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Music Review: The Mission

November 19, 2008

You may know them as The Mission U.K. This is what they had to be called in the United States because there already was a Mission there, supposedly. This also happened to Suede (The London Suede) and Bush (UK Bush in Canada).

I’m not going to bother with all that, though. In Canada, the band was called The Mission. They were never very successful in North America, but I understand they were quite big for a time in England and Scandinavia and places like that.

Everything started with The Sisters of Mercy, a proto-Goth combo centred around brooding, grumbling Andrew Eldritch and a drum machine. At one point, the Sisters included bassist Craig Adams and guitarist Wayne Hussey (who had also once been in Dead or Alive, honest). In the mid-80s, Adams and Hussey bailed, forming first a band called The Sisterhood, and then evolving into The Mission. There was a lot of acrimony with Eldritch over all of this, in typical ’80s underground goth-pop style. Anyway, Adams and Hussey recruited guitarist Simon Hinkler and drummer Mick Brown and got to work.

This was about the time I first became aware of The Mission. I had heard OF The Sisters of Mercy, but their work wasn’t available in Canada’s frozen north. But soon after The Cult kicked the planet’s ass with She Sells Sanctuary, The Mission landed on Polygram Records and was actually, unbelievably, available at my local Sam The Record Man. I bought that first album, Gods Own Medicine, and while it wasn’t anything like what I expected, I found myself slowly submerging in a wild whirlpool of electric 12-strings and fairyland vocal stylings.

It was the next album, Children in 1988, that really cemented it for me. Somehow, this scarf-draped paisley foursome convinced John Paul Jones to produce the thing, and he brought the same sensibilities he brought to the In Through The Out Door album. Big, varied and epic, Children, to me, remains The Mission’s masterpiece, particularly the track Tower of Strength, for which they made one of the goofiest, strangest videos of all time.

Next up, in 1990, came the one-two punch of Carved In Sand (featuring the epic rocker Deliverance, one of my favourites) and its companion, the outtakes disc Grains of Sand. I still listen to Grains a lot, but not so much Carved, which I always found overproduced and too blatant an attempt at commercial stardom. Hussey was really chasing U2 at that point, and it shows. At some point during this period, Hinkler quit the band … actually, if I recall, he just didn’t show up for a gig in Toronto, and a roadie had to fill in. I think.

Things were quiet for a couple of years, and then came, in 1992, Masque. And this was something new. Hussey had discovered electronics and the Manchester rave scene, so Masque was loaded with bleeps and boops, digital beats and processed vocals. But it was recorded at his farm, so it’s also strangely organic, with a few fiddle-based tracks and some interesting recording techniques. Also, it came with more strange, fucked-up videos.

It didn’t do well, despite three spectacular remix discs for the singles Shades of Green, Never Again and Like A Child Again. And this is where The Mission started to fracture. Adams left and joined longtime rivals The Cult, and the break was so horrible Hussey later wrote a nasty song about it. Hussey and Brown recruited some new guys, but their hearts weren’t in it; 1995’s Neverland and 1997’s Blue were rushed, incomplete discs, a few decent moments but all in all just not The Mission. That being said, I still listen to them all the time, because that’s the kind of geek I am.

Hussey took a few years off and started remixing, eventually releasing Resurrection, an album of solo re-recordings of Mission songs. I loved it. And then The Mission was back, again with Adams, but without Brown, for the album Aura (2002) and then, with an entirely new lineup, for 2007’s God Is A Bullet, which I have and really only listened to once or twice. Aura has a lot of decent stuff on it but it all just reeks of a band desperate to finally have just one big hit, and God Is A Bullet just makes it worse.

The problem with scoring that big hit is it’s just not possible. Wayne Hussey is an amazing songwriter, probably one of the best in the world. He plays guitar beautifully. He surrounds himself with perfect sidemen. But his voice is unusual, like Robert Smith meets Geddy Lee, and it just isn’t commercial, and that, I think, is what has always held The Mission back. At least, that’s what people tell me when I try to sell them on the band.

The Mission is over now. The band did three full farewell shows last winter in London, playing their albums in sequence. I didn’t go, because, uh, it was in London. But I would have liked to. Of all the bands that I’ve taken with me over the past 25 years, The Mission is the only one I’ve never seen live.

When I’m feeling particularly ’80s and need to flash back to the days of crimped hair and pointy-toed boots, I play The Mission. Which is to say, pretty much daily.

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2 comments

  1. I prefer God’s Own… to Children. But why quibble. That was exactly how I came to know the Mission too. By their name being dropped in some article about the Cult and me running directly out and picking it up.


  2. Spike wore a Mission T-shirt once on Degrassi Junior High. Just thought I’d throw that out there.



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