Compact discs might now be an outdated medium, but there was a time when everything on the format was available — except for one of the great rock records of the early '80s: 1981's In a Roman Mood
by legendary Boston punk/new wave/whatever band Human Sexual Response. Unfairly dismissed in its time, the band's second and final album has seen no re-release since its small-run, original vinyl pressing on now-defunct Passport Records. Today, it's still lost, even to the massive ether of the Internet.
While it wasn't the cause per se, In a Roman Mood was also the record whose failure coincided with the sinking of the noble septet and is also a record that remains a thorn in the memories of vocalist/lyricist Larry Bangor and guitarist Rich Gilbert. Saturday will mark the second time in four years that the Humans will offer old and new fans a chance again to see one of the most remarkably configured bands of the era — a power trio with four lead singers and incredible live energy. "We kind of just started it as a lark," explains Bangor of the group's origin as Honey Bea and the Meadow Muffins, an a cappella singing group comprising best friends Casey Cameron, Dini Lamot, Windle Davis, and Bangor. He describes their repertoire (some of which carried over to the Humans) as songs they "dragged out to sing at parties, convenience stores, and ice cream parlors." When put in front of a rock and roll band (including bassist Chris Maclachlan and drummer Malcolm Travis), Gilbert had never heard anything like it: "The Mamas and the Papas don't sound like anybody else. The same was true with Human Sexual Response."
After making a big buzz in the burgeoning new-wave scene with the topical, relatable, and attitude-heavy Fig. 14, which included local hits "Jackie Onassis" and "What Does Sex Mean to Me?," the reaction to In a Roman Mood ranged from lack of attention to straight-up critical dismissal. "That's an understatement," quips Bangor from his Manhattan home, where after a post-Humans run in the Zulus, he moved on to a series of odd-jobs that including selling Bibles. "It's a much better record," he adds.
"It was not so obvious what kind of emotion all of these songs should be generating," says Gilbert from Nashville, where he's collaborated regularly with Frank Black, Tanya Donelly, and Steve Wynn. Produced by Wire sound guru Mike Thorne (Soft Cell, 'Til Tuesday), the record gets its character from the dark, murky textures, according to Gilbert.
The proof of greatness is in the songs: the pop-smash "Andy Fell"; the vocally intense "Pound"; and the repetitious "Land of the Glass Pinecones," which strikes that perfect balance between abstraction and the feeling of observing something incredibly monumental. It's an album from a band ripe for revisiting.
HUMAN SEXUAL RESPONSE :: House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston :: November 10 @ 7 pm :: All-Ages :: $25 :: 888.693.2583 or hob.com/boston