Gloria Mundi - "The Grotesque and the Grandiose"

By: Seth Styles

  This review has already cost someone three figures, that someone being me. Thankfully for me, this is a good review. Thankfully for you, I'm the kind of obsessive completist that will blow three figures on an old band I've never even heard. This old band is Gloria Mundi.

  Within one month, I've tracked down each release of original material, engaged in bitter bidding wars, and walked away with everything by Gloria Mundi and nothing in my pocket. But I can write this with a smug smile because these records are genuinely snotty, romantic and therefore very ahead of their time. Keep in mind, the bulk of this material was recorded against the twitching backdrop of the late 70s UK punk scene, so snotty was the line. Adding romance to the equation would thus be a perfect recipe for blank stares and loaded sneers.

  How about a little background check before we begin? Sadly, the historian in charge of keeping up on Gloria Mundi must have died on the job, because I've found only minute details about the band that aren't plastered across any of their record sleeves. Honestly, the most interesting and useful information anyone needs to know regarding Gloria Mundi involves a strong friendship with John Foxx's incarnation of Ultravox! Now, I know, associations don't always mean much in the music business. In a day and age when we see essential artists like Gary Numan cavorting around a television screen with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor and Fear Factory, association can be very misleading. But one listen to Gloria Mundi and it becomes very evident that this isn't a belt-chomping, zipper-breaking friendship with Ultravox! but one of deep mutual admiration. Listen to the Ha!Ha!Ha! EP by Ultravox! and you will have an idea of where we'll begin our jaunt.

  I'm unclear of the line-up over the course of the singles, but I'm assuming both initial 7"s are a product of the members responsible for the first LP. So, for lack of information, let's assume that the Fight Back! "7" was recorded with Eddie Maelov on male vocals, Sunshine as the female vocalist on keyboards, guitar courtesy of a chap called Beethoven, C.C on sax, Mike Nicholls on drums, and bass duties credited to an enigmatic figure named Ice. Gloria Mundi is essentially the vision of Maelov and Sunshine with slight contributions from the others here and there. The duo later went on to become a synth cabaret act simply called Eddie & Sunshine (not to be confused with the equally hilarious Flo and Eddie.) But back to the initial single "Fight Back!" Nothing too heavy yet, but nonetheless a bit more glamorous than your standard punk single. Sunshine's swooping keyboards mixed with Beethoven's precise, swelling guitar melody may have been enough to turn a few heads, though. The b-side Do It adds a lot more intelligence and swagger to it's energy. Featuring Sunshine on lead vocals, the true star is Beethoven with his confident guitar part that leaves you feeling as if you lost your virginity to a teenage boy in a leather jacket and eyeliner that never really gave a shit about you. But in a good way!

  Then came the second 7", Glory of the World (actually taken from the second LP) which is a bit more of a dark brooding proclamation than the teenage stomp of "Fight Back!" Sunshine and Eddie do their best drama zombie impression chanting "Gloria Mundi...glory of the world" over a grumbling, burbling bass line and soul-tinged saxophones. So, now we know their pompous manifesto, but who can really blame them? They're just that good. The flip side features a tune called Nothing To Say which starts by tipping its hat to glam and punk as the singles before, but we catch a hint of the melodic beauty to come in a pre-chorus guitar and bass combination melody tinged with theatrical influences and melancholy late-60s pop sensibility.

  Thus ends any original material on 7" that I've come across. The second LP yielded two additional singles (promotional only from what I've seen); YY?/Do You Believe? and Dangerous to Dream/Temporary Hell. All four tracks made the cut for the LP, so getting into that would be a bit superfluous.

  So, can Gloria Mundi hold up on the first LP, or are they the type to save their good ideas for the singles? Neither. I, Individual takes the established Gloria Mundi sound, pumps it full of helium and floats it into space. Now we watch these grandiose baroque virtuosos transform into bloody-nosed rococo dandies, only to become the unseen scouts clearing a path for the revolution. A hybrid of Roxy Music at their most suave and smug, Magazine at their most bitingly intelligent and the Adverts at their most charmingly pissed off, I, Individual is an album that looked to the past but came too soon. The Pack is the figurative parting of the curtain, boasting military drum beats over an innocent, almost childish melody before crashing into a swaying, glittering chorus. The melody flip-flops between swelling pride and vulnerable heartbreak, employing over-the-top guitars and even what sounds like a harpsichord. Sunshine joins the ranks of Crass and Poison Girls with her scathing spit in the face of gender, I Like Some Men. Daughters of Rich Men, my personal favorite, begins with elegant saxophone, sophisticated piano, and gentle guitar making way for Maelov's fragile vocals. Yet, the melodrama and sinister sneer in the chorus line "Daughters of rich men cannot say no in the dark" tears away the frowning porcelain facade to show the giggling sharp teeth and squinting venomous eyes of spiteful lust. This tragicomedy of class relations, resentment and lust should have been a classic. Park Lane juxtaposes seedy, murderous, yet sympathetic lyrics over an impossibly innocent keyboard line. With a chorus that crashes, glistens and stomps, you can almost see a young Brett Anderson taking notes. The title track fulfills the vitriol quota enough to please the angst crowd without straying from the grandeur of the album. A gently dark and beautiful refrain punctuates the punk carnival of Split Personality before the impending collapse into brass-dominated psychedelia, only to return to the aggressive, but deliberate chorus. By the closing of I, Individual you'll feel as if you've snorted battery acid and drain-o and survived to spend two weeks making out with the lover of your dreams. In other words, it's insane, over-the-top, and extremely fun.

  With the second LP, The Word Is Out, things get a little more light-hearted. That's not to say Gloria Mundi turned their backs on the theatrics of their previous endeavor, but a similarity to The Cars begins to rear its head on certain tracks. In short, Gloria Mundi has become more accessible by this point, but considering their previous output, that doesn't mean a lot. In fact, I still view The Word Is Out as an important but well-hidden gem in the archives of post-punk and new wave alike. It just seems that this time around, the gang have opted to have a little more fun with their sound which isn't always a bad thing. Of course, line-up changes have occurred. The band has lost Beethoven and Ice to anyone's guess, and now thank "special guest" Kirby on guitar and have found a replacement for Ice with Nigel Ross-Scott (unless that's Ice's real name. I'd like to thank he would continue on as Ice, though.) Don't worry, the old Gloria Mundi shines through quite often. Dangerous to Dream hits you like hard, cold rain in the face, leaving you stinging, squinting and refreshed. The ominous gurgling synth and gloomy bass opening of Do You Believe? give way to melodramatic guitar and Sunshine's wailing, pleading vocals. Golden sax-heavy glam rock shines through on What's Going On? as Sunshine encases the whole thing in ice and sprinkles it with cold synth flurries, making it one of the more intriguing and simultaneously catchy of the songs on the album. Let's Pretend (that we're alive) seems to detract from the better parts of the album with its fairly standard guitar line and predictable melody, but we can forgive them. Predictable often means catchy and you'll be likely to be humming this song after a listen. The subtle refrains lend enough redeeming qualities to the tune that you could still be taken seriously proclaiming that the LP didn't have a bad song on it. The aforementioned "Glory of the World" ends the lighter of the two LPs on an uncharacteristically dark and arrogant tone (uncharacteristic for the album, but not for Gloria Mundi.) But if you hate them for ending their run on that note, then you'd never have liked them anyway.

  All in all, Gloria Mundi has put out a tiny catalogue that any post-punk, glitter rock, or new wave fan owes it to themselves to check out. Every song has a personality and I just skimmed the aspects of the releases that stood up and screamed and sometimes the best parts to take notice of are the ones sitting in dark corners mumbling to themselves. Hunt them down and listen to them.

-Seth Styles

Special Thanks to:
Hong Kong Garden for the Cover Art,
all band images are copyright Mick Mercer.