The Fatima Mansions were formed by Cathal Coughlan in 1988 after the demise of his first band Microdisney. They were named after a Dublin council estate. The band was known for Coughlan’s vitriolic lyrics, aggressive stage persona and eclectic musical style. The band sums themselves up best with their t-shirt slogan “Keep Music Evil”.
Viva Dead Ponies was the bands second album, originally intended to be called Bugs Fucking Bunny, and was released in 1990. It is an album like no other mixing synth pop, electronic cacophony and blasting guitar in equal measure.
‘Angel’s Delight’ kicks things off, and neatly sets the tone for the album. It starts off all soft vocals and tinkling bell synths, with Coughlan sounding pretty sinister as you pick up on the lyrics. You are only just over a minute in when he softly intones “Kill a cop. Why the hell not?” before breaking into a roared “Burn motherfucker burn!” to a screaming guitar backing.
This uncomfortable pairing of bouncy pop synths and screaming guitar is the most consistent sound of the album, and works brilliantly. The album does have a surprising musical depth though as it showcases a range of styles from power ballad, ‘You’re A Rose’ to industrial rap, ‘Chemical Cosh’.
The major target for Coughlan’s bile is religion. Even on the album’s most obviously “poppy” moment, ‘Mr.Baby’ religion is aggressively attacked. “God is an arms dealer” being the most obviously antagonistic lyric.
The album flows brilliantly from ballad to pop song to industrial noise (Ministry were a clear influence and they had already covered a Ministry song ‘Stigmata’) and only stalls once with the song ‘Thursday’. It is the song that takes the misanthropic lyrics attached to bland pop idea to its conclusion, and fails. On the US release of the album this song was dropped in favour of the epic single ‘Blues For Ceaucescu’.
The albums two best moments come in the second half. The first is the noise attack ‘Look What I stole For Us Darling’ and the second the Scott Walker influenced ballad title track. In this epic and dramatic song Jesus has risen again and is working as a shopkeeper in Crouch End selling papers, beer and turning the fridges off so he can get drunk and break every little Islamical [sic] law.
The album is a must for anyone who appreciates the few truly authentic voices that came out of the 80s and into the early 90s. Fans of Julian Cope, Nick Cave and any interesting alternative music from the era will find much to enjoy.
YouTube proved to have very little to offer, with no videos or live performances of songs from this album available. The best available (and shown here) is an out of synch video for ‘Blues For Ceaucescu’, which was included on the American release of the album.
Coughlan is criminally overlooked despite being in two great bands and releasing some accomplished solo albums. His uncompromising stance makes him a difficult figure, and he was never going to be part of the mainstream, but his legacy deserves better treatment.
The album isn’t available from iTunes but can be purchased on Amazon and other music outlets. If you decide to buy the CD then look out for the 2007 2 disc reissue. The 2nd disc is an excellent 16 track best of collection from the bands other four albums.
Any of the band’s albums are worth a listen, they are all out of print but not that hard to buy second hand. Coughlan’s solo albums are also worth checking out, consistently interesting lyriucally whilst focusing mainly on the Scott Walkeresque crooner side of his personality. All the Microdisney albums are also currently unavailable but a couple of cheap anthologies can be picked up online, Daunt Square To Elsewhere is the most comprehensive.