No False Revillos! The Eerie Story of The Revettes

The REAL Revillos ca. 1980

By the early 90s I had become reliant on mail order to buy all of the records that I had wanted for years, but had never made their way to the backwaters of Central Florida, where I lived. The first two bands that I commenced to building collections of solely through catalogs were The Revillos/The Rezillos and Mari Wilson. Not only were these records hard to come by where I was, they were simply packed with fun! An attribute that made some music more enjoyable. By 1992, I probably had all of the Revillos releases that I knew about [with the exception of the withdrawn “Attack” album]. Of course, the Internet had not happened yet for me, but it was right around the corner. I was probably looking through an issue of Goldmine Magazine in 1993 when I must have seen an ad with 6 point type touring a CD5 by The Revettes called “Love Bug.” Wha…??!!

I already had both of the 7″ singles from the time in 1983-1984 when EMI had signed The Revillos and they had released two singles with that label: “Bitten By A Love Bug” and “Midnight.” Could this be a remake of that tune? Had the band reactivated under a slightly different name? It’s not like this had not previously happened when they switched from The Rezillos to The Revillos to my surprise at the time. It certainly seemed likely that I would need this, so I ordered the CD5 immediately and it got there in a week or two. I would soon find out just what was going on here.

Trident Music International ‎| UK | CD5 | 1993 | REV POP CD 01

The Revettes: Love Bug UK CD5 [1993]

  1. Love Bug
  2. Everybody Back To My Place [+ Party]
  3. Partybug

The disc was… weird. It featured big fat drum machines and scant vocals over the relentless beats. Repetitive sax samples were repeating the same staccato riff, over and over. The Revettes sang “what to do, what to do” several times. Then, a man sang “I took a walk one day and saw that bug was near” with the the first four words being frequently looped afterward as in dance music of the time. Synth bass and a little actual guitar filled out the thin music as best as they could. By the middle of the song some organ fills popped up. But it all sounded as if it were constructed on a capable computer of the time. The CD credited Andy Forsyth for digital editing so this might have been made on a MacIIci with a Digidesign sound card. Maybe with Pro Tools v.1 but maybe Sound Designer instead if they didn’t have deep pockets.

So the track had no other lyrics! It was just a mechanical groove with a little of this and that thrown on top of it to try to liven things up. The vocals were maybe three or four phrases that were recycled throughout the song. Then, as the song was ending, the male sang “I took a walk/what more can I say/I wish I’d turned around/and walked the other way” to completely flummox my expectations by this point. Then it faded and was over. Not impressive, by a long shot.

But “Love Bug,” an eviscerated version of “Bitten By A Love Bug” with most of its flavor removed, was fine art next to the B-side, “Everybody Back To My Place [+ Party].” The robo-beat was almost the same as had been used on the A-side, but the intro was completely stripped down. Until the male vocalist bellowed “everybody back to my place!” in the most lunkheaded fashion possible. Then the femme vocalists chirped in with “p-a-r-r-t-t-y” as the stupid groove continued with further exhortations of the title and the ladies adding some “woah-woahs” here and there. Perhaps the occasional burst of “groovy!” or “g-r-o-o-v-v-y” from les femmes adding to the perfunctory hell of it all. The nadir was the vocal sample of a woman saying “oooooh” that was manipulated to be “ooooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-ooooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-oooh.” Just like I was used to hearing in the reductive, maddening, dull, soulless, daaaaaaance music of the time! The B-side was an interminable 4:51 next to the succinct 3:33 of “Love Bug.”

Then the killing stroke was delivered with “Partybug;” a full 7:37 megamix of the previous two songs that started off with 1:45 of “Love Bug” with most of “Everybody Back To My Place [+ Party]” crudely spliced into it, only to have the last half of “Love Bug” finish out the ghastly exercise. Brrrrrrr! This was a horrifying release! It was like hearing Zombie Revillos! The band I had known and loved had been thrown into the uncanny valley of dance music being made on a 1992/3 computer with a ruthless hand at the controls. The writing credits for “Love Bug” referenced [Vince] Santini, [Fay] Fire, and [Max] Sewell.

Of course, any Revillos Fan would recognize Vince Santini, the Revillos bass player, or especially Fay Fife, their co-lead vocalist. This release had been produced and arranged by Max Sewell. Who was that? In 1993 I did not know that Max Sewell = Max Atom = Trevor Sewell. This disc had been made by The Revillos 1983 guitar player who had followed the intensely talented Kid Krupa. Once The Revillos had a website, a decade or so later, all was revealed. Here’s the lowdown as recounted on the official Revillos website:

“The song titles and the band name might make this look promising to a Revillos fan but it’s a bit of a let down to say the least. It seems that Max Atom had a copy of the 24-track master recording of the Bitten By A Love Bug single and created this by replacing Fay Fife’s vocals with his and re-recording all the instruments (lots of synth and drum machine) leaving just The Revettes backing vocals.” – As seen here on The Revillos ‘Revilia’ section of their website

Well there we have it. A half-clever attempt to milk some money out of the memory of The Revillos. Well… it worked. I bought one! Too bad it sucked! But that’s not the half of it! When investigating Max Atom/Max Sewell/Trevor Sewell today on Discogs to get the whole sordid tale down coherently, I found this release which was released in Japan four years later!

MIDI Inc. | JPN | CD | 1997 | MDCP 4079

Max Atom & The Atomettes: Shi Ni Gawa Stomp JPN CD [1997]

  1. Devil Went Down To Georgia
  2. In Over Your Head
  3. Lovebug
  4. Rock ‘N’ Roll
  5. Top Of The Pops
  6. One Wish
  7. Waste Of Time
  8. Seventeen
  9. Shi Ni Gawa Stomp
  10. Everybody Back To My Place

Good lord! [choke…] It looks like Trevor/Max was really working that action! He made an entire Max Atom album, possibly from that master tape in his possession, but who knows?! The song titles here don’t look like anything familiar from The Revillos EMI sessions, which finally got a full release in 2004 as “Jungle Of Eyes.”

Captain Oi! ‎| UK | CD | 2003 | AHOY CD226

The Revillos: Jungle Of Eyes UK CD [2003]

  1. Love Bandit
  2. Guilty In The First Degree
  3. The Last One To Know
  4. Bitten By A Love Bug
  5. Midnight
  6. Man Attack
  7. Call Me The Cat
  8. The Vampire Strikes
  9. Trigger Happy Jack
  10. ZX7
  11. Cat Call
  12. Bitten By A Love Bug (Original Single)
  13. Midnight (Original Single)

So I’ll imagine that maybe the songs on the Max Atom CD were not entirely re-purposed Revillos tracks he had played on 14 years earlier. “The Devil Went Down To Georgia??!!” The Charlie Daniels Band tune???!!!!?

My mind is going, Dave.

Other tracks look like covers of Gary Glitter and The Revillos with “Top Of The Pops” making an appearance. At the very least, this ransacking of their legacy in 1993 by a former guitarist was what probably motivated The Revillos to reconvene the next year and work that Japanese market with a multi-pronged comeback that floored me at the time. But that’s another story. Still, it’s telling that after The Revillos got signed to Vinyl Japan [a UK-based, but Japanese owned label] in 1994, Max Atom went to the Japanese nation flogging his Revillos pastiche three years later!

The biggest shocker of all [saved for last, here] is how Trevor Sewell eventually reinvented himself as a blues guitarist, based in America, whose latest album features a duet between himself and Janis Ian [!] on “Fade To Grey!” [no, not THAT “Fade To Grey!”]

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Scots Rock, Surviving The 90s | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Record Review: Altered Images – Happy Birthday …Plus DLX RM UK CD [part 2]

Clare Grogan with Siouxsie Sioux

[…continued from previous post]

The first single from the album didn’t trouble the charts any, but “A Day’s Wait” had another long drawn out Cure-like instrumental buildup before the vocals entered the song at the halfway point. Original guitarist Ceaser had left the band after they recorded their debut single [not on the album proper] and this song; citing their signing to Epic Records as a punk sell-out. If he only knew what was in store for this band after that! The song, was built, appropriately, upon steady train-like rhythms. The minimal lyrics and vocals with a dub breakdown functioned as the middle eight. At 4:10, this was the Prog-opus to this album!

The next song was the third bonus track on the cassette single version of “A Day’s Wait.” Back when such an event was incredibly scarce. All of the vitriol that Siouxsie and the Banshees were capable of showed up for “Leave Me Alone,” a song of a jilted lover attacking their onetime paramour. The queasy organ line that flowed through the song mirrored the descent of the singer into what can only be called breakdown as Ms. Grogan formed the same shaky alliance with pitch that John Lydon often made for the emphatic nature of such a delivery. The ascending bass pulls on the middle eight before the screams of Clare intruded reflected the mental breakdown of the one singing.

exhibit A: the US label credit – I used to own this pressing

“Insects” had an interesting provenance. The bright shiny pop certainly implied the hand of Martin Rushent, and my US copy of the LP duly credited him on the cover and label for production of the song. Except that any UK copies of the album, including this CD, fail to make this credit. Implying that Steve Severin produced “Insects,” but I just can’t buy it! It sounds too much of a kind with “Happy Birthday.” Clean, bright and reverberant, there’s no way this was part of the Severin sessions.  It made a sensible way to end the album with this as an outlier to where the band would go next with “Pinky Blue.” One more run through of “Outro: Happy Birthday” made it official.

The bonus tracks here were ideal. We began the bonus round with the band’s debut single, “Dead Pop Stars.”  This featured Caesar on guitar and was a deeply ironic look at the disposability of pop music, with a forgotten band wondering where the fans went. This was perhaps the best song that Siouxsie + The Banshees never recorded. The SATB equivalent of a song like Icehouse’s “Hey Little Girl” was to Bryan Ferry, or JAPAN’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” was to Roxy Music. It takes no imagination at all to imagine ice queen Siouxsie channeling her inner Grace Slick while the band here did a very credible run through the Banshees playbook. The sepulchral pick scrapes in the intro set the ideal gothic tone for the minor key guitar and vocals.

Which is what made the B-side, “Sentimental” so surprising. This sounded for all the world like a deep cut from “Pinky Blue” as the tune sported a see-sawing upbeat melody of the sort which was in short supply on this largely melancholic album. The motorik drumbeats mirrored the stop-start of the guitar line cutting through this one like a serrated knife. In a different world, maybe this would have been the A-side of the single and Altered Images wouldn’t have had to wait six months for their commercial breakthrough. It still sounded like a deep cut, but in contrast the A-side resembled a Siouxsie + The Banshees song, only one from 1978. In the context of early 1981, it’s not a surprise that the single failed to make much of a dent in the charts, though John Peel was a big supporter.

The B-side to “A Day’s Wait” was the ramshackle track “Who Cares?” which was clearly the least memorable song on this disc. While the rest of the B-sides contained here were some fine gems, this one was the sort of song that gave B-sides their larger reputation. Finally, the full contents of the
Happy Birthday” 12″ single rounded out the program. The 12″ dance mix of “Happy Birthday” extended the song for a full seven minutes past its 2:55 version by extending the song past what would normally be its fading point. After that line was crossed, Martin Rushent indulged in his penchant for high-trech dub mixing for a full four minutes. Anyone familiar with Human League B-sides of the time would know what to expect here. Only Clare’s “Happy Birthday”refrain ever entered into the song as instruments dubbed in and out of the mix.

“So We Go Whispering” was the 7″ B-side and it was a self-production by the band, making it sound less assured than either the Severin or Rushent productions, while still some promise on the face of it. It cheekily featured the opening notes of the other “Happy Birthday”[you may have heard it on an annual basis] on the song’s fade as a in-joke. The bonus 12” track was a sturdy run through T-Rex’s jaunty “Jeepster” given an especially perky coat of paint by the band. Ironically, a penchant for T-Rex cover B-sides was yet another shared trait between Altered Images and Siouxsie + the Banshees. It can’t hurt any band attempting them with those T-Rex hits being all but indestructible.


The first Altered Images album turned out to be very much a Post-Punk affair, due to the band enlisting Steve Severin for the bulk of this material. The boy just couldn’t help it! The dark, guitar led music featured only scant keyboards used with much restraint. Not only were Siouxsie + The Banshees the blueprint for this sound, but snatches of other uncompromising or even gothy pop bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, and even PiL can be detected in the mix.

Then there was the bright, shiny [maybe too shiny…] Martin Rushent side of the album, which skewed the needle in the opposite direction on the speedometer of this album. I would like to know which brains decided that “Severin’s not cutting it… call Martin Rushent!” I’ve never heard the whys and wherefores, but I would have to put it down to label influence. After all, Rushent had credible punk hits with The Stranglers, and concurrent with the recording of this album, was really getting ready to make a name for himself with The Human League. If he could sell that band, and he had taken them Top 30 with “The Sound Of the Crowd” earlier that year, anything might be possible! Though it bears mentioning that The Human League had released their first Top 10 single, “Open Your Heart” at exactly the same time as “Happy Birthday” dropped, giving Rushent two Top 10 hits concurrently. Still, whoever recommended Rushent for the job here probably got a fat bonus.

But he did mark the point where Altered Images crossed over from dour Post-Punk into the nascent New pop demographic. Any old fans they had managed to snare with their first handful of releases around the time of this album might not be convinced to stay on the bus as it barreled, out of control into the top of the charts with a bright, frothy payload of ginch-pop tunes that could cause cavities were it not for the band remembering to infuse some of the material with admirable, contrarian lyric content that played against the production for maximum irony. But that’s another post for another   day [or two.]

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Record Review: Altered Images – Happy Birthday …Plus DLX RM UK CD [part 1]

Edsel Records ‎| UK | CD | 2004 | DIAB 8048

Altered Images: Happy Birthday…Plus UK CD [2004]

  1. Intro: Happy Birthday
  2. Love And Kisses
  3. Real Toys
  4. Idols
  5. Legionnaire
  6. Faithless
  7. Beckoning Strings
  8. Happy Birthday
  9. Midnight
  10. A Day’s Wait
  11. Leave Me Alone
  12. Insects
  13. Outro: Happy Birthday
  14. Dead Pop Stars
  15. Sentimental
  16. Who Cares?
  17. Happy Birthday (Dance Mix)
  18. So We Go Whispering
  19. Jeepster

I was aware of Altered Images from the point of their debut album since it got a US release by late 1981. That the band took their name from Malcolm Garrett’s ever-changing design firm name was something that triggered my interest, but beyond that I never heard the first note from it. It remained until early 1982 when Altered Images were one of the bands who got a flexi-disc in subscriber copies of Trouser Press. I heard the 12” version of “See Those Eyes” as produced by Martin Rushent and wow – did it ever reek of the work that Rushent had been doing with The Human League around the same time. The same tech/dub sensibilities were at work, along with the obvious Linn Drum and maybe even the Roland Microcomposer along for the ride. I was down with this so I went out and bought a used copy of the first Altered Images album, “Happy Birthday.” It was easy to source, having been released in America in the fall of 1981, but the new track I had heard was from their upcoming second album; not yet released. I recall that it was some months down the line before I saw the import version with the US edition loping along 2-3 months later.

Spinning “Happy Birthday” now was an abject lesson in how completely different to the Rushent-produced, pop-friendly sound the band rode to the [near] top of the charts that their immediate predecessor could have sounded. First of all, the producer was Steve Severin of Siouxsie + The Banshees and the band sounded very much in the shadow of the Banshees, in spite of the intro/outro of the Rushent-led “Happy Birthday” single’s marimba rhythm track that opened and closed the album with Clare Grogan. But the first, real song, “Love + Kisses” was much more in line with the sort of shadowy sound that would be the stock-in-trade of this debut album.

The floor-tom heavy drumming style was an obvious nod to Budgie’s early Banshees sound. In fact, I can detect a whiff of not just the obvious Siouxsie + the Banshees, here, but even a twist of Bauhaus popping up here and there. But that I’m willing to put down to Engineer ted Sharp at Rockfield Studios, where the album was recorded. He would go on to hold similar duties with the next two Bauhaus albums following this releases by Altered Images. The acoustic rhythm guitars were also afforded plenty of space in the mix, making for a pleasing setting for Ms. Grogan’s somewhat minimal vocals that arced gracefully throughout the song; echoing the peals of the flanged guitar chords.

“Real Toys” showed Altered Images at their most political as they conflated gender power structures with its commensurate sexism and even war. The next song, “Idols” was fully in the Banshees wheelhouse. The track sported Banshees-syle bass by Johnny McElhone and even trotted out the glockenspiel; an old Banshees trick straight out of their early days. Then there was a huge sidestep to something that took the Banshees sound at its most bass-led level, and rode it to Winsometown without telling anyone their intentions up front. The instrumental was hung on ringing guitar lines that circled back on themselves with only some strategically placed “la-las” getting the vocal nod from Ms. Grogan at the song’s halfway point any beyond.

Following the sunniest outlier on this album, the vibe snapped back in to the Siouxsie sound big time with “Faithless.” The minor key was a dead giveaway. Slow, deliberate tempos on the first and third verses, contrasted with the more frantic tempos and delivery for verses two and four. The creepy guitar harmonics were surely the hand of Severin? I’d swear that the more upbeat “Beckoning Strings” had its roots in another Post-Punk band than the Banshees. This time PiL! Listen to McElhone’s bass line. It’s pure Jah Wobble delivery. It remains as a rare fusion of PiL and bubblegum pop. At least until the ending, where birds tweet in the outro fade and Ms. Grogan joins them in birdsong! It was not much of a stretch for her voice.

Then there’s the number two bubblegum pop smash that broke Altered Images after their first two singles made no inroads on the charts. “Happy Birthday” had its origins in bassist McElhone’s canny realization that an original song called “Happy Birthday” might have a chance of sticking around like the other well known song with that title. It could not have hurt in giving the pop confection the boost needed to gain commercial traction.

The marimba played in the introduction was almost the last such instrument one would have imagined on a song this sugary sweet. It really sounded like marimba consciousness might have invaded Britain during its “New Pop” phase, what with Haircut 100 also featuring the instrument some months later. I wonder if this was down to the influence of Kid Creole + the Coconuts but unless I miss my guess, their second album was the breakthrough in the UK and that record was charting at roughly the same time as this one. But apart from that very analog instrument [plus the guitars] it sure sounded like drummer “Tich” Anderson had been replaced by Rushent’s Linn Drum machine as the song was sped forward on some very chipper but mechanistic beats. I’m almost wiling to entertain the notion that the 4/4 was the Linn while Anderson added the fills manually.

“Midnight” was one of the few songs here with prominent keyboards. The organ drone and random waveforms in the intro really stuck out here. And yet the album credits say nothing about the instruments in the margins of these songs. Anderson laid down the motorik beat and not unlike a song by The Cure, the track was half over before the vocals entered into it. The lyrics here were very cryptic as is sounded like Ms. Grogan was repeating “rape on Sunday is a terrible thing” and going on about “serial number 024.”

Next: …Insects [and T Rex]

Posted in Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Want List: Pere Ubu Say “The Long Goodbye”

Dave Thomas in his native environment © K. Boon

After making intermittent visits to Planet Ubu and always enjoying the views, I have to admit that it’s been six years since I last bought the new Pere Ubu CD and they have had two in that interim shamefully not in the Record Cell. Especially considering that the live show behind the last album I bought, “The Lady From Shanghai,” was immense.

The last few months have foretold of the coming of the latest Pere Ubu album, “The Long Goodbye.” Well, the release date came last Friday. It’s out there now. The title was another of Dave Thomas’ repurposing of classic media titles for his own ends. Scuttlebutt had it that the title might have been really dead serious in that this was imagined up front as the final Pere Ubu album. A devastating flu left Thomas unable to continue their last tour, and Thomas has always maintained that when Pere Ubu achieves its apotheosis, it will end. So that probably led to thoughts of finality. But the end results may have left the door open for more explorations.

The recording methodology was such that Dave Thomas recorded the songs using synths, drum machines, and melodeon [as is his wont] and invited band members to take the music further. The CD versions of the album come with a bonus CD of the band playing the songs live in France as they were still in the midst of recording the album! So we have a live interpretation that was made before the sessions were done for the album! Bold thinking; as we expect from these quarters.

Cherry Red | UK | 2xCD | 2019

Pere Ubu: The Long Goodbye UK 2xCD [2019]

DISC 1 – album

  1. What I Heard On The Pop Radio
  2. Marlowe
  3. Flicking Cigarettes At The Sun
  4. Road Is A Preacher
  5. Who Stole The Signpost?
  6. The World (As We Can Know It)
  7. Fortunate Son
  8. The Road Ahead
  9. Skidrow-on-Sea
  10. Lovely Day

DISC 2 – Montreuil, Paris Live

  1. Heart Of Darkness
  2. Flicking Cigarettes At The Sun
  3. Marlowe
  4. What I Heard On The Pop Radio
  5. Road Is A Preacher
  6. Who Stole The Signpost?
  7. The World (As We Can Know It)
  8. Fortunate Son
  9. The Road Ahead
  10. Skidrow-on-Sea
  11. Lovely Day
  12. Road to Utah
  13. Running Dry
  14. Highwaterville

The album may be ordered here directly from the artists’ store. Or use your other, favorite means of purchase.

– 30 –

Posted in Want List | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Record Review: Prince – Originals DLX US CD

Warner Bros. Records | US | CD | 2019 | R2 591460

Prince: Originals DLX  US CD [2019]

  1. Sex Shooter
  2. Jungle Love
  3. Manic Monday
  4. Noon Rendezvous
  5. Make-Up
  6. 100 MPH
  7. You’re My Love
  8. Holly Rock
  9. Baby, You’re A Trip
  10. The Glamorous Life
  11. Gigolos Get Lonely Too
  12. Love… Thy Will Be Done
  13. Dear Michaelangelo
  14. Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me?
  15. Nothing Compares 2 U
  16. Nothing Compares 2 U [cinematic mix]

From New Wave Funk To Schmaltz, It’s All Here

I was strongly drawn to the posthumous Prince album “Originals” that was released a few weeks ago. The Allen Beaulieu “Dirty Mind” era cover shot and the commensurate graffiti logo may have had something to do with it, but I was ready for this album when it got released! The page curl and sub-par Photoshop touches, less so. But I was in a Targét store the weekend of release and made my way to wherever they hide the CDs now [sharing half their small space with LPs!] because I had seen that the retailer had the bonus track gambit still going in 2019. I might as well get the copy with something extra. So this may have been the first CD I bought new in a store the weekend of release since Bowie’s “Blackstar!” Not a common occurrence that usually sees me playing catch up with years-old releases and rarely buying anything current.

The conceit behind this one was interesting. It would present Prince’s demo versions of songs that eventually came out by other artists. Unfortunately, that meant that it began with a misfire with Apollonia Six’s dismal “Sex Shooter.” Having someone who can actually sing [unlike Patty “Apollonia” Kotero] only marginally improved the track. It still felt like a way-past-its-sell-by-date generic funk track with little of the panache I expect from his quarter. Things got better with the Prince-led version of The Time’s epic “Jungle Love.” This was always a killer funk jam based on a trancelike funk rondo that was a perfect circle of energy. But the show was effectively stolen by Morris Day on backing vocals with his adlibs of “that’s good…that’s good…now let’s get the hell outta here” over the drum breakdowns at the fade.

After opening with the two tracks from “Purple Rain” but not on a Prince album prior, they next tune was another of the “big guns” on this album. It was interesting to hear the early version of Manic Monday” in that it was sung by Prince with the genders reversed in the lyric. [“she tells me in her bedroom voice…”] even though it still opened up with the “kissing Valentino” dream. One can tell when Prince intended the songs in question for whom ultimately released them as he tended to sing in the target vocalist’s range for his guide vocal. He does so here, but I’m still not sure that this wasn’t intended for his “around The World In A Day” album before he thought of throwing The Bangles a [solid gold] bone.

There were four mighty Sheila E. songs here and since she was a Prince girlfriend of a time, they get a lot of his attention. “Noon Rendezvous” was a spartan, crystalline ballad of just His Majesty’s falsetto wet with echo, a piano, and the most subdued rhythm programming ever. It was a stunning song, and his falsetto gave it away as a very-much-intended-for-Sheila effort.

I had to admit, that I’d read a lot about the Vanity 6 song, “Make-Up” and all of the rumors were true! As much as I’m really into 1981-1982 period Prince, the whole low-rent porn vibe of the Vanity 6 project [originally conceived of as “The Hookers”] gave off strong incentive to stay far away from it. Without those women mouthing his words, this version curtailed much of my discomfort with Vanity 6. As much as I love the New Wave/Funk hybrid approach of “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” as my personal Prince apex, everything on those classic albums was completely superseded by the powerful electro-wave of “Make-Up!”

I more than detected the influence of The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” on the deadpan vocal delivery, but the coldwave minimal music bed showed Prince was really interested in pushing boundaries. The track was all rhythm, with frantic bass synth sequenced in a circular riff that repeated for the entire song. Punctuated only by the skittish, enervated hi-hats and clap tracks. It was 2:26 of jaw dropping perfection. That bass run sounded mighty “familiar.” Could it have been that Tears For Fears heard this song and then wrote “Mother’s Talk” two years later? The drum track and bass solo on the bridge was pretty similar. Could be, could be. I have played this song countless times since buying this CD a few weeks ago and it’s nowhere near wearing out its welcome. This one is the Prince Bomb for me now. Tracks like even “Controversy” and “Sexuality” are fine, but have nothing on this. This was a statement.

Mazarati promo

The next track up was “100 M.P.H.” Written for Mazarati; the funkrock act built around The Revolution’s Brown Mark. It began and ended with a arena rock crescendo not too far from Journey territory, but after that locked into a lean and powerful funk-rock groove that could have gone for miles more. I may need to visit the original 12” mix of this bad boy!

groovier days for Kenny Rogers in 1967

The one track I was reading about prior to this album’s release that was a total shock was the song that Price had written for… Kenny Rogers??!! If ever there was an artist diametrically opposed to the Purple One, it would have to be the silver-haired primate himself. Anything the man recorded after “Just Dropped In [To See What Condition My Condition Was In” with The First Edition [in 1967] was eminently missable. And yet, when asked by Rogers if he had any songs for him, “You’re My Love” was the senses-shattering result. That Prince sings this in the lowest register I’ve ever heard him sing in leaves no doubt that he wrote this expressly for Rogers! That the song itself is a perfect Kenny Rogers pastiche suggests that Prince took the challenge on just to see if he could hit the target. I have to say that this song is as turgid and bathetic as any Kenny R. love ballad I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear. The result is a head-scratching curio that is just here to show that Prince could hit any target he wished to; no matter how ill-conceived.

Another Sheila E. megajam came along right after that one to sweep us back to our normal state of happiness. I’d never heard “Holly Rock” from the “Krush Groove” soundtrack, but Prince obviously wrote this one with Ms. E in the ideal of setting her up as a female James Brown. That it was all hers was telegraphed by the rapping that had Prince dropping “Sheila Es my name…” The impressive 6:38 latin funk workout was liberally peppered with “good gods” that ironically quoted from the Godfather of Soul® as the pressure maintained at high levels throughout the track. At least until the drop where Prince dropped the “bs bomb” from his carefree, vulgar period before becoming a JW. Thankfully the tape was still rolling when Prince quipped “let’s see them dance to that” as the turbulent latin jazz funk workout came to a head of steam at its climax.

The version of Jill Jones’ “Baby You’re A Trip” came from five years earlier and in spite of the falsetto leads from Prince, it seemed to have been a duet between he and Jones from the get-go. I used to have the Jill Jones CD [I had bought it as a cutout for a dollar and sold it later on for many times more] so I have to say that Ms. Jones really stuck closely to the original lead vocal as Prince gave it every inch of transformative gospelized sex energy he could muster [and that was a lot]. The third of four Sheila E. songs here, the demo of “The Glamorous Life” gained nothing for having Prince sing it and lost plenty for not having her percussion kit going nuts on it as we have come to expect. But this track was the one of the four that only Prince wrote [though attributed to Sheila E.].

that COVER is New Wave!

A second song by The Time was from their “What Time Is It?” sophomore album. I’d never heard the single “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” and it was a silky smooth, satin-sheet, late-70s R+B jam with a delightfully incongruous pulsating syndrum/white noise hi-hat intro that brought it into the 80s. A fun romp that managed to be sincere and self-deprecating at the same time. Another song I’d never heard before was one of the tracks he wad written with Martika [of “Toy Soldiers” fame] and as someone who was not enamored of gospel-ish tunage, this one was a minimal drone that relied heavily on the impressive stacked harmonies of The Artist to good effect.

I can’t imagine hearing Taja’s 1987 version of this song…

The last big gift here was the amazing “Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me” dating from 1981 and from the sounds of it, one of the last things that Prince recorded before getting his Linn Drum. This was a perfect New Wave synth-funk bopper of a tune given a full six minutes to unfurl energetically. The production here was drenched in reverb that rendered the cheesy electric organ into nirvana territory. It was released by Taja Seville six years later in a version I’ve never heard. But I’ll bet thousands of dollars I don’t have that it had nothing on the frisky New Wave charm that marked this one as a flatmate to the seminal “When You Were Mine.” Both tunes showed that Prince “got” New Wave and how. A classic piece.

orchestrator to Prince Clare Fischer

Speaking of classic pieces, anyone who had heard the live Prince recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that had filtered out years ago knows that the arrangement that he envisioned was very different to the Sinead O’Connor number one hit version. The studio take here is little different; almost sounding like a different song entirely as the O’Connor version has long since been burned into our collective frontal cortex. Maybe that’s why the Prince Estate has let the unheard 1984 mix as orchestrated by Prince’s go-to string arranger, Clare Fischer, get a new lease on life as it came much closer to the expectation of what “Nothing Compares 2 U” should sound like. I have to think that Sinead might have heard this as it’s closer in feel to what she captured on the song.

The posthumous Prince caravan will go on for who knows how many years. From what rumors say, there could be dozens of unreleased albums in our lifetimes. And possibly later if the Jimi Hendrix legacy is anything to go by. But few artists had the studio incontinence of Prince. I can easily believe that he could have recorded at least a song a day. And he was known to mix it on the spot and toss it into The Vault.  The curation on this one walks a fine line between serving up familiar classics, yet is salted with more than enough startling gems to more than compensate for the still unbelievable scenario of Prince writing a Kenny Rogers song. With all of the MOR production traits that one would expect in such an endeavor. As long as they keep the shocks down to a minimum, like here, then I am down with this program. If they have more gems from Prince’s New Wave period like “Make-Up” and “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me,” then I am over the cherry moon.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Sparks – Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins EURO CD [part 2]

Gratuitous Sparks

[…continued from last post]

The delicate ballad “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” took a fascinating look at women like Madame Mao or Hillary Clinton, who live next to immense power. The downtempo track haunted me. Where had I heard this vibe before, then after much intense concentration, it struck me. The track was very close to Billy MacKenzie’s “Outernational.” The music bed and production was really quite similar, thought the lyric conceits in each could not be further apart.

The third single here was the jaunty “Now That I Own The BBC,” and if I said earlier that the vibe of this album was close to Pet Shop Boys “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing,” then on this track they hit the nail of the head straight on. It’s the secret twin in the third act that was hidden in the basement for 20 years to that song! In another callback to the PSB, the lyric, while playful, seemingly has a deeper level where Ron may be also addressing privatization [just as in “Shopping.”]

“Should we go brighter, should we go lighter
Should we go whiter, go left or righter
What was I thinking, what was I thinking
I wasn’t drinking, what could I have been thinking?” – “Now That I Own The BBC”

Director Tsui Hark

Next we got a curve ball with the near instrumental “Tsui Hark;” an homage to the Vietnamese director who by the 80s, played a “John Carpenter” role in the Asian film industry. The urgent track had sound bites of Hark describing himself in the broadest terms and listing some of his most famous film titles. I’m guessing that the brothers might have tried to get Hark attached to their “Mai” project at one time or another. Hence this payback homage after a fruitless endeavor.

Liberace in life

Then came, what for me, was the most amazing song on the album. “The Ghost Of Liberace” was an delicate, clockwork jewelry box of a song constructed with the conceit of having the public cruelly mock and humiliate the spirit of the former showman while he blithely plows his artistic furrow no matter what indignities his spirit form endures. I loved the empathy in Russel’s voice as he related how badly he felt for such treatment. After all “he was not hurting you or me.” I can also imagine that the song was a metaphor for any artist creating in the face of indifference’s more malignant cousin -outright scorn. A conceit that surely Sparks themselves might have felt from time to time as they cast pearls before swine. Or… it simply could have been about the Ghost of Liberace.

“He hums Evita and Moon River and Michelle
Maybe that’s why the people scream out “go to hell”
Oh no, now they’re throwing cans of beer
Oh no, I thought ghosts could disappear

But he remains in all his glory, it’s so strange
These aren’t the kind of people he can change
But wait, now they’re starting to applaud
I guess there really is a God above” – “The Ghost of Liberace”

This album certainly indicated that Sparks were paying attention to their [successful] chart competition who had mined their playbook for all it was worth. While this meant that huge swaths of the album were not unlike the current sound of Pet Shop Boys, this also provided more exotic outliers by showing that they might have also been paying attention to Billy MacKenzie, who most certainly had drawn inspiration from them first. It’s hard to imagine MacKenzie even existing without Russell to have lit the path for him first.

It stood as an honorable reiteration of the Sparks manifesto as they managed to get one of their valuable brushes with chart success [this time in Germany] that fed them some much-needed commercial oxygen. Their next move would be the startling consolidation of “Plagiarism,” their tribute album to themselves, then their late period magnum opus, “L’il Beethoven®” would follow; proving that Sparks didn’t need to emulate anyone else in their bid for artistic growth.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Sparks – Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins EURO CD [part 1]

Logic Records | EURO | CD | 1994 | 74321232672

Sparks: Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins EURO CD [1994]

  1. Gratuitous Sax
  2. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”
  3. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing
  4. Frankly, Scarlett, I Don’t Give A Damn
  5. I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car
  6. Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil
  7. Now That I Own The BBC
  8. Tsui Hark
  9. The Ghost Of Liberace
  10. Let’s Go Surfing
  11. Senseless Violins

Thank goodness for Sparks! The band have diligently plowed forward with a huge and impressive body of work that has seen them encroaching upon their nearly 50th year[!] as a very necessary antidote to the dull and cloth-headed music that normally populates the pop charts. This has been down to the unassailable fact that every so often, the band have managed to score a rogue chart hit in this, that, or the other market, sufficiently enough to keep their profile afloat. They probably have no shortage of admirers, but without a hit every 5-7 years it’s easy to get only lip service from labels.

After scoring big in the UK and France with completely different music from completely different eras of the band, they got a lifeline in the 90s following their admittedly scanty “Interior Design” album. The break after that one was a long six years; during which, The Brothers Mael had unsuccessfully tried to get a film made of the Japanese manga series “Mai, Psychic Girl” to no avail. After getting nowhere on that score, they had a lifeline extended by the production duo of Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti who had scored big with Snap and “The Power” as the 80s became the 90s. They got a label deal and weren’t shy about extending the hand to heroes like Heaven 17 a few years later or to Sparks in 1994.

The first thing about the album to hit you was the hilarious cover. A bold four color job in reflex blue, yellow and red, the sleazy tabloid innuendo never fails to make me smile. The photo of Ron at the lower right corner was priceless. After the delicate haiku of “Gratuitous Sax,” “When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way?'” was the single that anchored the album in many territories, but had its best chart showing with a solid number seven in Germany. By this outing it was just the brothers and machines, and the results ironically had the men who invented the synth pop dance duo trope competing with their progeny Pet Shop Boys quite effectively. Around 1994, PSB had recently made their “Very” album and the likes of “I Wouldn’t Normally Do this Kind Of Thing” already sounded like Sparks, so why not welcome the originators of that sound back on to the charts with the witty number than encompassed both the worlds of Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious.

“[When I Kiss You] I Hear Charlie Parker Playing” was the next single and it stayed in the same upbeat pop space as “My Way” but the lyric was not as memorable as the first single had been. The first song here that would make my cut for the Sparks Desert Island Disc was definitely “I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car!” Ron Mael is capable of depicting amazingly subtle emotional points of view that no other songwriter would be capable of touching and makes it all look natural. The conceit of the song was to depict a relationship that was ill-conceived and dysfunctional on a profound, yet to show the unquestioning love of the protagonist undimmed by the vagaries of the vast difference in stature between the singer and his world-straddling inamorata. I gape in awe at the storytelling inherent in this song.

Next: …Candelabra Time

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