2021 Song Draft- Round 3 Pick 6- A Sound Day selects ‘A Letter From St. Paul’- The Silencers.
Believe it or not, I do listen to music that’s not from the 1980s! But I find myself going back there again for my third pick here. But whereas my first two picks were from multi-platinum artists known far and wide (R.E.M. and Rush) this one is taking us a bit of the mainstream radio-beaten path. I reminded myself of this great, much over-looked track in my previous post here, when referencing Canadian Alt Rock Superstation, CFNY. It was one of the only places you were likely to be lucky enough to hear “A Letter From St. Paul”, the title track to the ’87 RCA Records debut by an obscure, London-based Scottish band, The Silencers.
The Silencers were formed out of the remnants of Fingerprintz, an equally-obscure post-punk act that had minor attention paid to them by college radio in the early-’80s. A quartet of bassist Joseph Donnelly, drummer Martin Harlan, guitarist Cha Burns (who’d played in Adam Ant’s backing band) and leader, singer, lyricist Jimme O’Neill. The four share credit on the writing, and Tim Finn, the super-talent who led Split Enz, is given a mysterious credit for “composing” in the liner notes with no real details explaining his role.
The entire album is well worth a listen. Particularly if you like that brand of guitar-driven alt rock only the mid-’80s could deliver…the Smiths, early R.E.M., the Bangles when they were allowed to be themselves, etc. CCM rank it as the 262nd best album of all-time, correctly describing it as “jangly and atmospheric guitars, driving rhythms, sultry and subtle vocals, poingnant and pinpoint lyrics.” While the single “Painted Moon” was a minor hit which deserved to be a major hit, and apparently got “regular” airplay at KROQ in L.A. as well as my beloved Toronto station, it is the title track that really gets underneath your skin and deposits an earworm.
“A Letter From St. Paul” is definitely a tune to both test your speaker’s tweeters, and one best enjoyed in the dark through headphones. Hypnotic, jangly guitars rollicking away that you figure can’t get any better … until an equally wailing harmonica joins in! And unlike the album’s other tracks, it lacks O’Neill’s singing. Replacing it, sparingly, is an uncredited woman speaking in a montone voice about her drab life in Minnesota and suggesting (threatening?) to come see the letter’s recipient in London. We don’t know if she is serious or has a deadpan sense of humor, and if he should be happy or running for the hills. Treblezine succinctly state it to be the “eeriest song I’ve ever heard.” Somewhere out there, there’s a Hitchcock-wannabe movie maker itching to make this letter, this song, into a film noir classic.