September 15 sees the worldwide CD and digital release of Dance Underwater the first studio album of new material in 14 years from storied English rock band Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel via Restricted Release/Westworld Recordings in North America.
For a band to stay relevant across decades is unusual – but to do so with much of the same line-up for most of that time is exceptional. Such is the case with Gene Loves Jezebel, which indicates that these musicians come together not only out of an appreciation for the memorable music they create, but also because they truly like and respect each other. Jay Aston (vocals), James Stevenson (guitars), Pete Rizzo (bass) and Chris Bell (drums) – with Peter Walsh producing – have created extraordinary GLJ songs for 30 years now. With their new album, they honour that legacy by expanding it.
When the group announced a crowdfunding drive for their first album of new material in 14 years, fan response was swift and overwhelming, with donations far exceeding the initial goal. It is impressive, given the length of time since the last GLJ release from these gentlemen, that this outfit still generates this much interest. The band rewarded fans’ loyalty and trust with an intimate look inside the writing and recording process, with members posting frequent social media updates from the studio. Fans loved hearing about the joy and intensity that generate GLJ songs, and in turn, their outpouring of enthusiasm seemed to spur the group to greater levels of creativity. This give-and-take revealed the depth of mutual respect and gratitude between the band and its fans.
It is unsurprising that this edition of GLJ has proven as relevant and creatively vibrant as ever. These are the same members that helped the band achieve many of its biggest successes. This is not to say that any previous incarnations were unsuccessful but with this particular line-up, the GLJ sound crystallized into its most recognizable and enduring form.
GLJ members have always been far more interested in moving forward artistically, rather than dwelling on past achievements, but this reunion seems an appropriate occasion to acknowledge how each has made an integral imprint on the signature GLJ sound. Without any of them, GLJ might not have evolved into a such special entity with passionate fans worldwide.
Jay Aston founded GLJ in London in 1981 and quickly gained a fervent following. Promise, the band’s trailblazing debut, appeared in 1983. Though he shared vocals with his brother Michael, Jay was the primary songwriter. Jay’s songs, spotlighting his uninhibited and highly distinctive singing style, made GLJ instantly memorable and identifiable. Immigrant followed in 1985, marking Pete Rizzo’s first recordings with the band; his inventive and complex bass lines instantly became an essential part of the GLJ sound. The band matured even further on Discover (1986), when James Stevenson joined and demonstrated his talent for delivering guitar work that is both melodic and powerful. (Discover was also the first GLJ album that Peter Walsh was involved in, starting a symbiotic relationship that continues with their new album.) Then, on The House of Dolls (1987), Chris Bell joined the band full-time, his drumming providing a flawless foundation. Michael was largely absent from recording that album, resulting in the four-piece incarnation of Jay, Pete, James and Chris that is still going strong to this day.
It is noteworthy that while GLJ grew increasingly successful with each release, The House of Dolls led to a big jump in their U.K. and U.S. popular chart success, as well as substantial MTV exposure, a trend that continued when this same lineup released Kiss of Life (1990) and the single “Jealous” reached the top spot on the U.S. alternative rock chart. The band had clearly hit its stride, and the artistic achievements continued unabated with the following studio albums: Heavenly Bodies in 1992 (which the band itself considers its finest studio recording – until this new album, that is!), VII in 1999, and The Thornfield Sessions in 2003.
There is a particular ineffable magic in these musicians reuniting as GLJ. Their experience and knowledge add a layer of depth to the music they create together. They refuse to relegate their band to some nostalgia/novelty circuit; you will never find them merely creating a House of Dolls 2.0. Instead, their new release is intense and energetic, reflecting the euphoria found in rekindling a fulfilling long-time dynamic partnership.
Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel is set to embark on its next decade of musical excellence. The new album is truly a gift to all the fans who helped make it possible.