Thursday, 22 July 2021

And so it goes - assorted new wave and early eighties artists




This is a diverse collection of groups and artists who either were part of the late seventies "new wave" or else had popularity in the early eighties (the bigger artists like Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, Graham Parker etc all have their own sections). The ones featured here are, in order - Nick Lowe: Rachel Sweet; The Rubinoos; Ian Dury & The Blockheads; Dexy's Midnight Runners; John Otway; Secret Affair; The Modern Lovers; The Tom Robinson Band; Doll By Doll; Tom Tom Club; Kid Creole & The Coconuts; Eurythmics; The Fine Young Cannibals and Sade....

Nick Lowe - Jesus Of Cool (1978)
                
As a teenage new wave fan in the great days of 1978-79 I always had a somewhat detached relationship with the work of Nick Lowe. Yes, I was familiar with his excellent singles of the period but I was much more drawn to Lowe's contemporaries Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, both of whom he notably produced albums for, and Joe Jackson also. I felt, at the time, that Lowe, despite his respect within the music media and among fans, was a bit of a smart-arse, far too clever for his own good. He was also guilty of railing in many of his songs about the ills of the music industry, while simultaneously trying to break into it. They all hated the music industry, didn't they - CostelloParkerLowe - yet they all wanted a place at its table.

The title of this album was, for whatever motive, a pretentious one and its alternative title and the one used in the US - Pure Pop For Now People - even more so. I felt back then that Lowe was a bit of a Bob Geldof-like figure - not the real deal but full of cynical comment, whereas those afore-mentioned artists were far more credible. I realise now that that was a somewhat ill-considered point of view and in re-assessing this album it gives me the opportunity to alter some of my feelings. For whatever reason, though, Lowe never really made it and the other artists did, which was a shame, as this album is up there with Costello's This Year's Model, for example.

What is not in doubt is that Lowe had an instinctive ear for a captivating hook and a Costello-like knack for coming up with killer, clever lines. Often cynical but with a cutting humour too. Listening to his stuff you can hear many other influences, but was Lowe the influencer? Possibly a bit of both. Back to this album - it is an interesting, intriguing and eminently listenable one that I find myself re-assessing positively. So there you go - and so it goes.

This was Lowe's first solo album and was released in March 1978. Music For Money is a chunky, dense opener with more in common with heavy mid-seventies rock than new wave, to be honest. All that changes, though, with the glory that is I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass, a deserved hit single which I loved back then and still do - from its intoxicating slow, rhythmic bass line through its evocative guitar lines to that classic piano sound with its great solo. It was one of the first classic new wave singles, packed full of atmosphere and it takes me right back to 1978.

Little Hitler is a strange one, slightly underwhelming, musically, with Lowe enunciating "Hitler" as "Hiddler", irritatingly. Elvis Costello recorded a song called Two Little Hitlers the following year, which was a totally different much better track. 
The Squeeze-sounding Shake and Pop is an excellent, upbeat, barroom stomp of a diatribe against the music industry (surprise), while Tonight is a late fifties-early sixties-influenced number with Lowe giving his vocal an Elvis Costello tone. It is an understated grower of a track with some clear Velvet Underground influences on the vocals and general ambience, for me anyway. The quirky, catchy So It Goes was also a hit single and it a good track, very much under the influence of Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott, both musically and lyrically. 

The excellent No Reason has Elvis Costello's Watching The Detectives all over it, in its bass line, reggae-ish groove and organ sound. It is very much the sound of 1978. I like it a lot. 36 Inches High is a beguiling, mysterious number with a pounding, slow drum sound and an industrial, almost post-punk vibe to it in places. It has a very Attractions-style organ too. Another of my favourites on the album is Marie Provost, which is a melodic very new-wave-ish song. Once again, those Lynott (and by osmosis, Geldof and the debut album-era Boomtown Rats) echoes are there, plentifully.

Nutted By Reality is a a poppy, slightly Madness-esque song about Fidel Castro. It has an odd appeal. The short, thirty-three minute album ends with a frantic, breakneck live version of Heart Of The City, a single that Lowe recorded with Dave Edmunds under the Rockpile name. It is probably the punkiest thing Lowe ever did. Dr. Feelgood also recorded it and Elvis Costello has played it live many times. Bruce Springsteen paraphrased the "I want a thousand guitars" line in Radio Nowhere too, if you ask me. Look, this is a good album, showcasing a variety of styles within the basic new wave framework and I unfairly ignored it back in 1978. I stand accused.

** The non-album material from this period is extensive, almost like a second album. Because the original album is so short, you can listen to the whole lot without losing interest at all - anything but.

Shake That Rat is a Duane Eddy meets Dr. Feelgood to play some surf pop of an instrumental. I Love My Label is a cynical song about guess what - yes, the music industry. It has a nice bad-drum interplay bit at the end. 
They Called It Rock was a single by Rockpile and was an alternative, more rockabilly version of Shake and Pop. It would have fitted in fine on Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True album in some ways. It rocks lustily from beginning to end. Born A Woman was a cover of Sandy Posey's cynical 1966 country song. Lowe gives it a fine new wave makeover. Endless Sleep is a sombre, mournful vocal and bass number with Lowe's voice quiet and understated. Halfway To Paradise has Lowe and his band giving a sparkly new wave sheen to the Billy Fury song. 

Rollers Show, while a clever, accurate musical pastiche of The Bay City Rollers' sound, is an unnecessary, sour dig at that group's teenage girl fans. If they liked that group, then so what? It was also several years too late as well. Lowe comes across as pointless and bitter. I don't quite get his motivation for doing this song. He seemed to have a strange obsession with the teeny-bop group because he had earlier released a pseudonymic single under the name Tartan Horde called Bay City Rollers We Love You - nothing better to do with your time, Nick?

Cruel To Be Kind was Lowe's biggest hit the following years, 1979, but the version here is the original Brinsley Schwarz single from 1974, for which Lowe admitted using the bass line from Harold Melvin & The Blue NotesThe Love I Lost, a record he loved. It is amazing how much of a new wave sound it had for a song recorded back in 1974. The eventual single was such a part of 1979 and very nostalgic for me, almost as much as any song. 
The original Rockpile single, Heart Of The City, is punkily appealing, although the live version is better. The final extra cut is the Dr. Feelgood-ish thrash of I Don't Want To Night To End.

So, there you go, despite my misgivings about some of Lowe's approach, I like this album. I would say, though, that despite having been remastered, the sound is still a little too indistinct for my liking, which is surprising as it is a Vic Anesini remaster. There always was a track-to-track disparity in the sound's quality, though - some were better than others, which remains one of the album's frustrations. It can be forgiven due to the songs' hooky appeal, nevertheless. Good album. Lowe is pictured above with Wreckless Eric, a bemused-looking Elvis CostelloLarry Wallis and Ian Dury.


Nick Lowe - Labour Of Lust (1979)
                             
This was Nick Lowe's second album, from mid-1979, and was more Elvis CostelloJoe JacksonGraham Parker-influenced new wave pop-orientated material. While Jesus Of Cool, however, had dabbled in many different styles, this is more of a homogenous pub rock meets melodic new wave affair, less eclectic than its predecessor.

Cruel To Be Kind was a top twenty hit for Lowe, reaching number 12 in the autumn of 1979. It is a very catchy, acoustic-backed but with rock drums number that is just so nostalgic for me for that period. One listen and it is 1979 again. Cracking Up is a chugging, bluesy rocker with a vague swamp rock undertow to it and a deep, gruff vocal from Lowe. Big Kick, Plain Scrap begins with an Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style drum intro (Watching The Detectives) and continues in a quirky, staccato rhythm that has a real feel of oddball 1979 new wave about it. It ends abruptly and included on the latest CD version (but not on the original UK album) is the single American Squirm, which is a catchy, singalong obvious single. Elvis CostelloPete Thomas and Bruce Thomas all appear playing on it.

Born Fighter is melodic, sort of Dr Feelgood-ish (slightly) rocker with big hints of Squeeze in there too. You Make Me is a short, acoustic and vocal Costello-ish ballad. 
Skin Deep is almost late sixties-early seventies David Bowie in places and has that acoustic-electric guitar interplay that Bowie did so well. The enjoyable, riffy rock of Switchboard Susan is actually also very Costello-influenced, for me anyway, with hints of Paul McCartney too. Endless Grey Ribbon is also in that Squeeze country rock style. Without Love is another poppy piece of country-ish acoustic-electric rock and Dose Of You is similarly pop in its vibe. 

Love So Fine is a perfect slice of jangly guitar-driven new wave pop with a great line in "she's got a pair of tits that just won't quit..." and the album ends with the low-key acoustic, quiet Basing Street. The album has disappeared under the rdar for many years and while it is ok, it is not as varied or as inventive as Jesus Of Cool.

Rachel Sweet - Fool Around (1978)

Considered the cute jewel in Stiff's largely drab, male crown, Rachel Sweet briefly was a cool name to drop when speaking of the new wave. It didn't last, though, neither did her reported dalliance with Bruce Springsteen. I remember this coming out on Stiff Records back in 1978, from the then 16 year-old Rachel Sweet. I felt it was the sort of thing I ought to like, being a new waver keen to hoover up as much new product as possible, but I never got round to it. I recall a few tracks but that's it, so here I am over forty years later. The album reminds me in some ways of label-mate Nick Lowe's output from the same period. 


Just My Style is a relatively unremarkable, clunky opener before we get a gloriously raunchy, gritty cover of Carla Thomas's B-A-B-Y driven along by some great Stax-y horns. A really great track is the bassy, slightly funky and riffy shuffling groove of Who Does Lisa Like. Great saxophone on it too - corker of a track.


Wildwood Saloon is a cynical country ballad. Dusty Springfield's Stay Awhile is given a Spectoresque production featuring a stonking saxophone solo. The once more vaguely funky Suspended Animation is another good one, with an opening riff just like Blondie's One Way Or Another with Rachel delivering a Debbie Harry-esque vocal to boot. More great saxophone to be found here as well. It's So Different here is a quirky, odd-sounding number with some slight reggae tinges while Cuckoo Clock is probably the album's most new wave-punk number with more Debbie Harry sound-alike vocals. It's great - I love its vitality. Pin A Medal On Mary sounds like Marc Bolan has arrived on guitar and sounds like a Nick Lowe song, but isn't it. Girl With A Synthesiser is a rollicking piece of country new wave, if indeed there could be such a thing. Rachel's bar-room cover of Elvis Costello's Stranger In The House shows just what fine country songs Costello could write. An interesting, vibrant and fun album. Shame it went under many people's radars. 


* An excellent bonus track is a superb cover of Del Shannon's I Go To Pieces. A track that appeared on the US album but not the UK one. It should have done - it's probably the best track of the lot. Another recognisable bonus track is Sad Song, which appeared on Ellen Foley's 1979 Night Out album. 


The Rubinoos - The Rubinoos (1977)

In the spring-summer of 1978, this was rarely off my turntable. The Rubinoos flourished somehow, briefly, while the flames of punk burned around them. These weren't no anarchists, no nihilists, no blank generation. They were clean-cut Southern Californian kids brought up on mom's cookies and ice cream while watching Saturday morning cartoons. They were the well-brought up children of The Monkees and The Beach Boys, cousins to The Archies and Tommy James And The Shondells. Strangely, they were accepted by a fair amount of the punk/new wave following and gigged regularly on the same circuit. I saw them play at my local club Friars, Aylesbury a couple of months after seeing The Clash and a couple of weeks before The Buzzcocks. They caught on with the "power pop" audience. Indeed, their I Think We're Alone Now was regularly played over the PA at Friars at the end of the evening after the main band had gone off stage as we all trooped out. 

Jon Rubin's angelic vocals and boy next door good looks were the cornerstone of this four piece "power pop" outfit. He kicks off the album in fine voice on their killing cover of the afore-mentioned Tommy JamesI Think We're Alone Now. The pleasant pop is a breath of fresh California air as we continue with the catchy Leave My Heart Alone and the funky-ish guitar of Hard To GetThe beautifully riffy Rock And Roll Is Dead sees the band, in the shape of guitarist Tommy Dunbar, getting all angry and parodying the early BeatlesPeek-A-Boo, unfortunately, is just a tad silly, but I'll forgive them.

The old "side two" opens with the beautiful extended ballad, Memories, and their obvious nod to The Beach Boys, the identically-titled Wouldn't It Be Nice, which is a classic in itself. 
Nothing A Little Love Won't Cure and I Never Thought It Would Happen are both examples of melodic, singalong pop perfection. Make It Easy is a hooky, summery driving along with the radio on song. Apart from Peek-A-Boo, there aren't any poor tracks on this album. Stick this on on a hot summers afternoon. For me, its instantly 1978 again.

The Rubinoos - Back To The Drawing Board (1978)

This was the second and final album for the original line-up of Jon Rubin, Tommy Dunbar, Donn Spindt and Royse Ader, which was a shame. It never got so good again for the Californian power pop band.

The album is more of the same fare as the previous years’ debut - Beach Boys and 60s bubblegum pop influenced “power pop”. They had a fine ear for a tune and Rubin’s voice is crystal clear once again. 
                                 
Highlights are the lovely Lightning Love AffairOperatorPromise Me, the rocking pop of Arcade QueenJennifer and the (almost) hit single I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend (subject of a lawsuit with Avril Lavigne over its similarity to her song Girlfriend, which was settled out of court). 

Qualifying as weaker, "filler" tracks are Hold Me and 1-2-3 Forever while Falling In LoveRonnie and Jennifer are ok in that goofy, teenager in love sort of way. An inessential album, but always a pleasure to listen to it again. Very nostalgic for me. 

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - New Boots And Panties!! (1977)

The Dickensian Ian Dury cut an odd figure in the punk-new wave explosion. Firstly, he was already thirty-five and had been around the block, so to speak, secondly, his influences were far more soul, reggae, funk, traditional cockney music hall and even disco than rock or punk. Indeed, his attempts at breakneck punk haven't aged well and now sound somewhat clumsy and archaic. It is his funkier, witty numbers that still carry an appeal. Anyway, on to this cultish album - originally released in September 1977, Ian Dury's impressive debut that saw new wave meet music hall vaudeville has now been nicely remastered to celebrate its 40th Anniversary.
                            
I'll deal with the extra material first, if you will bear with me. As well as the original album sounding nice and clear, there are lots of demo versions, the sound quality of which is, on the whole, excellent. Some of the ones that didn't make it on to the album are better than others, however, notably Close To Home and the funky Sink My Boats. The spoken poem, Two Steep Hills is not something I really want to hear again, and the same applies to Apples (yes, it is about apples), the awful Tell The Children and the more than just a little creepy I Made Mary Cry

The demos of Wake Up and Blackmail Man have different lyrics - the former far more naughty. My Old Man is pretty much the same, but I much prefer the demo version of If I Was With A Woman and I'm Partial To Your Abracadra to the originals. Something crisper and sharper about the cymbals. Great guitar on If I Was With A Woman too. Clevor Trever and Blockheads are good versions too. The instrumental version of Sweet Gene Vincent is interesting, but I keep expecting to hear Dury start singing. Bonus tracks include the now iconic Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll, the amusing Razzle In My Pocket and the tender, but saucy You're More Than Fair. There is also a raucous, rough and ready live recording from Dury's days with Kilburn & The High Roads, in England's Glory, which is packed with many cultural references. I prefer the studio "demo version" of it though. I have to say the melody owes a lot to Ray CharlesOh Lonesome Me, however. 

The second disc has some excellent live material from a concert at London's Paris theatre in July 1978. I saw Dury on the same tour so his brings back great memories. Nice to finally have some live stuff from a time when Ian & The Blockheads were at their peak. I saw Dury three times at Friars, Aylesbury (posters below). For more information on Dury at FriarsAylesbury, check out https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk.

  

Oh, how I digress, I haven't talked about the original album yet! Of course, it is jam-packed with Dury classics - the amusing and tuneful Wake Up And Make Love With Me; the upbeat, joyous rock n roll thump of Sweet Gene Vincent; the funky, appealing I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra and Dury's tender song about his father, My Old Man.

Billericay Dickie is an affectionate piece of music hall-influenced nonsense. Clevor Trever is another semi-funky, organ-driven slow burner featuring Dury's best cockney vocals. 
If I Was With A Woman a sad yearning little ditty, with its "look at them laughing" pathos in its self-deprecating lyrics. Blockheads and Plaistow Patricia (with its shocking vocal intro) are two cacophonous belters with Dury ranting about blockheads and poor old slapper Patricia. Blackmail Man ends the album in even more frenetic, shrieking nature. This album is great fun, basically. Nothing more, nothing less. It stands as a complete one-off - not punk, not new wave, occupying a position all of its own. This version is a good one to own because of all the extra material.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Do It Yourself (1979)

After the unique punk meets music hall winning debut that was New Boots And Panties, this follow up saw Ian Dury and The Blockheads very much getting into a white disco-funk mode, eschewing practically all the punk stylings of the previous album. I guess if there ever was such a thing as pub rock disco, or new wave disco, this was it. Apparently Dury was a nightmare to work with during the sessions for this album, success having gone to his head, legend would have it. Maybe it was the case because there is something indiscernable about the album that leaves it lacking the charm, wit and vibrant joie de vivre that its predecessor had. It just doesn't really do it for me in the way that "Panties" did. That is not to say it a bad album, though, it certainly has a few moments. It is probably pertinent to say, however, that Dury didn't produce any other albums of real note after this (although his fans would no doubt disagree), commercially there certainly weren't.
                        
Inbetweenies has that quasi-disco-jazz funk piano coda that seemed to populate a lot of Dury's output at this time, married to Dury's music-hall, wry delivery. It was sort of the album version of the hit singles Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 (both of which are included on the deluxe edition of the album. It is a good track though, with excellent saxophone and bass too. Quiet continues down the same new wave-y disco groove road as well. A sort of prototype rap with Dury semi-speaking his diamond geezer lyrics about his small child, exhorting him to be quiet. The instrumentation, as always from The Blockheads, is excellent, a shuffling sort of funk with some madcap saxophone swirling around.

Don't Ask Me is another piece of urban white funk. It is perfectly listenable, but somehow, for me, the novelty of the first album doesn't quite repeat itself on this one, despite the quality backing. That is a little bit unfair, but much of the album ploughs the same furrow. 
Sink My Boats has vague punky hints in places, but there is still a solid funky guitar riff underpinning it and some disco synthesisers. Waiting For Your Taxi is a brooding, sonorous somewhat dirge-like grinder. This Is What We Find is a very Madness-esque number, even down Dury's Suggs-style vocal on the chorus. There is a good dubby bit in the middle too. By the way, the rear cover is also very Madness-inspired.

Uneasy Sunny Day Hotsy Totsy is just a bit of a mess, really, despite a bit of quirkiness. Mischief tries to recreate that Blockheads frantic atmosphere, but doesn't quite get there. The vocal is barely audible for a start, at times. 

Dance Of The Screamers has a perfect Chic-style disco rhythm with an intoxicating bass line. Lots of bands started putting this sort of thing out at the time, trying to get in on the disco thing without alienating their punk fanbase. The Jam's Precious is an example, and The Clash's Magnificent Seven. To be fair to Dury, he was doing this in 1979, not 1981. It is one of the best tracks on the album, I have to say. It does use quite a bit of the Rhythm Stick piano and bass though. 

Lullaby For Franci/es starts with a ridiculously loud and incongruous brass intro before easing into a new wave white reggae beat. It is actually not a bad one to end on, slightly different to most of the others. What A Waste was a great single and is included in the deluxe edition. Although this album is reasonable, none of it matches the three hit singles. There is nothing that sticks in your mind in the way that they do. I rarely return to this album, maybe I should do more, in fact I will resolve to do so. It probably deserves it.

Dexy's Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners first incarnation were an odd creation - a nine strong band dressed like travelling construction workers, in donkey jackets and wooly hats, carrying Adidas sports bags for some never-known reason. They emerged at the turn of the decade between the seventies and the eighties and combined punk’s vigour, vitality and youthful anger with a love for Motown, Atlantic, Stax and Northern Soul. Their sound was big, punchy and horn-driven. The band were often lumped in with the “ska”-two tone” revival but they were not really part of that. They were unique, to be honest. They were a brass-based soul-rock band.
                       
The album opens with some background snatches of crackly radio, playing Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water then The Sex Pistols’ Holidays In The Sun, then the horns kick in, massively and we are into Burn It Down (originally titled Dance Stance). It is catchy and pumping with effervescence. The West Midlands-Irish Rowland namechecks various Irish authors at several parts in the song. The horns are simply superb throughout. 

The vibrant vibe continues with the Northern Soul-ish Tell Me When My Light Turns Green. The horns on this one have a slight feel of The Specials, hence the link to the ska thing, I guess. Rowland’s voice was always strange - wobbly, vibrating, often incomprehensible. A sort of soulful Joe Strummer. The horn-drum passage near the end is exhilarating. For some reason, the band were often derided as pretentious and “up themselves”. Maybe this was due to Rowland’s often Van Morrison-esque irascibility and the group’s seemingly contrived image. This was a shame because this is pure, potent and powerful music. The Style Council suffered in the same way. The Teams That Meet In Caffs was a pounding organ and brass instrumental. It also sounds like a Northern Soul classic. I'm Just Looking is a slow paced ballad that tends to highlight the inherent weaknesses in Rowland’s voice that often get hidden on the livelier, more bombastic tracks. The brass is still outstanding on this track, however. 

The big, monster hit, Genois up next. Now an iconic track, it was a tribute to the not-too-well-known sixties soul singer Geno Washington. As most people know, it had an absolutely killer brass riff. Seven Days Too Long is an energetic cover of Chuck Woods Northern Soul classic. Although it is a credible, brassy version, I prefer the original. Again, Rowland’s voice has limitations on this song. However, anything that brought Northern Soul to the attention to the mainstream was fine by me. I Couldn't Help It If I Tried has Rowland sounding almost like Steve Harley at times in this once more slow paced ballad.  Again, the instrumentation outshines the vocal. Rowland also attempts to go all Van Morrison in his r’n’b repetition vocal half way through. Van did it much better, I’m afraid, Kevin. 

Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn't Apply is an almost sixties-sounding mod thrash with a positively awful vocal from Rowland. It is more of a high-pitched squeal at times. Not dissimilar to Russell Mael of Sparks at his worst. Keep It is another track the sees the tempo fall, to its detriment. Dexy’s really were at their best when they were firing on all cylinders and upbeat. This track does have a great horn ending, however. Love Part One is one minute of pretentious spoken guff over a plaintive saxophone. A waste of a minute, to be honest.

The quality returns, thankfully, for the final track - a slice of classic Dexy’s, There There My Dearwith a massive bass line, energetic brass riffs and Rowland doing his best Chairmen Of The Board “brrrr” vocal. Half of this album was a wonderful, knockout breath of fresh air, the remainder not quite cutting the mustard, but, overall, listening to it every now and again is an enjoyable experience. The sound quality is excellent throughout on the latest remaster.


Dexy's Midnight Runners - Too-Rye-Ay (1982)

After the surprise success of their debut album in 1980, which hung on to the coat-tails of the Two Tone movement, the unpredictable Kevin Rowland sacked all but one of his previous band, added some new musicians to his entourage, dressed them up like Irish travellers and merged the group's previous Northern Soul-influenced brassy stomp with Celtic influences. Violinist Helen O'Hara provides the album's dominant sound, along with the new Dexy's horn section. It was slightly more successful than its predecessor, but I have never been convinced by much of the material. Despite its good intentions, it doesn't quite get there for me. Although I own both the albums and the group's music is nostalgic for me for those years of 1980-82, I was never fully a paid-up Dexy's aficionado, so bear that in mind when reading this.
                      
The Celtic Soul Brothers opens the album with  a suitably fiddle-driven piece of stomping soul. The  title, of course, owes a debt to Van Morrison's 1974 era music. The Morrison influences are all over this one. Let's Make This Precious is a punchy, horn-driven very Northern Soul track, although Rowlands' reedy, strangely weak voice doesn't really do the song justice. All In All (This One Last Wild Waltz) is an almost 1930s-style Germanic bar-room slow swirl with Rowlands sounding like a cross between Steve Harley and Leo Sayer.

The clear Van Morrison influence was cemented by a credible, enjoyable cover of Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)
Old is a mournful, sombre ballad, lifted by its excellent brass backing, and Plan B continues in the same vein until about a minute and a half when the horns kick it into orbit and the last three minutes are a glorious throwback to the energy and sheer joie de vivre of the first album. It merges straight into the similarly upbeat I'll Show You. Rowland sounds like Billy Bragg in the final spoken fade-out. Liars A To E is vaguely Beatles-esque and is also quite soulful in places. These last three tracks have probably formed the best passage of the album. 

Until I Believe My Soul is a horn-powered ballad with a lot of potential that is somehow let down by Rowlands' voice. Fair play to him for inserting a completely incongruous jazz passage right in the middle of the song though, he always was inventive, if nothing else. Poor old Kevin just can't do the Morrison-style scat vocal improvisations, as far as I'm concerned and it all ends up as a bit of a mess, which is a bit of a shame as the song had something, somewhere. For some, though, it is the best track on the album, so what do I know.

Then there is Come On Eileen. Yes, everyone knows it as a drunken end of student disco song, wedding song, stag night song, hen night song, whatever. So what, it will last forever. It is the odd, temperamental, quirky Kevin Rowlands' finest few minutes. "You in that dress, my thoughts I confess, verge on dirty....". Priceless.

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett (1977)/Deep & Meaningless (1978)    

Firstly, I have to declare in interest here, as I spent my teenage years in Aylesbury, home of John Otway. From 1973 through to the early 1980s I saw him live many, 
many times. Otway is known for his madcap live shows and has always had a small but dedicated cult following who lap up his somewhat contrived lunacy with endless appetite and enthusiasm. Fair enough. However, I have to say (maybe controversially) that the expected wackiness of it all used to irritate me, considerably.

"You miserable old whatever..." I hear you say - "he was great, really funny". Yes, maybe, if that is your taste. For me, though, I always felt the staged idiocy overshadowed the fact that Otway was/is a great songwriter and people really didn't give his songs the credit they deserved.

Listen to my own personal favourite, Josephine. It is a beautiful, narrative song. So is Geneve (although I prefer the "full band" version to be found on the Otway anthology). 

The folk rock and slightly early Rod Stewart-influenced Gypsy and Trying Times; the catchy Place Farm Way; the romantic To Anne; the sad I Wouldn't Wish It On You and the tuneful and slightly humorous I Can't Complain are all just great songs. They shouldn't be overlooked.

That said, it is probably equally important that I shouldn't overlook the fun stuff - the catchy, but bizarre 
Louisa On A Horse, or "Ohwwn An 'Awwss" as he sings, with its Buckinghamshire location name checks; the loopy Beware Of The Flowers; the ludicrous Oh My Body Is Making Me and the semi-"hit" Really Free

Racing Cars is also similarly nutty and Misty Mountain and Murder Man are examples of folky tracks gone slightly wrong somewhere.

  

Also, check out the "Otway with strings" orchestrated version of Geneve. It shows his music/songwriting off to a high degree. This is what he deserved. 

I guess you had to be there to truly appreciate this, or else have seen him live, but if you want to give a try to a genuinely quirky UK oddity, then you will get something out of this two-album compilation, I am sure. Otway was loved back in 1978 - the punks liked him but so did the proggies. Why, I even spotted some soul boys at his gigs.

The picture is from John Otways' famous free concert in Aylesbury's Market Square on 13th August 1978. I was there. More details can be found on the excellent Friars Aylesbury website -


Secret Affair - Glory Boys (1979)

Rather like The Tom Robinson BandThe Rubinoos and reggae’s Steel PulseSecret Affair were a late 70s band who had a great debut album and then pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth, certainly in terms of commercial success. This is a good album from a band supposedly at the forefront of the somewhat tepid “mod revival” of 1979. Standard bass, guitar and drum sixties-influenced stuff is augmented by singer Ian Page’s trumpet, particularly on the album’s closing tour de force, I’m Not Free, But I’m Cheap and the use of the riff from The Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’ in Shake And Shout.

Glory Boys is impressive as well, and there are the two hit singles Let Your Heart Dance and the rousing call-to-arms of Time For Action - with its “we hate the punk elite” line. Punks - elite? Hmmm. 
Days Of Change also taps into the slightly half-baked “mod revival” mood. One Way World is catchy as well. They also do a credible cover of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Going To A Go-GoI saw the band live in 1979 at Canterbury Odeon and they were really good. After this, they faded away, despite a couple more excellent singles on their next album in My World and Sound Of Confusion. Shame, as they seemed to have something about them.

The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers (1976)

This is a most intriguing "new wave" album. Released in 1976, produced by the Velvet Underground's John Cale, and featuring the enigmatic singer Jonathan Richman as well as future Talking Head keyboardist Jerry Harrison it contained music recorded in 1971 and 1972. It became one of the first "proto-punk" records, along with Television's Marquee Moon. Give me this any day though. What an incredible creation it is - new wave five years before it even existed. Despite that, apart from Roadrunner, it still slipped under many people's radar at the time. Its critical kudos was garnered over subsequent years.


Yes, it contains huge Velvet Underground influences, but geeky, fey singer Richman was certainly no drug-addled Lou Reed, bringing a teenage angstiness and naivĂȘte to the music. the Modern Lovers' garage band-style rough enthusiasm lends the album a freshness and vigour too. Were there geeky anti-heroes in rock music in 1972? No sir. Jonathan Richman made the mould, paving the way for the Costellos, Byrnes, Ramones, Parkers, Jacksons, Shelleys, Devotos and Durys. Richman had that David Byrne college boy look five years before Talking Heads' first album.


The iconic, pounding, minamalist yet intrinsically poppy and singalong Roadrunner appears here in its original organ-driven magnificence (there are several versions of the song, all of which are great, but this one has a loose, rawness that is most appealing). Get hold of Roadrunner (Twice) if you can too, as that is equally wonderful. Did anyone really record stuff like this in 1972? Sure, these guys did.


Astral Plane is a superb track, full of Doors, Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop before Iggy Pop vibes. It cooks along in beautifully deep bass drums and organ style and I love it, just as I do the extremely Velvet Underground punchy rock of Old World. Richman's vocals and lyrics are very Lou Reed as is the underlying chugging riff. It does sound somewhat like Roadrunner in places, but no matter. 


David Bowie covered the once more very Velvety chug of Pablo Picasso on his 2003 album, Reality. Listen to that mid-song guitar - straight from late sixties VU. "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole..." states Richman, defiantly, to all those who may want to call him one. The proto-Joy Division-ish She Cracked is probably the closest Richman got to Reed's urban disaffection as he rants over a frantically raw, edgy riff. The sombre Hospital is a sort of Sister Morphine meets Heroin bleak number too. Once more, the vocal is totally Reed-inspired.


Someone I Care About is a magnificently pumping, organ-powered piece of psychedelic sixties rock all grown-up. Does it not qualify as being one of the first punk (US style) records? I can't get enough of its deep, grinding sound. I think one of the regular contributors to my site will love it, without even asking him. Girl Friend has Richman going all teenage boy romantic in what would become true late seventies anti-hero, paranoid, self-conscious fashion. This lovely little song was way, way, way, way ahead of its time. Love it. The original album's other nugget is the Roadrunner mark two glory that is Modern World - those riffs, the Roxy Music-ish keyboard madness, Richman's drawly, bored-sounding vocal, all combine together to give the modern world a true modern wave classic. I'm in love with the modern world indeed. 


** Some great non-album tracks are the upbeat, paranoid rock of Dignified And Old ("some day we'll be dignified and old" - Hey Jonathan - I'm already there) - and the critically-lauded I'm Straight where Richman tells us he is no drugged-up hippy, he is just ordinary. He made it all possible for ordinary callow youths such as myself have a great time in 1977-78. Government Center is a Ramones-ish handclappy piece of 1973 (yes, 1973) punk, as is the also very proto-Ramones I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms.


Tom Robinson Band - Power In The Darkness (1978)

One truly fantastic album and one so-so one and that was it for this much-loved and delightfully militant band. They are one of my favourites from the punk era, up there with the very best. We're up against the wall. What a debut album this was. It had taken the Tom Robinson Band seemingly ages of "cult band" existence before it finally hit the streets in the hot May of 1978. It is up there with The Clash, Inflammable Material, RamonesRattus Norvegicus, Talking Heads 77 and New Boots And Panties as one of the best debut album entries into the music world of the late seventies. It burned with as much anti-establishment fire as any of the punk offerings, in fact, probably more so. I would say it was the most politically potent of all of them. It was such a shame that TRB's fire extinguished so soon after it had taken light.

The album kicks off, literally, with the acerbic, punky, gloriously riffy Up Against The Wall, which is still one of my favourite "punk" singles". It bristles with teenage venom and ire. Every last second of it is absolutely glorious. I never tire of it, even after all those years, playing my imaginary drums lustily after that great opening riff.

Then we get the quirky, tongue-in-cheek piano-driven jaunty rock of Grey Cortina, with its name check for Bruce Springsteen (who not everybody had heard of at the time, believe it or not), followed by the laid-back but cynical, slightly bluesy Too Good To Be True. Old Tom (or young Tom as he was) had his finger on the pulse of contemporary UK politics, for sure. There was always something comfortably atmospheric about the melody of this song, if the doesn't sound too oxymoronic. Maybe only I know what I mean. It just brings to mind nights coming home from the pub in 1978, for some reason. It had a tune that I was always singing to myself. I think they now call it an "earworm". 
Ain't Gonna Take It was a loud, chanty rant against the machine and Long Hot Summer was a fuzzy, atmospheric diatribe against racism with some excellent guitar from the enigmatic and now, unfortunately, late Danny Kustow and swirling organ from Mark Ambler.

The rocking, anthemic Winter Of 79 precedes the post apocalyptic, unnerving run of tracks that begins with the disconcerting, frantic future shock of The Man You Never Saw, the confrontational, anti-racist You Better Decide Which Side You're On and the disturbing post-nuclear bluesy rock grind of You Gotta Survive. Even now, every time I hear this song it gives me the shivers, so I will include all the lyrics below-


"Three boys working on a slave gang
Chained in the cottage at night
Killed the overseer, broke down the door
Now they gonna shoot us on sight
Night time sticking to the 'B' roads
Hiding from the men with the guns
Hitting the ditches
Everytime somebody comes
Every single house has been looted
Every single city's been burned
Every can of food has been opened
Every single stone has been turned
Found this Parka on a deadman
Jamie got a couple of knives
Countryside crawling with maniacs
You gotta survive
Carrion crows on the motorway
Old woman dying of the plague
She cried 'put me out of my misery'
Charlie had to give her his blade
Streets full of slavers on the rampage
Wild boys running by the score
Weeks without eating
Can't carry on anymore"

See what I mean? Genuinely unnerving stuff. Great songwriting, though, something Robinson was never really given due credit for. 

The original album ends with the totemic Power In The Darkness, complete with its magnificent spoken word bit in the middle, parodying a bigoted Tory MP. Marvellous stuff, especially if you're eighteen, as I was at the time. Angry young men couldn't have asked for more. They still shouldn't either, it is just as relevant today. 

** Also needing mentioning was the chart single, the fist-pumping, rabble-rousing 2-4-6-8 Motorway and the excellent b side, a cover of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released. Both of which are included on this re-issue. 
Also included is the Rising Free EP and the tracks Don't Take No For An AnswerGlad To Be GayMartin and Right On Sister. You know, while The Clash, The Jam and The Ramones were my favourites, I always retain one hell of an affection for TRB. In them lay the beating heart of 1978. God bless 'em. Incidentally, the black and gold design of this blog was directly inspired by the graphics used by TRB on this album. Thanks for that.

Tom Robinson Band - TRB Two (1979)

After a superb debut album, this was an eagerly awaited follow up offfering that never really caught on. Keyboardist Mark Ambler and drummer Dolphin Taylor had left. New "members" of the band had arrived (in reality session musicians) and TRB seemed to be heading straight down the spout as soon as they had spewed out of it....

....This was a shame as there is some good stuff on here - the poppy All Right All Night, (should have been a single) Why Should I Mind, the atmospheric London pub rock of Black Angel, the Latin American political vibe of Let My People Be and the catchy Crossing Over The Road are all excellent. 

Let My People Be does, I have to say, have a bit of a feel of "what cause can I get behind now" about it. The album did feel as though Robinson had expressed most of his political frustration on the debut album and was searching around here for something to get angry about.
                                   
Possibly the standout tracks are the hard-hitting, atmospheric protest song concerning the death in Police custody of Liddle TowersBlue Murder and the chunky Peter Gabriel co-written Bully For You. It was mainly written, however, by Robinson aiming barbs at recently-departed drummer Dolphin Taylor in a sort of Lennon at McCartney way. There was probably no need for it, but it is a strong song all the same. Blue Murder finds Robinson on more comfortable ground, railing against a tragic injustice.
The quality fades off at the end, though, both Sorry Mr. Harris and Law And Order are pretty execrable, it has to be said. I hate saying that, actually, but you could literally hear Tom's mojo evaporating on these two tracks. 

Days Of Rage and Hold Out improve the quality a little, but only a little, for they are not up to much either. Basically, this was a really good seven track album. Add the four tracks from the Rising Free TRB EP and you would have another corker. The beauty of modern technology is that you can do that if you so wish - make your own TRB Two.

Despite all that, and the fact that it was one of the punk/new wave era's biggest disappointments, I still have a great deal of nostalgic affection for this album. I really liked those first seven tracks. 
All in all, though, it was a real shame that these two albums were the only ones TRB released. They were great while they lasted. It all just fizzled out so soon, way before it should have done. Quite why will never really be known. It was a fire that extinguished far too early after it had burned so brightly. But what a great twenty-odd songs Tom and his mates gave us. Cheers. Yellow and black stencilled heaven. The one time I saw them live - October 1978 at Friars, Aylesbury remains one of my favourite gigs, to this day. 

 

For more information on Tom Robinson at Friars, Aylesbury, check out https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk

Doll By Doll - Remember (1979)

This album, and indeed the group, are virtually impossible to categorise. Released in early 1979, as punk was still around and post-punk was all over the place. This sounds by its name cover and general image as if it were a post-punk record, but it was not. It was not really like Public Image Ltd, Magazine, Joy Division or Echo & The Bunnymen. In fact, I can honestly say I don't what they were, or what the album is/was.

Doll By Doll were a band formed in London in 1977, but fronted by charismatic and highly perceptive, intelligent Dundonian front man Jackie Leven. They had the inscrutable, enigmatic lyrics of the post-punkers, and the somewhat dull image. The music, however, was another story. It was crammed full of effervescent guitars. Guitar riffs, guitar solos, pulsating, muscular drums all topped off by Leven's dominant, commanding and often extremely moving voice.


Butcher Boy is an odd track - anthemic in parts, with some captivating vocal parts and stirring guitar. It careers around all over the place, rendering it, as I said earlier, impossible to pigeonhole. Chances highlights Leven's rock'n'roll-styled voice, some deep tuneful bits and some falsetto, some female backing vocals and an infectious drum, bass and guitar backing. Part post-punk, part early Roxy Music, part punk, part heavy rock, part rock'n'roll. In many ways the band are rather like early Roxy Music, you just did not know what to make of them. Within the same track there was over-the-top rock'n'roll romanticism and post-punk dour introspection. Quite bizarre. Then a huge heavy rock guitar passage breaks out in a huge cacophony. They certainly were inventive.

Sleeping Partners is an excellent, upbeat rocking, new wave-style number with echoes of Elvis Costello in it and some noir lyrics. There are touches of Joe Jackson cropping up too in the song's adventurous seven minutes. Then at the end, the guitar is so Siouxsie & The Banshees. The vocal goes all Public Image Ltd. These songs really do merit repeated listens. So much is happening. 
More Than Human starts with a Talking Heads Psycho Killer sort of feel to it in its rumbling, menacing intro. When Leven and the rest of the band kick in there is real rock majesty to it and some quirky David Byrne-influenced vocal delivery.

Lose Myself is a more conventional late-seventies-style rocker. Nice solid bass on it and a bit of post punk bass-drum interplay. Janice is a beautiful song with a vibrato-style, moving vocal from Leven. It is almost an absolute classic. Yes, it doesn't quite get there, none of the album does, but it doesn't die wondering. There are moments in this song when you just think "wow" and are really moved. It is a rarely-mentioned gem and certainly worth checking out. It has airs of some of Billy Bragg's later songs in it. I am sure he knows this album. You can just hear it. Lyrically, there is a lot of The Beautiful South in there too. The Palace Of Love is a seven minute Siouxsie-influenced concoction that begins with a mysterious, industrial bass and choppy guitar intro and some heavy rock hooks and vocals. Again, it is just completely impossible to categorise. Another one deserving several listens. This really is a raw, uncut challenging album that is worthy of some of anyone's attention. Such a shame nobody really remembers Doll By Doll these days. They deserved better.

Doll By Doll - Gypsy Blood (1979)

After their unclassifiable, quirky debut album earlier in 1979, the remarkable band that was Doll By Doll returned only a few months later with this once again excellent album. Whereas Remember was a wild, completely adventurous album with extended, genre-jumping songs, this one was slightly more polished with shorter, more defined songs.

Teenage Lightning is a lively, solid rocker with a great drum sound, and Gypsy Blood continues in the same vein, with Jackie Leven's oblique lyrics to the fore. Stripshow is simply a masterpiece - gloriously atmospheric, with Leven's voice both falsetto and then resonantly deep within the same verses. He really was a most underrated frontman and lyricist. It is a song, like many of the first album, that defies analysis. I honestly cannot categorise it. I just know it has one hell of a vibe to it.

Human Face is another muscular mid-tempo but powerful number and Hey Sweetheart once again has Leven on peerless vocal form. There really wasn't anything else like this around in 1979. It is too joyous to be post-punk, yet too intense to be catchy new wave, too serious to be rock yet in possession of a rock'n'roll ear for a melody.

Binary Fiction begins with a funky guitar and has a Talking Heads 77 feel about it. Hell Games is another beguiling song, with the usual perplexing lyrics, a post-punky drum rhythm yet vocals that go all over the place. This is certainly no dour, doom-laden song. 
Forbidden Worlds is light and uplifting in many ways. Full of sixties psychedlia-influences, maybe Love, or something like that, but in a late seventies setting, with a late seventies brashness of sound. Check out the bluesy vibe of Highland Rain, again, impossible to give a name to. Its guitar solo near the end is quality. Like a madcap prog-rock.

This really is a superb, unknown album. I can't recommend it enough. I believe the band, at the time, had a confrontational attitude with the music media and sometimes even with their own audience, and they just sort of imploded, which was a shame, because they really had something. Jackie Leven, however, went on to produce several similarly challenging solo albums.


 

Tom Tom Club - Tom Tom Club (1981)

Recorded in Barbados, Talking Heads husband and wife rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth took time out from their arty, intellectual main band, roped in Tina's sisters and guitarist Adrian Belew and produced a quirky, good-time rap and dance album. It is far more than a throwaway album, however, marking the point where New York arty new wave fused with the relatively new hip/hop street sounds. Blondie had dabbled similarly in 1979-80, but this went the whole hog. Tape loops, repetitive bass lines, intoxicating percussion all combined perfectly and were much sampled by subsequent eighties artists. This was "art-dance" at its most prototype.
  
Wordy Rappinghood utilised that Blondie-style white rapping style, with deadpan female vocals, even going into French, which no doubt appealed to Parisian clubbers. Genius Of Love has even more cold, lifeless detached vocals, but they were very much de rigeur, and therein lies its appeal. The bass line just thumps deliciously along. "We went insane when we took cocaine..." the girls intone, along with name checking Hamilton BohannonKurtis Blow and James Brown. It morphs into the short, instrumental Tom Tom Theme seamlessly, without one really noticing the divide. L'Elephant is an African-influenced rhythmic stomper, with Manu Dibango and Fela Kuti influences meeting Talking Heads ones. Adrian Belew's Remain In Light-style guitar buzzing all over the intxicating beat. More French vocals add to its "world music" appeal. As Above So Below just gets into a groove and stays there, with a dully chanted refrain and addictive rhythm. The siren-like female vocals return to entice us on the seductive LoreleiOn On On On... is a sort of spacey call-to-arms to I'm not quite sure what. Its beat surely influenced The Human League's output over the subsequent years. Its remixed version on the "deluxe edition" is deliciously upbeat and riffy. Booming And Zooming doesn't buck the general ambience very much. The feel of the album was laid out firmly from the first notes. 

** The non-album single, a cover of The DriftersUnder The Boardwalk has a strange, deadpan appeal.

While after listening to the album's original eight tracks I have probably sated my appetite somewhat for this detached, cool dance fare, I cannot deny the cultural importance of this piece of work. It laid the foundations for so much eighties dance-club oriented material.

Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Tropical Gangsters (1982)
          
After a couple of lesser-known “cult” albums, this was the big commercial breakthrough for Kid Creole (August Darnell) & The Coconuts. To be honest, it was probably their only memorable album. Released in 1982, it attracted the New Romantic crowd, also those who wanted a bit of Latin dance rhythms, and the new wavers didn’t dismiss it either. Darnell was apparently not too happy with the eventual commercial sound, which was a hybrid of addictive, percussion and keyboard-based Latin rhythms, some disco funk bass and brass sections and an ear for a catchy tune. Darnell’s voice was melodious and understated and The Coconuts’ backing vocals were present on most tracks, Latin-style. The rhythms were based around Salsa, merengue and bits of calypso thrown in. Darnell’s lyrics were often subtly witty too.
                                
The album’s cornerstones are its three big hit singles - the vibrant, amusing and totally infectious Annie I'm Not Your Daddy, appearing here in its extended form, with an extra verse; the funky, brass and guitar groove of Stool Pigeon, with its Average White Band sound, and the effervescent braggadocio of I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby, with its quiet semi-spoken verses and its tongue-in-cheek chorus. Again, it is included here in its superior extended form, featuring Darnell’s “alphabet” rap at the end. The trombone bits on Annie are joyous, as is the shuffling, Latin percussion-backed chorus.

The other tracks all pretty much follow the same instrumental formula - 
Imitation is another Latin disco groove, with a pounding rhythm and yet more excellent brass parts, as is I'm Corrupt, which has a captivating rhythmic percussive intro and some great backing vocals, plus some strange dog barking sound effects and “I’m a dirty dog” vocals. The grooves are always insistent throughout the album, often featuring that steel band style keyboard sound and “woop woop” backing vocals. Guitars are often funky, wah-wah in style, a bit like those used a lot by Shalamar at the time as well. Even a slower, romantic track like Loving You has a more soulful vocal but still utilises the same style of backing. The Love We Have is delightfully cool, dreamy and summery with an excellent lengthy instrumental intro. The closer, No Fish Today is quite calypso-influenced and has some lovely piano and a funky bass intro.

In the summer of 1982, every girl you met seemed to have this album on cassette in her flat or in her car, along with ABC and Level 42’s first album. It did really well in the early twenty-something female market. It seemed to fit the carefree, lively years of the early 1980s. I saw the group live twice in this period and they put on a great show. Unfortunately, it never got much better than this for them.

Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)

They were a difficult group to categorise, Eurythmics. Not really New Romantic, not New Wave. They were sort of electro-pop, influenced by Kraftwerk but with a distinct, acute pop sensibility and an instinct for a hook-laden hit song. After a rather low-key debut album in 1981, this album, from 1983, really broke it big for Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox. Listening to the album again, I had forgotten just how electronic it was, how un-"rock" it was. Electronic riffs totally dominate the sound from beginning to end.
               
The haunting, insistent, Euro-rock-ish opener, Love is A Stranger seemed to fit the whole New Romantic meets electronica vibe in that Ultravox sort of way. "..and I want you so it's an obsession..." was an absolute killer of a hook. It was a great song. I've Got An Angel was a rumbling, thumping very Ultravox-esque number, while Wrap It Up was a poppy, somewhat rap-influenced groove, full of synthesised drums and keyboard loops. There was quite a distinct dance music, clubby ambience to a lot of their material. All the sorts of things that got payed in discos across Europe. 

I Could Give You (A Mirror) is a very Human League influenced number. The Walk is a smoothly romantic song with more Human League tinges. Then there is the now iconic Sweet Dreams, which has just such an instantly catchy refrain. Jennifer is a number that has undertones of Yazoo in its synthesiser riff. It features a haunting Lennox vocal too, and a David Bowie "Heroes"-style keyboard/guitar riff at the end. This Is The House has very Talking Heads-inspired rhythm and lyrics. It strikes me, listening to this, just how jackdaw-like and derivative Dave Stewart was in his multifarious music influences. You can throw early Roxy Music in there too. Indeed, Somebody Told Me, while having a sombre, morose synthesiser sound, had a bit of a Kid Creole thing going on in the vocals and lyrics. This City Never Sleeps is an extended, atmospheric number with another great Annie Lennox vocal  with a kind of Grace Jones feel to it. Lennox's voice was obviously strong enough to give the group their own identity, but there sure are plenty of disparate influences at work on this album.

Eurythmics - Revenge (1986)

Leaving behind quite a bit of their electronic and synth-pop sounds, 
Eurythmics produced their most "rock" album thus far. It is packed full of pounding "proper" drums, multiple guitars and some killer rock hooks/riffs and Annie Lennox's voice in full strident mode throughout. Eurythmics could do no wrong, commercially, in 1986. 
It is a procession of one great track after another, from the bluesy, harmonica tones of the muscular opener, Missionary Man, you realise this is a slightly different Eurythmics sound. Personally, It is my favourite album of theirs. Thorn In My Side is a marvellous, catchy hit single with an irresistible vocal refrain and some great saxophone. When Tomorrow Comes is a superb, riffy guitar-driven rocker while The Last Time is also incredibly "hooky" and easy to singalong to. 

The Miracle Of Love slows things down somewhat, but it is evocative and haunting with a smoky-voiced vocal from Annie Lennox. It is another superb track from a band at the height of the creative powers (and popularity). The Yazoo-like Let's Go sees a return to electronic riffage, but is is another copper-bottomed, instantly appealing number, with some infectious saxophone and bass rhythms. Again, Lennox's voice is towering. Despite the nods to electronica, there are many rock cadences in this track, particularly in the chorus and the blues harp in the background. 

Take Your Pain Away is another likeable, upbeat number, while A Little Of You wasn't a single but as soon as you hear it, it sounds like a huge singalong hit. In This Town continues the quality, with a synthy rocker that still packs a full rock punch. I Remember You is a slow-tempo, atmospheric slow burner to finish this excellent album that contains not a duff track on it. Best album they did.

The Fine Young Cannibals - The Raw And The Cooked (1988)

Fine Young Cannibals only released two albums, this was their second, and most successful. The group comprised of singer Roland Gift and two ex-members of The BeatAndy Cox on guitar and David Steele on bass and drum machine programming. The latter's credits would suggest that this album was largely a studio creation and that was true. All sorts of programmed effects are used, along with several guest musicians, like Jools Holland, soul veteran Jimmy Helms and Ocean Colour Scene's Simon Fowler. The album also dabbles in several musical styles. The first five tracks are the "raw" tracks - more funky, riffy and edgy, whereas the last five are the "cooked" - more slick, polished soulful numbers. The album always suffered from a poor sound, but a recent remaster has rectified that slightly, although not completely. It certainly sounds much better than the original CD release, however.
                    
She Drives Me Crazy starts with that huge chunky riff, thumping beat and Roland Gift's high-pitched voice leading it in to an addictive, singalong chorus. It was, unsurprisingly, a big hit single. Good Thing is clearly modelled on Northern Soul stompers like Tainted Love, with its metronomic drum beat and "hey hey hey" backing vocals. I'm Not The Man I Used To Be to be samples the drum loop from James Brown's Funky Drummer. It gives the track a shuffling, dance-y groove behind Gift's enticing but mournful vocals.

I'm Not Satisfied has an addictive, dance groove with a big, fat bass sound and another hooky, easy to catch on to, vocal. This is impressive contemporary dance pop for its era. 
Tell Me What merges fifties doo-wop with a light vaguely reggae-influenced skanking, lilting rhythm. Don't Look Back is an upbeat, energetic and very catchy number full of jangly new-wave style style guitars. It's OK, It's Alright is a harmless enough dance chugger. 

Don't Let It Get You Down has Gift doing his best Prince on some even higher-pitched vocals over a pounding clubby beat. This was actually quite ground-breaking stuff for 1988 and it manages to fit in some excellent bits of trumpet and saxophone too, alongside some freaky-sounding keyboards. As Hard As It Is has always been one of my favourites - a sad, heartbreaker with a moving vocal and lovely light guitar riff and sumptuous tenor saxophone solo. Ever Fallen In Love was a cover of The Buzzcocks' new wave single. It doesn't match up to the original but it has a thumping beat and a certain amount of appeal, in the way it is slowed down. Gift's voice is an improvement on Pete Shelley's too.

** The bonus track You Never Know is excellent - a slow, melodic groove. A bit reminiscent of The Christians from the same period. It should have been on the album, there was easily room. 
The other bonus, Social Security, is a fifties-influenced odd number - a love song to signing on. Strange as none of the group probably were signing on. The extended dance grooves included as well are all enjoyable and very late eighties. This was a vibrant and vivacious album. One of the best of its year. It was a pity that the group didn't do anything else after this.

Sade - Diamond Life (1984)

In 1984, everyone wanted to be seen as cool, cultured and rounded in their musical taste and fashion. The anger and hopelessness of the punk years had completely diluted and the "look at me" posturing of the New Romantic movement had pointed the way for a bright, forward-looking, aspirational future and as Bowie once said, a decade earlier, "everything tastes nice". Y
oung people no longer wanted to punch the air, moving and griping about unemployment, no future or corrupt politicians, drinking pints of beer in grubby old pubs. They were dressed up to the nines, in vibrant pastel shades, sipping cocktails or glasses of chilled Chardonnay in wine bars. The very term "wine bar" is somehow synonymous with this album by Sade. It provided the ideal background sound for those relaxed, non-threatening, polished and stylish hang-outs. The people wanted to think they were listening to "cool and jazzy" music and pat themselves on the back for being so cultured. The music was given names like "sophisti-pop" and described as "cocktail lounge elegance". Even the cover's monochrome, tasteful shades totally matched the intended image.

The summer of 1984 was all about earning lots of money and spending it, vacuously showing off and sticking this tape in your car player. The quiet, unassuming Sade was a unlikely symbol of a generation, but if any album epitomises the 1984-86 period, it is this one. As if punk never happened. 
All that said, this is still an excellent album. It is immaculately played by Sade Adu's backing band - stunning bass lines, smooth drums, subtle guitar and a crystal clear percussion with a sharpness that matched Adu's icy, detached and aloof vocal delivery. She had a bit of that Grace Jones deadpan vibe to her persona and vocals. That sort of "you can admire me but you an never have me" attitude. 

The four huge hits singles are all, without exception, excellent - the soulfully seductive Your Love Is King, the iconic and jazzy Smooth Operator with its captivating saxophone, When Am I Going To Make A Living and the laid-back groove of Hang On To Your Love. The songs are perfectly created and executed. It is magnificent late night music and yes, it is very sexy. Put on some Benetton gear, make sure your (female) companion has seriously "big hair". Sade also does a convincing cover of Timmy Thomas's stark 1973 soul hit Why Can't We Live Together

Frankie's First Affair is a seductively good one too, as is the seriously funky Cherry PieSade's vocals on this album are crystal clear, cool and soulful. Make no mistake, this album still stands up to scrutiny today, and I have to say that the sound quality is also stunningly good. Now - a bottle of dry house white, please.....

No comments:

Post a Comment