29 January 2004

Returning to Marcello's analysis of the state of pop in 1985, this has opened a can of worms in my psyche that needs to be exorcised.

Judging by the sort of records I bought during that year, it's obvious that my tastes were going through some sort of transitional stage. This was the year I sat my 'O' levels. I was still developing as a human being. Like many music enthusiasts, I place an unusually high importance on the sort of records I listen to. They help me to define who I am. Back then I had yet to erect that mental wall of disdain for the mainstream that is the curse of the connoisseur, the purist, the idealist. That wall is the reason why I'm ignorant of a huge chunk of '90s chart pop. I'm still in the process of smashing that wall back down again. There will always be good pop and bad pop, but I just wanna listen to everything with open ears again and judge on individual merit rather than any preconceived notion of what is acceptable.

Back in '85, I was still buying Smash Hits-endorsed chart fodder whilst developing my elitist tendencies. I definitely bought "Easy Lover" by Bailey and Collins, probably because I thought it was a nice tune (such a strange concept!). This was the year that I borrowed (and taped) a copy of Sting's "Dream Of The Blue Turtles" yet also borrowed (and again taped) Einsturzende Neubauten's "Halber Mensch". I still have the Neubauten tape but not, unsurprisingly, the Sting one. I was still wide-open and ready to absorb whatever was thrown in my general direction.
Marcello was pretty much spot-on with his opinions of Hall & Oates' "Big Bam Boom" album, although "Adult Education" wasn't actually on it (unless it was included on the CD version?). I too was bemused that the magnificent "Out Of Touch" failed to impress the British public, whilst the saccharine soul-lite "Method Of Modern Love" gained a respectable Top 30 placing. Incidently, the 12 inch of "Out Of Touch" features an extended mix of "Dance On Your Knees" on the flip that should be in the collection of any fan of Arthur Baker's work. Using just about every trick he knew, Baker constructed a wild latin-electro jam, full of razor-sharp edits, percussion breaks and stuttering vocals that still sounds pretty crazy. Oh, and by the way, massive respect to Marcello for including Daryl's solo album "Sacred Songs" in his best re-issues rundown. A truly wonderful album...

Go West were always going to be an easy target. Marcello and K-Punk are united in their contempt. Now, I realise that this may destroy what little credibility I have, but I actually bought their album when it came out. I think it was on the strength of their first hit, "We Close Our Eyes", which made a bit of an impact on me at the time. BIG, noisey synth sound, HUGE drums, a weird lyric and, yes, a strong vocal...plus a great video directed by Godley & Creme in which lead vocalist Peter Cox looked completely at odds with the 'expected' pop star image - wearing a tatty vest, wielding a giant spanner and covered in what looked like axle-grease; he seemed angry and determined. I suppose I was also intrigued by the fact that they were marketed as a British Hall & Oates. Cox was the tall, fair-haired lead singer and Drummie the short, dark sidekick who didn't seem to do much. All he needed was the moustache and the picture would've been complete. This makes me wonder, why is it okay to like Hall & Oates now, but not Go West? In the same way that original American Marvel Comics will always be more prized than Marvel UK reprints? A quick flick through the nether-regions of my vinyl collection revealed that I still have the album! I can't believe it has survived the many purges over the years. So I thought, what the hell, it's been 18 years since I last played it, let's give it a spin. Have a good listen and try and come up with a balanced, objective view on it. I can't say it's a forgotten masterpiece. Far from it. The follow-up hits "Don't Look Down" and "Call Me" have very little to offer in 2004. And the token ballad "Goodbye Girl" is excerable. Part of the problem is that most of the tracks have too much Rock and not enough Soul. Producer Gary Stevenson added all the necessary 'Bangs & Crashes', but the arrangements are ultimately let down by the leaden, FM rock sheen. As is typical of the era, everything is slaved to the giant omnipotent snare drum, which wears you down with it's incessant regularity. Hired guitarist Alan Murphy knows his chops but his chorus-heavy, sub-Van Halen licks leave me stone cold. Then there's Pino Palladino with his dreaded fretless bass, wanking-off fruitlessly in the background. Yuch! However, there were a few things that I could still sort of appreciate. "We Close Our Eyes" still sounds quite good and mid-tempo weepie "Eye To Eye" manages to muster up something approaching a groove, with it's latin flavoured poly-rhythms. It's also the only love song on the album that sounds vaguely convincing, emotionally speaking. But it's the final track "Missing Persons" that struck me the most. It's obviously the least commercially-orientated track on the album, and if you can get past the daft 6th form-poetry lyrics ("Left On the rocks by the storm/we are powerless to resist/wide eyed..so weary at dawn/But who knows what we might have missed") and appreciate the vaguely ominous, down-tempo vibe, you get some hint at where Cox and Drummie's muse might've taken them under different circumstances. Overall, I can't bring myself to despise Go West. At least they wrote their own songs and played a few instruments, which is more than can be said for many of today's fame-for-fame's sake teeny-poppers. Marcello opines that Go West were the first of a new breed untainted by Punk. I would suggest that they were actually the (fag) end of the Creative Teen-Pop era - that period facilited by punk lasting roughly 1979-85 when pin-up chart acts wrote and performed their own material. By '86, the era of Stock, Aitkin & Waterman was in full swing, with a return to using Pretty Boy/Girl Pop Puppets as a vehicle for their "Hit Factory" productions. Everything that's wrong with pop in 2004 can be traced back to that period. I'm not suggesting for one minute that Go West are worthy of a major re-assessment, just... leave 'em alone. They're not your enemy.

Marcello's dismissal of Blancmange's efforts in '85 were probably correct, but did he have to be so fucking cruel? I've always had a deep effection for the work of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe. Possibly the first white British pop act to incorporate chunkier dance/funk rhythms, their first album "Happy Families" remains a firm favourite of mine. It includes their first monster hit "Living On The Ceiling", but also the tight, angular, repetitive "Feel Me", which bears more than a passing similarity to "Remain In Light"-era Talking Heads. And what about "I've seen the Word", a delightful, empathic slice of maudlin synthpop, or "God's Kitchen"- taut, minimal electrofunk. The album is only really let down by "Waves", a cynical follow-up hit that tries to sound sincere yet ultimately says nothing. But by 1985, time was clearly running out for Blancmange. They'd lost their sparkle. Perhaps they were trying to sound 'mature', but the album "Believe You Me" was a lackluster affair in comparison to their earlier work. The single that Marcello slated, "What's Your Problem", is actually a highlight, mainly on account of Luscombe's pleasant electropop backing track. Vocalist Arthur sounds frankly disinterested, a shadow of his former self. The only other tracks of note are funk-workouts "Believe" and "22339" where Arthur temporarily regains his charisma and "Lorraine's A Nurse", a heartfelt ballad that is enliven by some impressive string quartet arrangements. I hate it when good groups die out with a whimper...