Lost Solo Debut By Post-Punker Recalls Unsettling Time
Having done time in the experimental post-punk unit This Heat, Charles Bullen found himself a man without a band in 1983. But that didn’t matter. Coming home from his final dates with that outfit, he began meditating on the state of the world. There was war in the Falklands and Maggie Thatcher in the political theatre. The hands on the doomsday clock were getting closer than most felt comfortable with. If the world was going up in a big mushroom cloud at least Bullen would go out with new music behind him. In a quick burst of creative energy, he recorded the six tracks that comprise the one and only Lifetones LP.
Poorly promoted at the time of its first appearance, some believed that For a Reason was a shot of pure reggae. That’s only true if you drop the needle on one cut. Sure, “Decide” carries a distinctly Jamaican aroma but there’s as much Bali and Krautrock on the rest of the record as there is Rasta rock.
Bullen’s love for what has come to be known as world music shows. “Traveling” features droning folk instruments with European touches and a predilection for the East. That’s perhaps best demonstrated in the vocals that arrive late in the affair. Hazy, mystical lines carry us high above our troubles, if only for a moment. It comes to an end that’s undeniably British, but what else would you expect from a man who came into this world via Liverpool, then beat it for Brixton?
Some moments are better than others. Among these lesser pieces are “Distance No Object”, which relies a little too heavily on street aesthetics and the technology of the era. “Patience” tries yours even when it chugs along at a nice and even pace. When it ultimately collapses into waves of the forgettable, you barely notice. That said, “Good Side” demonstrates Bullen’s best and perhaps provides clues as to what would have come later had he decided to carry Lifetones a little further.
This record ultimately sank without a trace. Self-released at a time when self-released meant a death sentence, there was no one around to praise its better tendencies. In the decades since then, a cult following has grown around the record. Legends abound. Some claim (wrongly) that drummer Julius Cornelius Samuel was none other than Bullen. The artist squashes those rumors in the record’s all-too-brief liner notes, but it’s fun to pretend and imagine all that went on in the studio back in 1983. It’s almost as much fun as listening to the music itself.
Bullen would eventually record under the Circadian Rhythms moniker and interest in This Heat has had its cycles. The last big swell came a decade ago. Perhaps the appearance of For a Reason will spark one more renewal and a deeper consideration of Bullen’s overall output. In the meantime, we have these six songs to appreciate and consider while the world turns much the way it did back when the world was going to hell.
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