History hasn’t been kind to English post-punkers the Lines. On reflection, it seems likely that the sheer abundance of high-quality material being spewed out during the early ‘80s is at least partly to blame. Reviews of their singles collection, Memory Span, were positively frothing with praise for this suddenly unburied treasure, and now Acute has lowered the band’s eBay value even further by reissuing the Lines’ first two albums.
Flood Bank collects both Therapy and Ultramarine in one package. Both follow in much the same vein as the material on Memory Span, with principal songwriter Rico Conning again demonstrating his affinity for sparse, dub-inflected rock. At times the Lines inhabit the same deathly quiet space that made the earliest Cure recordings so remarkable. Conning also borrows liberally from the kind of jerky rock maneuvers concurrently being bashed into shape by bands such as Talking Heads, Josef K and Liquid Liquid.
Anyone who’s shown a passing interest in the post-punk revival will find themselves on instantly familiar terms with tracks such as “Stripe,” which is wrapped around sluggishly funky bass, taut guitar lines and Conning’s whiny falsetto. The sparse breakdown halfway through the track, followed by an echoy guitar break, is the exact blueprint that Luke Jenner from the Rapture has been working tirelessly to replicate for most of his career.
In leaner times it’s easy to imagine the Lines reaching the lower echelons of the charts or cultivating a cult, Gang of Four-size following. They even stir some variety into their DNA with the proto post rock bass playing on “Blow a Kiss” and the buzzing electronica of “Disenchanted.” The niggling funk of “Instincticide” is a real highlight, and it sounds like it’s been ripped straight from one of Soul Jazz’s resolutely excellent New York Noise compilations.
The production of both albums, which is credited to the band themselves, is expertly handled, and gives the listener a hint of the bubbly euphoria of a Lines show. The jubilant floor-filler “Tunnel Party” is a great example of this; its seesawing guitar and heavily reverbed vocals lend a live, party-like atmosphere to the track. Conning is most likely responsible for this, as his post-Lines career includes a number of prominent production and mixing jobs with bands such as Depeche Mode and Erasure.
The sequencing of Flood Bank, which intersperses tracks from both albums instead of lining them up one after the other, is also a neat trick that highlights Conning’s playfulness. In an interview from 1981 that’s quoted in the liner notes, Conning says he wants listeners of the Lines to “scratch below the surface and find something of lasting worth.” It’s taken some considerable scratching to get there, but the payoff is more than worth it.