Rema-Rema’s Wheel in the Roses was the first release of original material on 4AD proper, following four singles on precursor Axis and a re-press of AXIS 3, Bauhaus‘ “Dark Entries.” Issued post-breakup, as various members headed off for a series of near and distant destinations including Adam and the Ants, Mass and Wolfgang Press, Dorothy and Psychic TV, and Renegade Soundwave, the 1980 EP is significant for more than its early role in a major subcultural force. Label co-founder Ivo Watts-Russell considered it a turning point, and little contact is needed to understand its relevance to the post-punk era at large. Split between studio and live recordings, this is chock-full of delightfully sludgy rhythms with piercing synthesizer and pell-mell piano, variably taut-riffing and squalling guitar, and shared vocals that simultaneously project agony, threat, and humor at sliding magnitudes. “Feedback Song” sets it off with a comic-horror introduction leading to a trudge that picks up slightly halfway through, only to slow back down, allowing Gary Asquith to resume hectoring with a carnival barker-style cadence. More animated is “Rema-Rema” itself — a pummeling and unintelligible invocation of some sort, the era’s “Louie Louie.” The B-side is live, evident only with one faint hint of appreciation, instantly drowned out by a shock of noise and a droll “Welcome” from the stage. “Instrumental,” a death disco number with words (“You kicked me right between the eye,” etc.), developed out of the band’s attempt at covering the very different Dr. Who theme. Ending the EP is the crawling ballad “Fond Affections,” its electric jolts made all the more startling by a considered directness regarding a separation.
Aided in part by a solemn cover of “Fond Affections” by Watts-Russell‘s This Mortal Coil, a Big Black rampage through “Rema-Rema,” and eventual scarcity — only one 12″ re-press, presumably instigated by the TMC version — Wheel in the Roses became a collector’s item. In 2003, 4AD issued it on compact disc in an edition of 1,000. Supply did not meet demand. Sixteen years later, after working in cooperation with Gary Asquith, 4AD recirculated the EP as part of the 2019 anthology Fond Reflections, which compiles additional live material and rehearsal recordings (a small portion trickled out on a 2014 7″ and a 2015 12″ via the Inflammable Material label). There is an alternate take of each Wheel in the Roses song, plus versions of eight additional originals. Asquith and partner Takatsuna Mukai are credited with “additional production, overdubs, and treatments,” but the only obvious liberties taken are the excision of the droog-like intro to “Feedback Song” and significant heft added to “Rema-Rema.” Although the sound quality understandably isn’t always ideal, most of the new old tracks are up to the standard of the EP, delivered in a similar state approaching delirium. “International Scale,” “Lost My Way,” and “Murdermuzic” especially pack a wallop. “Entry,” the closest they get to pop, is viewed by drummer Dorothy Max Prior as the band’s definitive track. Fair enough, as it scotched an opportunity with Charisma Records, who for some reason took exception to the kicker, “And you fuck just like Jesus Christ.” Enhanced with scads of photos and Prior‘s illuminating liner notes, Fond Reflections counteracts the band’s ephemeral and enigmatic existence. Mint.