(Clan of) XYMOX - Imagination 1988 - 1991 (Biography Part 3/5)

im_xymox1989_anka_ronnyAfter signing the contract with Wing Records / PolyGram, Pieter Nooten returned to XYMOX, even though manager Raymond Coffer had tried to convince Ronny Moorings to continue without him. [1] (hier zum deutschen Text)

Now backed by a major budget, XYMOX teamed up with producer Peter Walsh and moved into proportionally expensive studios (i.a. Jacob Studios, Ridge Farm Studios). Ivo Watts-Russell (founder and boss of 4AD) had recommended Peter Walsh to the band. In Ivo's opinion, Walsh, who had established himself trough working with Simple Minds ("New Gold Dream") and Gene Love Jezebel, matched the sound of the Dutch band.

With "Twist of Shadows" XYMOX released not just their usual minor harmonies and atmosphere; the production made their music sound bigger and more danceable, in the vein of New Order. Modern dance and pop sounds replaced the dark ambient textures which had still dominated "Medusa". Only the haunting sounds of strings at the end of the instrumental "Clementine" were reminiscent of earlier songs like "After The Call". This was no surprise as "Clementine" originated from "Sleeps With The Fishes" sessions (Pieter’s solo album) and had originally been left out, but now found a spot on "Twist of Shadows". [2,3] With the US market in mind, the two very successful (and very difficult to get hold of) songs from the last 12” that had been released by 4AD , "Blind Hearts" and "A Million Things", were included for the first time on an album.

im_xymox_live89The album brought XYMOX commercial breakthrough in the U.S.. The single releases of "Obsession," "Imagination" and "Blind Hearts" ran on MTV and became massive club hits, especially the second single "Imagination", which brought XYMOX mainstream attention. "Imagination," written and sung by Anka, was an almost commercial pop jewel which stood out brightly against the band’s otherwise typical melancholia. Modern, danceable, and elegantly carried by Anke's wistful, delicate singing, the song charted at # 85 on U.S. Billboard's Hot 100. PolyGram liked the song instantly, perhaps spotting a chance to turn XYMOX into the new Roxette with Anke as front woman. [1]

XYMOX - Imagination (Twist of Shadows/Polygram, 1989)

Yet conflict gnawed within the band, as their success grew, it was no longer just a question of establishing recognition and authority, but money had also become part of the game. Frank: "When XYMOX signed a deal with Wing in America for the third album 'Twist of Shadows', I knew that that was basically my last tour with them. Because very soon after that deal, in my opinion, it was more about money than that it was about music."[4] An impression Bert Barten shared, who had been involved in the recordings of the album: "As long as I have known the band there was always a lot of tension between the members. Ronny used to do a lot with Anke but also a lot on his own. It was always a big grey area who wrote what and who inspired who. All the members even the manager at that time used to fight a lot about things like this." [5]

im_paradiso_89_live09aAfter the release of the album in 1989, XYMOX embarked on a major US tour taking electro-band Moev as opening act and selling out venues, turning it into a huge success. By the end of the tour XYMOX had sold over 300,000 albums. The ex-4AD band was now heading towards a different pop league, and found themselves pressurised to validate this shift with their next album.

XYMOX had achieved great success with "Twist of Shadows", but there was also criticism that despite the introduction of pop and dance elements, the album was still too much stuck in the 80s. [6] By the early 1990s, the 80s were definitely gone: grunge and Manchester rave now dominated the clubs. In fast-paced London, where the band lived at that time, there was nothing worse than the stigma of sounding "dated”.

phofmyheart200The recordings for the upcoming album "Phoenix" continued for over half a year, and the new songs proved that XYMOX had used their break since "Twist of Shadows" to reinvent itself. The first single, "Phoenix Of My Heart" was released in spring 1991 and the British music press rubbed their eyes in wonder at what happened to these shy continental Europeans with their minor melodramas. "Phoenix of My Heart" was Rave, not Wave; a radio-friendly, almost cheerful, danceable pop song which, in a surprising twist, ends with "Wild Thing" by The Troggs. "That just came out, completely spontaneously, as we were recording it. We all fell about laughing at the time, but I thought, 'Why not?" and so we kept it. It should certainly shatter some preconceptions "(Anke and Ronny in the Melody Maker). [7]

The symbolic album title, "Phoenix", confirmed this musical change. The often bleak soundscapes were now unusually full of light, danceable and poppy. XYMOX wanted to do BIG pop with BIG feelings. Songs like "Smile Like Heaven," "Believe Me Sometimes" or "The Shore Down Under" affirmed this desire; yet on the other hand, turned a song like "At The End Of The Day" into kitsch.

im_xymox_1991_220pxHowever, the album also documented the incipient decay of XYMOX: their success further heightening tensions in the band. The love-hate relationship between Ronny and Anke reached its climax (also related at this time was the name change to Anka). [1] While they had previously written songs together, now each of them worked separately on their own ideas. While Anka was able to put herself forward as the second face of XYMOX next to Ronny, and at this time was writing herself and singing more than just one song, it was Pieter however, who found his songs mainly unused on the album; a further chapter in the never-tiring conflict with Ronny: "During that period my demos were totally ignored by Ronny. Worst of all, when they were approved, they got completely ruined on the mixing desk. I don't know how and why that happened but I was so shocked and disappointed that I just could not go on like that anymore. The demo versions of "Wonderland", "Dreamhouse" and especially "All Fold Up" were absolutely better than the way they came out. I was disillusioned and felt opposed for the wrong reasons. Ronny wanted absolute power and turned into an all controlling tyrant, making sure his songs came first, even if others were better". [2] This led to the curious situation that some of the best songs from the Phoenix recording sessions did not appear on the album, but instead appeared on B-sides of singles: "All Fold Up," "Down to Earth", "Dreamhouse" or the fantastic "Twisted" were replaced with shallow songs like "At The End Of The Day" and "Written in the Stars” which undermined the overall impression of the album. In addition, the clean production of Peter Walsh took the edginess off many of the songs, pushing the album towards the mainstream. Nevertheless, "Phoenix" is an album that’s better than its reputation, and in particular Anka's own interpretation of the classic Patti Smith "Dancing Barefoot", or the wave pop song "The Shore Down Under" are very worth listening to.

After the release of the album Pieter finally left the band, worn down by the ongoing conflicts with Ronny and dissatisfied with the musical development of the album. [2] Frank Weyzig also parted ways with the band [8] and Ronny and Anka recruited Tom Ashton (guitar, ex-The March Violets) and Richard Wells (keyboards) as live musicians for the upcoming U.S. tour. Besides the visual change to the band (Ronny wore white; Anka glitter shirts and baseball caps), they also interpreted classix XYMOX songs in a new way. New arrangements of "Louise", "Stranger", "Back Door" and "Michelle" incorporated modern dance and rave elements, lending entirely new aspects to the songs but without destroying the original atmosphere. Especially the new version of "Michelle", with added psychedelic organ and wah-wah guitars in the vein of Manchester rave bands like The Charlatans, sounded fantastic.

XYMOX - Michelle live@Visage, Orlando/USA, 21.07.1991, Phoenix Tour

XYMOX - Back Door live@Montreal/CAN, 23.08.1991, Phoenix Tour

The tour in the U.S. went very well, but despite successes in the college, alternative and mainstream Billboard charts and their loyal fans in the U.S., Phoenix sold less than the previous album "Twist of Shadows" (about 150.000 albums). At the end of the U.S. tour it was announced PolyGram's A&R manager had been made redundant and all further planned releases (including the proposed new single "Wonderland") as well as all tour support was discontinued. [1] Consequently, the European tour, including a concert at the Zeche in Bochum - and anticipated by me with great excitement - was cancelled. Later on, when PolyGram Records altogether stripped its subsidiary label Wing, this meant the end of the major dreams for XYMOX and also the ending of the band in its previous form.

Whilst a last joint effort of Ronny Anka still appeared on the song „Yokan“ on the compilation "Dance2Noise002" which the two wrote together for Atsushi Sakurai, the lead singer of the J-rock band Buck Tick, there was no future for Anka in the band any longer. The relationship between her and Ronny had become unsustainable during the U.S. tour and she also left XYMOX in 1991. "There was a big argument on the last tour we did between Ronny and me which went way beyond healthy human relationships, and I felt I could not cope any longer under those circumstances. Mind you, it took me months to realise that retracting myself from XYMOX would be the sanest thing to do for myself. After all, I had started the band with Ronny about 10 years before and XYMOX was and had become my life". [9]

Thus, the original line-up of XYMOX had finally collapsed. XYMOX was reduced to just Ronny Moorings, on his own.

part 1: Subsequent Pleasures (1983 - 1985)
part 2: Medusa (1986-1987)
part 4: Metamorphosis (1992 - 2001)
part 5: Vaselyn, Hypercycle, Born for Bliss (Post-XYMOX)

[1] Ronny Moorings: The Xymox-Story - in: Gothic II, 2002, ISBN 3896023969
[2] Mic: Pieter Nooten "To be honest I never listened to pop music" - unruhr.de, 2010, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[3] unbekannt: "Shadow Play" - Melody Maker, 05/1989
[4] Phil: Frank Weyzig (Born for Bliss, White Rose Transmission etc.) - gothicrock.ru, 2010, http://gothicrock.ru/din/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.264, retrieved: 05.03.2011
[5] Mic: Bert Barten (ex-XYMOX, NYX) "Twist of Shadows" - unruhr.de, 2010, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[6] Wikipedia: Twist Of Shadows - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twist_of_Shadows, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[7] Dave Simpson: "Phoenix Of My Heart" - Melody Maker, 05/1991
[8] Markus Vennemann u. Robert Rosowski: "Born for Bliss" - Entry, 1997, http://www.entry-magazin.de/IntervBornForBliss.htm, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[9] Mic: Anka Wolbert "In a mad devotional style" - unruhr.de, 2005, retrieved: 27.02.2011

unruhr-Interview Ronny Moorings 2004
unruhr-Interview Anka 2005
unruhr-Interview Pieter Nooten 2006
unruhr-Interview Pieter Nooten 2010
unruhr-Interview Bert Barten 2010
unruhr-Tongrube: XYMOX - Blind Hearts


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