Liner Note Author: Rose McDowall.
Recording information: 1986-1988.
Photographers: Fred Somsen; Michael Morton; Gilbert Blecken.
As her band Strawberry Switchblade began to fall apart in 1985, Rose McDowall was left in limbo. Not sure that she wanted to be part of the music industry she despised, yet not willing to give up on making music, she kept recording songs between 1986 and 1988. Some were meant for a second Strawberry Switchblade album that never appeared, some were solo efforts, but none of them were released at the time. McDowall kept making music afterward, both as a solo artist and as a member of groups as diverse as Felt and Current 93, but the post-Switchblade songs (apart from the 1988 "Don't Fear the Reaper" single) never saw the light of day officially until the 2015 release of Cut with the Cake Knife on Night School Records. Lots of times, "lost" recordings like these turn out to be disappointing, like they were lost for a reason that becomes clear on the first listen. McDowall's "lost" recordings inspire a completely different reaction. It's almost criminal that these tracks were buried or forgotten. From the opening "Tibet," a truly lovely ballad, through her ultra-pop cover of Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," the Cut with the Cake Knife collection is never anything less than top-rate pop. The songs are memorable and fun, with McDowall's girlish vocals surrounded by shiny, Day-Glo synths and chattering drum machines, sparkling guitars, and frothy backing vocals. Though they were recorded at different times and in different places, they hold together like the great lost synth pop album of the '80s. "Reaper" totally should have been a hit, but at least four more of the tracks could have been hit singles. "Tibet," the brilliant title track, the mesmerizing "Crystal Nights," and the sugar sweet "Sunboy," should all be known and loved by discerning fans of the '80s. The rest of the cuts are by no means weak either. Maybe McDowall's voice is a little thin at points, but really that's part of the charm of it all. It's truly mind boggling that no record company executive got down on their knees begging McDowall to give it another shot in the music biz. She may have said no, she may have tried it again on her terms, but ultimately it never happened, and the recordings were left to be traded among bootleggers and pirates like hidden treasure. Luckily for everyone else, Night School has cleaned up the tapes, stuck them in a nice package, and given more than just McDowall fanatics a chance to hear some of the most enchanting music of the '80s at last. ~ Tim Sendra