Top 100 singles of all time: 63 – Cardiacs – Is This The Life?


For one brief, beautiful moment, Cardiacs were in phase with the rest of the the planet. Most of the time, they career along the same spiritual bypass as their fans. Eccentric. Off-centre. People used to believe in four “humours” – sanguine, etc. – and I think there’s a certain truth to it when it comes to music. Melancholic people like Swans, who I admire but don’t get much enjoyment from (at least as far as I’ve heard). Not sure which the manic-depressive personalities fall under, but there are certain bands that intrinsically appeal because the music is written in those sorts of frequencies: Cardiacs, Foetus, Mr Bungle … obstinately difficult, but not just for its own sake. A jittery sort of energy; a strident sort of bounce seemingly at odds with an underpinning sort of sadness. You either get it or you don’t, and most don’t: they admire it, but don’t get much enjoyment from it.

Is This The Life? seemed to come from some other place. It doesn’t sound like a Cardiacs song at all, which isn’t a good thing or a bad thing but perhaps explains its unique appeal. It’s the closest thing the band ever had to a hit, peaking at number 80 in the UK charts in 1988. The single was the breakout song from their fourth album, A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window, which mostly sounded like this: 



Of course, I think that’s completely wonderful, but many beg to differ.

Regardless, as a result of some sort of cosmic convergence, Cardiacs unleashed Is This The Life? on a public in the passionate throes of a love affair with dreamy indie rock (House of Love, Echo and the Bunnymen) and gothic pop (The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission), and this sax-laden spectacular landed squarely in the middle. The indie kids loved it, the goth kids loved it, and – crucially – Radio One loved it, and put it on heavy rotation until it reached the Top 10 of the indie charts.

Perennially loved, Is This The Life? was still a surefire dancefloor filler at goth haunt Slimelight even by the late 1990s. I’m pretty sure that if you venture round the various late night boogie dens of Camden even now – regardless of affiliation – you wouldn’t be too far from der-der-derr-der-derr-der-derr



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