome prince
Well, I’ll be one day
Some call it child’s play”

After the pure-pop of Child’s Play, the mood darkens again for Choreography, a song that would not have sounded out of place on The Comsat Angel’s Sleep No More album that was released a couple of months after Fiction Tales. There was definitely something in the waters of Sheffield and Liverpool in 1981.

Modern Eon - Euthenics / Child's Play & Mechanic single sleeves

Euthenics was Modern Eon’s second single, this time on the Inevitable label, before they moved to Dindisc. The single version from 1980 appears on disc two of this reissue. Euthenics has such a powerful chorus and end section, that the song lingers long after reaching its conclusion.

The final two tracks close the album so well, the sombre, guitarless In A Strange Way leads to the frenetic Mechanic (a shorter version became the band’s final single).

“The face has been exposed to teardrops
The kind you can’t erase”

Fiction Tales works so well as an album to be played and enjoyed in one sitting, and as a classic early 80s post-punk classic, I hope this reissue reaches a wide audience.

Disc two is a treasure-trove for fans of the band. Unfortunately, I presume due to licencing issues, or lack of access to original masters, there are missing tracks – such as radio sessions, but disc two offers up some single versions and previously unreleased material.

I’m not sure of the source for this reissue, whether its been sourced from original masters or not, but even if the early releases are vinyl rips, care and attention has been given to the restoration.

Second Still and Choreography (1979 Versions) are from Modern Eon’s Pieces, their first EP. Second Still is so much better developed on the album version, and although Choreography lacks the widescreen production of the album version, the pieces are already in place for what the band would develop into less than two years down the line.

The same can be said for the 1980 versions of Euthenics and Waiting For The Cavalry. These versions have less in the way of the wonderful keyboard layers of the album versions, but Euthenics has more saxophone, giving the song a different impetus.

The rarely heard b-sides Cardinal Signs and Visionary are welcome additions to the reissue. The single mix of Mechanic adds a new guitar and keyboard line, and feels like a re-recording, rather than a straight remix. Somewhat smoother and slightly less urgent, this is an interesting take on the song, and one I am glad is included on this release.

The b-side Splash! sounds like it was from the same session as Mechanic. Spoken vocal lines weave in and out, with a New Order meets dub bassline from Danny Hampson, and some rare acoustic piano featuring on a Modern Eon song.

The remaining tracks give an indication of where the band could have gone with their second album. Appearing in demo form, as they were not fully realised for commercial release, the songs are fascinating to hear. After The Party (“After the party, there will be quiet”) features some of the ingredients from Fiction Tales, especially with the rythmn section, but a more forceful vocal style and an less claustrophobic arrangement, with more space and some chinks of brighter light in the performances. The dub version explores the arrangement further as does the 2021 mix from Alix (now known as Alex Che Johnson).

The second “new” track is Garland Leaves, which no doubt would have been an key album track, and could have seen the band embraced by the future Goth movement. After The Party and Garland Leaves were restored by Dave Lloyd, who has done a great job in giving us a brief but tantalising glimpse into a future for the band that sadly never materialised.

If you have not heard Modern Eon before, but you are a fan of the early 80s post-punk of Teardrop Explodes, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Comsat Angels, early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Wah! Heat, then you will surely love Fiction Tales.

Pre-order Fiction Tales from Amazon
Pre-order Fiction Tales from Burning Shed

Tracklisting

DISC ONE:

Fiction Tales album released June 1981, Din Disc (DID 11)

  1. Second Still
  2. The Grass Still Grows
  3. Playwrite
  4. Watching The Dancers
  5. Real Hymn
  6. Waiting For The Cavalry
  7. High Noon
  8. Child’s Play
  9. Choreography
  10. Euthenics
  11. In A Strange Way
  12. Mechanic

DISC TWO:

  1. Second Still (1979 Version)
  2. Choreography (1979 Version)
  3. Euthenics (1980 Version)
  4. Waiting For The Cavalry (1980 Version)
  5. Cardinal Signs
  6. Visionary
  7. Mechanic (Single Version)
  8. Splash!
  9. After The Party
  10. After The Party (Dub)
  11. After The Party (Dub) (2021 Mix)
  12. Garland Leaves

1 and 2 taken from the Pieces EP, Eon Records, November 1979 (EON 001).
3 and 4 released as a single, Inevitable, November 1980 (INEV 003).
5 released as the B-side to the Euthenics single, Din Disc, March 1981 (DIN 30).
6 released as the B-side to the Child’s Play single, Din Disc, June 1981 (DIN 31).
7 and 8 released as a single, Din Disc, August 1981 (DIN 35).
9 to 12 recorded at The Pink Studio, Ullet Road, Liverpool, May 1982.

Pre-order Fiction Tales from Amazon
Pre-order Fiction Tales from Burning Shed

Also available – Andrew Keeling’s book – Musical Guide to Modern Eon


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2 responses

8 11 2022
William Gray

I still have the original album and was lucky enough to see them, supporting The Stranglers, some decades ago now. Fantastic album, which I will certainly purchases again. Hope the band tours again.

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10 11 2022
Leux

Modern Eon, fantastic and particular band in a way than only post-punk other bands (I think now in Psychedelic Furs, and, Sad Lovers and giants…, but there are more, very more…) loves your art, and lucky place in musical history, where people —like me—always listens these incredible sound…

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