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Twice-Told Tales

How Houston's Justice Records came to release a spooky, sexy Love & Rockets tribute album.

Break out the black fingernail polish. Just in time for Halloween, Noise has been curling up with New Tales to Tell, a tribute album to goth-pop figureheads Love and Rockets that — believe it or not — issues from right here in Houston. Sort of.

A little history first. Love and Rockets arose from the ashes of goth-rock forefathers Bauhaus. When front man Peter Murphy decided to go solo after 1983's Burning from the Inside, the other three members — guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins — carried on and renamed themselves after Los Brothers Hernandez's popular underground Latino comic books.

At their best, Love and Rockets lightened up Bauhaus's sepulchral sound with generous dabs of psychedelic pop, decadent dance music and glittery glam-rock. They had style, they had soul — the group's first brush with success under its new name was a clubby cover of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion," an extended-length single added to the 2001 reissue of 1985 debut Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven — and, with 1989's slinky come-on "So Alive," they had a surprise smash hit that climbed all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard 100.

Despite the success of "So Alive," Love and Rockets never really broke into the mainstream. The group took until 1994 to release another album, scored a Modern Rock Top 10 with 1996's "Sweet Lover Hangover" and hung it up after treading-water 1998 LP Lift. Although they reunited for one-and-done appearances at Coachella and Lollapalooza last year, Ash has since said that was really it, as he has no desire to tour anymore.

Nevertheless, Love and Rockets left a legacy that stretches far beyond "So Alive" — songs like "Mirror People," "Holiday on the Moon," "Kundalini Express" and "Fever" are never very far away at any given Classic Numbers night — and gets fully explored on New Tales to Tell. Modern-rock music-biz veteran Christopher Minister, who organized and co-produced the tribute album, groups its contributors three ways: peers of Love and Rockets, fans who grew up listening to the band and artists who "got those records from their older brothers and sisters." None of them, he notes, needed their arms twisted.

"Everyone had a story, like 'I remember touring with them and having such a great time,' or 'I remember the first time I bought a Love and Rockets record,'" says Minister, who worked on one of Love and Rockets' final tours and managed Ash for three years. "Adrian [No Doubt drummer Young] remembered the first time he bought [1987's] Earth, Sun, Moon on cassette. And he still owns it, which is why he was really up for doing drums on 'Lazy' and 'Mirror People.'"

Representing the old guard on Tales is Frank Black, whose former band the Pixies once took Love and Rockets on the road with them. Recording as Black Francis, Black opens the album with a bubbly, Jonathan Richman-like version of "All In My Mind." Another group with direct ties to Love and Rockets is Halloween Jack, the L.A. glam-rock cover band featuring ex-Guns 'N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins. Jane's very first tour was as Love and Rockets' opening act; Halloween Jack's cover of "Ying Yang" doesn't appear on the CD but is available as a digital-only bonus track.

Some of the most interesting songs on the album come from the second generation, artists who grew up on Bauhaus, Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail, the electronic alter ego of Ash and Haskins that scored a massive early-'80s club hit with "Go!" Puscifer, Tool front man Maynard James Keenan's grungy side project coming to Jones Hall Nov. 27, casts a captivatingly dark spell on "Holiday on the Moon," and the Dandy Warhols exchange their hipster threads for club-kid gear on a percolating "Inside the Outside."

The Flaming Lips completely turn "Kundalini Express" upside down, changing the Eastern-tinged chugging original into a chilled-out, robotic, Kraftwerkian outer-space odyssey. Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf, with Young on drums, turns out a rumbling "Mirror People" that proves Love and Rockets' appeal extended even to long-haired stoner-rockers. Still, the biggest surprise on Tales is none other than Better Than Ezra, whose grimy, up-tempo version of "So Alive" doesn't lack much on the original and nearly steals the whole album.

It's the newest and youngest bands' contributions to Tales, however, that really show what a wide net Love and Rockets' music has cast down the years. Blaqk Audio, featuring AFI's Davey Havok, projects "No New Tale to Tell" into epic electronic rock, while San Francisco's Film School crafts a sprawling bit of shoegaze out of "An American Dream." New York's A Place to Bury Strangers uses a similar approach (and more electronics) to darken "The Light," and Film School's Bay Area neighbors the Stone Foxes inject dirty harmonica blues and febrile hip grind into "Fever."

Outside the summer of '89, Love and Rockets may never have been truly popular, but New Tales to Tell leaves little doubt that they remain a major influence on both modern rock and its electronic cousins. VEX's soaring "It Could Be Sunshine," featuring femme-fatale vocals by Milla Jovovich's younger sister Natalia, is another excellent example.

That leaves one little question: How did a tribute album to a UK band, mostly featuring artists from New York and California, wind up coming out on a Texas label?

The way a lot of other music-business deals do, actually. Minister met Justice president Jan Mirkin when he worked at Koch Records, which released Mirkin's then-client Ian Moore's And All the Colors... album in 2000. (Moore shows up on Tales, too, playing guitar on Mossy Coils' languid "Sweet F.A.") They became friends, stayed in touch, and this past SXSW, Minister mentioned to Mirkin he was looking for a label for his Love and Rockets project. She suggested he pitch Justice owner Randall Jamail on the idea; about four months later, New Tales to Tell was in record stores.

And not only that, Minister is already putting together a Bauhaus tribute album, which he hopes to release on Justice around next Halloween. He's considering a Tones on Tail tribute as well. That means a label that once released albums by honky-tonk royalty like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings is rapidly becoming the country's No. 1 source of tributes to influential Goth artists.

Now that's a new tale to tell.

See more information on New Tales to Tell and order the album at www.justicerecords.com.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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