It's hard to fathom in 2002 that way back in 1986, when The Mission's debut disc appeared, what is now called "goth" rock was almost indistinguishable from "alternative." Yet much of what was played on college radio in those days was the kind of darkly-tinged music spawned by Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, who took glam and punk, mixed them together, and came up with the blueprint for goth. Today, of course, goth remains a mostly underground style, while "alternative" has come to signify pretty much everything and nothing at all.
Even in those aforementioned darkly delicious days gone by, however, The Mission (who had "U.K." tacked on in the U.S. for legal reasons) proved problematic. In 1987, two of the band's members, leader Wayne Hussey (vocals, guitar) and Craig Adams (bass), had just quit iconic goth band Sisters of Mercy. Perhaps realizing the market limitations of the nascent alternative genre, they set out with their strong initial offering God's Own Medicine (an old marketing term for opium) to add a little of the then-dreaded pre-punk canon, especially the bombastic side of Led Zeppelin, to the mix. With such strong material as the "Kashmir"-esque "Tower of Strength" (from their 1988 sophomore disc Children), The Mission became a fairly high-profile goth band in North America. But shorn of his fractious but fruitful relationship with Sisters head honcho Andrew Eldritch, Hussey descended into booze-soaked self-parody, releasing increasingly weak material.
All of which makes Aura (currently available as a UK import) a pleasant surprise. Here, original members Hussey and Adams rediscover much of their original mojo, coming on hot and horny on the hard-charging, guitar-driven opener, the S&M-themed "Evangeline" (concerning a woman "who'll bang you blind"), and staying mostly on course through to the elegiac closer, "In Denial."
Particularly effective are the band's explorations of the goth equation's glam side: "To Die by Your Hand" deftly evokes David Bowie's "Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family" from Diamond Dogs, while raucous album highlight "Burlesque" is striking for its bump-'n'-grind backbeat and (finally) a seeming first-person narrative from Hussey on an, ahem, "encounter" with a female fan in Barcelona ("She asked me if I'd like a little company/ Maybe some blow, a little ecstasy/ Of course I'm not the kind who could ever refuse/ I had time to kill/ Nothing to lose").
There are a couple of duff tracks hidden in the middle of the pack ("Happy," especially, is downright twee) and a few lyrical lapses scattered throughout. At nearly 70 minutes long, Aura also suggests that Hussey could use an editor. But hey, that's why they have programmable CD players. Edit out the clunkers here and you still have a full-length disc of some inspired rock from some old vets. In 2002, you could do much worse, indeed.