Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 8]

Dr. Robert in the studio with Curtis Mayfield
Dr. Robert in the studio with Curtis Mayfield

[…continued from last post]

banned thatcher blow monkeys sleeveThe album shifted on its axis tremendously when “side two” got underway with “[Celebrate] The Day After You.” The album’s third single was tremendous. The Blow Monkeys had covered Curtis Mayfield’s epic “Superfly” as a B-side to “Don’t Be Scared of Me’ and with “[Celebrate] The Day After You,” Dr. Robert sought out Mayfield himself to sing the track as a high-powered duet. Best of all, he penned a righteous upbraiding in Thatcher’s direction that also managed to be a world class slice of Discofunk that was fully fit to have Mayfield singing on it.

The impeccable groove chugged along with a smart blend of machines and old school musical elements. If you’re going to have Mayfield singing on your song, real strings were a must! Unfortunately for The Blow Monkeys, the BBC banned the single when the election was called which [spoiler alert] saw Thatcher remaining in power for three more years. That still didn’t stop them from issuing a 10″ with the cheeky Thatcher-goes-Warhol cover as seen above. I still desperately need one of these in my Record Cell to keep the four other copies I have of this single in various formats company.

If you’re laughing in the face

Of love and happiness

Taking money, losing hope

Then I’m sorry but the joke’s on you

“[Celebrate] The Day After You”

Next up was the ahead-of-its-time stone cold groove of “Checking Out.” It was a dazzling confection of programmed beatbox and synth bass with tasty licks of rhythm guitar and more swaths of strings keeping the proto-Italo-House piano company. The loose, Jazzy arrangement favored an improvisational vibe that made great use of the femme backing vocals for a rhythmic hook. Neville Henry’s sax solo in the coda was spirited and the lyric still managed to cast shade on Maggie. I wouldn’t have minded hearing a ten minute 12″ mix of this one.

Then hazy, unresolved string synths set an unsettling, cinematic scene as the hip hop beats of “Don’t Give it Up” ensued to take us to a place that we’d never been to before [or since]. The slamming, repetitive beat and synthetic [and real] horns provided a minimal basis for the campy, free-association that Dr. Robert and other voice actors [including Paula Yates] added over the top of the groove. It was like a mixture of hip hop and a Carry On film in dub! The first verse [technically speaking, the only singing on the track were the backing vocals] was so jarring that it could have gone anywhere…and certainly did.

I was sitting on a train

With schoolboys, playing poker

When who should walk in

But Jesus, Jesus Christ Himself

He cried, “Young boy, give us a kiss!”

I said, “Where?”

He said, “On the lips. Where else?

Where else?”

Well, I said, “I’m sorry my dear, but

If you choose to live by The Book

Don’t you know it’s a sin?

It’s a sin in itself

It’s not good for your health”

“Don’t Give It Up”

Having been softened up by “Don’t Give It Up,” the coup-de-grace of the album was delivered with “Cash.” The intro featured Dr. Robert crooning over some dobro chording before more hip hop beats appeared to seamlessly carry on the vibe of “Don’t Give It Up” to drop it into an actual song this time. “Cash” was a weirdly hybrid psychedelic, hip-hop hoedown that was another example of the second half of this album going to really exotic places after the uninspiring first half.

Sampled strings were sawing away on a single chord throughout much of the song while the real string section was busy channeling the strings from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to give this song a peculiarity that was second to none. Dr. Robert was channeling Elvis on the chorus of “come on, little baby, let’s make a little cash.” Meanwhile Mick Anker was adding fretless bass underneath it all. The strummed acoustic guitar and harmonica chug all added up to a song what was utterly unique. And six minutes later [which felt like four] it had made its departure long before I was done with it.

Then the album ended on a note similar to the one on “Animal Magic.” “Beautiful Child” was a perfect T-Rex ballad in the “Cosmic Dancer” mold. Giving us just piano and lush, mannered strings as Dr. Robert extolled his paramour. Adding the only queer-friendly lyric of this album as he searched for the embodiment of the song;s title.

You got to, I got to find out a way

I swear, I don’t care what society has to say

Every dawn of my life I’m searching for

A link with a girl or boy so similar

“Beautiful Child”

This album was a paradox. The first half was a coherent but ultimately tepid follow through from the more vivid “Animal Magic.” With modern, cookie-cutter R+B replacing the more traditional Soul music leanings of the previous album. On first listen, the vibe on “Grocer’s Daughter” was lifeless and it barely seemed like the product of a band. Then the second half arrived and swept my ears away with a no-holds-barred gumbo of disparate elements that I’d not heard combined either before or since. While the album failed to inspire until its mid-point, from that moment onward, I always become highly engaged with “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter.” I always tend to discount the album when considering their canon until the point where it easily wins me over.

The band seemed to be stretching out in a direction that they were not entirely sure of, but it speaks volumes that “Checking Out” was also included on their precedent setting fifth album in 1990. That record was also a year or two ahead of the World/Fusion/Chill/Dance pack with a selection of material that had little precedent in 1990 but would soon come to represent the tenor of that part of the 90s that had nothing to do with Grunge or Techno.

Ultimately, “She Was only A Grocer’s Daughter” was what was once a typical third album by a rapidly mutating British act that sounded like little to do with either of their first two albums. Slot it next to the first three by Spandau Ballet or ABC and the threads of continuity get similarly stretched to their limits. But it had an even bigger British hit on it even as it was the swansong for the band’s dalliance with America. All of their other albums would not get a US release, but the band had one more card up their sleeve in regards to America, and we’ll get to that song tomorrow since everyone in the world except me has heard it before.

Next: …Owning Me, Owning You

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 7]

blow monkeys - she was only a grocer's daughter cover art

The Blow Monkeys

She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter | 1987


[…continued from last post]

Following their dalliance with a hit on both sides of The Atlantic and a period that saw their second album [unlike their first] released in the North American market to as much success as they had at home in the UK, The Blow Monkeys were striking while the iron was hot. But that didn’t mean that songwriter Dr. Robert was going to aim for the middle of the road completely on his songwriting. With Margaret Thatcher a tempting target for his lyrical barbs, the title alone of “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter” left no doubts as to where his political loyalties lay.

A scan of the song titles revealed what appeared to be subtext for miles whether overt [“How Long Can A Bad Thing Last?”] to surprisingly subtle as with “Out With Her;” a song actually not about Thatcher at all, though the title prepared us for that. The political subtext of the music picked up from the foundations laid on “Limping For A Generation” but the oblique lyrical conceits of that album were banished for a more direct confrontation in what was shaping up to be a British election year. But the band’s biggest changes were not lyrical, but musical.

When 1987 blew into town the transformation of The Blow Monkeys from the “Punk Jazz” band into something completely different was complete. Where once the music was resolute in its lack of interest in contemporary technology, the seductive machines of the mid-80s now ran rampant. The tentative excursions into programmed rhythm that typified their breakthrough single “Digging Your Scene” [which was still their only hit, really] became the law of the land.

blow monkeys it doesn't have to be that way cover artThis was immediately apparent on the first single, “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.” I first heard it on its 12″ single remix and the results showed that the New Jack Swing of Janet Jackson was definitely turning Dr. Robert’s head at the time. The remix liberally quoted from the vibe and rhythm track of Ms. Jackson’s smash “Nasty.” The more staid album and hit single track, leaned very heavily on the backing vocalists to flesh out Dr. Robert’s contemporary R+B aspirations. The hip-hop drum machine breakdown in the middle eight was the only aspect of the more extreme 12″ mix that made it down to the album version. Even though the results lacked the character of earlier singles, this didn’t stop the single from going Top five in Britain; the band’s best showing there.

blow monkeys some kind of wonderful cover artThe first side of the album was top loaded with the singles. “Some Kind Of Wonderful” was the rare single of 1987 that didn’t appear as an extended remix on 12″ format. As the first track had telegraphed, the backing vocals were going to be right in the spotlight for this album, with the strong male BVs almost dominant in the mix. It sounded like this track was one where the live Borneo Horns featured, as there was more of a live band feel here; more suggestive of “Animal Magic” than much of this program. That said, this would have been a weak cut on “Animal Magic.” The lyric was a piece of fluff given a little dignity by the performances here.

blow monkeys out with her CD5 cover artWhen “Out With Her” appeared as the second single, I really expected it to be an anti-Thatcher screed. I was shocked when upon dropping the needle on the 12″ as it was something completely different; a Quiet Storm R+B slow jam with Dr. Roberts giving Luther Vandross a breathy run for his money. The lyric was referencing how smitten the protagonist was when he was “out with her.” Meaning his paramour. The Good Doctor has since referred to this single as his “George Michael moment” with perhaps a tinge of regret. He shouldn’t be so hard on himself. This was the best song yet on the album, which admittedly, was not shaping up to be a contender with the first two, just yet. But the song was a successful stab at contemporary R+B from this former Glam/Jazz/Soul devotee who was obviously seeking to broaden his horizons.

The preponderance of Jazzy guitar syncopating with the programmed bass on “How Long Can A Bad Thing Last” pointed to a definite appearance of guest guitarist Ira Siegel. The fruity glissando at the song’s midpoint was certainly not at the hands of the Good Doctor, who was capable, but not that masterful. The lyric was the first one thus far that lived up to the Thatcher Smackdown® that the album title promised, but the high shoulderpad production served to undermine the tune’s effectiveness. Where before The Blow Monkeys had stood apart from their peers to strong effect, going all in on a contemporary R+B sound was serving to bland out the results here.

How long can a bad thing last?

This is what people should ask

If you’re feeling down, put your vote to cast

How long, this is going on for too long

“How Long Can A Bad Thing Last”

“A Man At the End Of His Tether” began with the most bald-faced swipe of Kool + The Gang’s “Celebrate” imaginable! Anyone who heard the intro would be excused for expecting “celllllll-e-brate good times c’mon” to come erupting from the speakers. After such a strong bolt from the starting gate, even second-hand, the milquetoast song could only be regarded as a missed opportunity. Much the same could be said of “Rise Above,” the tepid closer to “side one” of the album. It felt like The Blow Monkeys had squandered their considerable momentum thus far on album three with a selection of half-baked tracks that lacked the poise and bite of their previous work. Would they be able to pull their fat from the fire in the second half?

Next: …Shaking The Stupor

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 6]

This semi-legendary deconstructivist magazine ad used an art director’s mockup of a magazine ad [full of retouching notes] as the real thing for the “Wicked Ways” single

[…continued from last post]

Following on from the high water mark of “Sweet Murder,” the next step in the “Animal Magic” plan for world domination was to have an even better song follow it. “Aeroplane City Lovesong” kicked off with peals of languid guitar one could fall into. Then congas and a circular guitar riff from Dr. Robert heralded a swell of swaggering brass that coalesced to form a widescreen epic of a song. A crescendo of uplifting strings swept the memorable chorus into the forefront while Dr. Robert scatted off of the back-end of it and let trumpeter Guy Barker have the spotlight as he echoed The Doctor’s scatting into the song’s brash coda. No matter how many times I hear this one, it always assumes an epic stance in my mind for hours at a time afterward.

A change of pace came with the Memphis Soul of “I Nearly Died Laughing” with the strings and saxes staking a claim immediately on the slow, promenading tempo of the song. If we can discount the s-bomb in the first verse, the berserk whammy bar workout from Dr. Robert on guitar was the only jarring factor in this song-as-comfort-food.

blow monkeys don't be scared of me cover artThe album’s fourth and final single was the cotton candy pop of “Don’t Be Scared Of Me.” The strings led and the saxes followed as the sweet melodies painted this song as the most lightweight offering on the record. On one hand, a logical pick for a single, but unsurprisingly, it failed to do much business. Fortunately, the rest of “side two” of the album offered much more substance both separately and in the form of an accomplished album arc.

Never one to shy away from politics, though often wedded in the past to obscure and tortuous metaphor, Dr. Robert tried the direct approach on the incendiary “Burn The Rich.” It was definitely a song that wore its heart on its sleeve, and the mixture of Dr. Robert on acoustics and the wicked slide guitar of Joe Brown made it all go down with ease.  The socialist hoedown was gifted with gently loping strings and a full-bodied vocal by the Doctor.

Don’t be put off or dispossessed

By the constant clawing of angels

By the giveaway price of your birthright

You will never savor

The fruits of your labor

Back in the rain

The city weeps a private pain

You are taught to respect

The worst in this world

From the day you were born

You were always gonna be a time bomb

“Burn The Rich”

Then a sharp left turn [no pun intended] with the acoustic barber shop quartet of “I Backed A Winner [In You].” This had been the B-side of “Digging Your Scene,” but as it sounded like nothing else out there in the entirety of the 1980s, I’ll grant them a pass on putting it on the album. Everyone needed to hear this track! Dr. Robert delivered acoustic guitar and a slice or Roaring Twenties Jazz, but it was the close harmonies of the backing vocalists, The Demon Barbers, who made this one utterly memorable, and a real delight.

blow monkeys forbidden fruit 7" cover artThe album’s first single then placed in the flow at last. “Forbidden Fruit” was an easygoing groove of a single with the lyrics positing the singer as in inveterate rake who was beginning to have doubts about his penchant for sweet young things, though undoubtedly drawn to their many charms. While the melody and strings carried the song, it was anchored on this particular time by the bongos of T-Rex’s Mickey Finn. Dr. Robert had leaned hard in the direction of T-Rex as one of his main influences, so this pairing undoubtedly must have thrilled.

The subtle fretless bass line that Mick Anker slid into this song was its ace in the hole as it filled the spaces between the string and horns with great care. Swooping through the song and leading us deeper into its paradox of desire and restraint. Strange bedfellows for a pop song yet we’re all the richer for it.

But I get around

Some people like to call that a man

But I’m so ashamed

I’ve got to get together

Got to make an effort to change

“Forbidden Fruit”

Then the ultimate song on the album closed it on a reflective note. “Heaven Is A Place I’m Moving To” was yet another unpredictable move on an album that juggled the familiar with the unexpected. The fruity soprano sax of Dick Morrissey immediately grabbed my heart and didn’t let it go for the whole song. The intimate breakup ballad further held only Dr. Robert and his acoustic guitar, with the double bass of Mick Anker and eventually, the strings to keep company. The contrast between the yearning, minor key verses and the triumphant chorus was profound, and having the album conclude on the unresolved strings fading out abruptly was a powerful way of ending the album.

As good as the first album was, the level of songwriting on “Animal Magic” showed that songwriter Dr. Robert was not content to have the band’s chops be the whole of the show as he grew considerably to meet their level of playing. I joined the caravan at this point and began collecting the band in earnest; enjoying everything that reached my ears. The production largely stayed with the rich, natural sounding music of the debut while topping off the complexity and burgeoning melodicism of the songwriting. The Jazz notes of the debut were largely jettisoned for Soul music this time out.

It was also a treat hearing guitarist Dr. Robert dig into the acoustic guitars and pull out a wah-wah pedal to rehabilitate that once-tired affectation right when the time was nigh for its return. The role of second time producer Peter Wilson certainly plateaued here. His peerless string and brass arrangements were the melodic foundation for all of the album’s songs. Given that he also played all of the keyboards on the album, it’s difficult to imagine where the band might have gone with Wilson in place for a third time. The work had a climactic air this outing.

The harbingers of their next move were definitely the two singles: “Wicked Ways” and “Digging Your Scene.” The synthetic rhythm section on those tracks was the outlier to how the band would drastically mutate going forward, but the joy of “Animal Magic” was how it largely resisted those 80s trends [for the second album in a row] to make a warm, analog album reaching back to the Soul music of the 70s with all of its trappings to stand apart from the 1986 environment that was caught between the tail end of the tech-drenched ZTT sound and the rise of the soap-starred PWL sound starting to happen. “Animal Magic” was one more glorious touchstone on the 70s Soul that was foundational to the songwriting development of Dr. Robert before moving on.

Next: …Machine + Soul [With A Side Order Of Funk]

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 5]

The Blow Monkeys

Animal Magic 1986


1985 came and the only release by The Blow Monkeys in the September of mid-decade was the single “Forbidden Fruit.” It was a move to smoother, less spiky music with the Jazz factor greatly diminished, although the sonic palette was still resolutely acoustic. The single appeared in a number of formats. A three track extended 12″ as well as an expansive five track 2×12″ in the UK.

The former contained two non-LP B-sides, “My America” and “The Optimist.” The latter also contained a remix of “Sweet Murder” as remixed by toaster Eek-A-Mouse. This was a preview of another track on the upcoming new album, which would not manifest until the next year. Then what sounded like an older track from the first album period, the pull-no-punches dub-touched groove of “Kill The Pig [Pix Mix]” was the D-side track. The song was exactly as militant as its title sounded; indicating that The Blow Monkeys would be far from the typical mealy-mouthed, apolitical pop of the horrifying mid-80s.

Surprisingly, the single also figured as a release in North America after the first album and its singles were passed over for release here. Incredibly, it was as a six track EP, showing that RCA had big hopes for the band. “The Optimist” was swapped out with “Wildflower” from the previous album and one more song from “Limping For A Generation” also found its way onto side two of the EP with “Atomic Lullaby” getting some love.

blow monkeys diggin your scene cover artIt was that year that I seem to recall having seen the “Forbidden Fruit” video on MTV but it didn’t click with me for some reason. probably as I was still primarily a synth-head this may have been my biases doing me no favors. It remained until the second single, “Digging Your Scene” appeared on MTV and galvanized my attention with its boldly crass showbiz camp video that the band would register on my musical radar. And everyone else as well as the single was a top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Against all odds, people were hearing “Digging You Scene” and liking it.

The single was a curious mix of the early 70s and the mid 80s as RCA goosed what they saw as a potential hit by having the acoustic drum track replaced with a digital drum machine to perhaps better fit in on the radio of the time. For that reason, the song sticks out of its niche as the lead off track of the Animal Magic: album. The strings of the first album were still in place with arrangements by producer Peter Wilson, but the big shift on the program was the large cast of backing vocalists.

They sweetened the pot for “Digging Your Scene” but I couldn’t have overlooked the song’s lyrical payload, which strongly suggested that it was about AIDS and the queer backlash of the time. But the power of a melody can’t be overlooked, and in spite of the dark [potentially controversial] lyrics the song was a breakout hit. The hit single was the band’s calling card and a welcome presence on the radio, but the rest of the album offered plenty of their soul mojo while sounding more appropriately like music from the second album in their canon. The two tracks here salted with drum machine replacing the live drums, really made those cuts the outlier to the third Blow Monkeys album; but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

If anything, “Animal Magic” was a song that was a throwback to the more contrary debut album. The tempo shifts of the title track were a heavy feature of “Limping For A Generation,” though the dusky soul vibe of the arrangement marked it as more transitional. Again, the BVs sweetened the deal even as the complexity of the arrangement let the band have their cake and eat it too.

blow monkeys wicked ways cover artThe other track featuring drum machine was “Wicked Ways,” which was the third single. Following a snaky guitar line from Dr. Robert, he BVs were right up front with the ladies belting the chorus right up front as Dr. Robert entered the song afterward. The bittersweet lyric painted a picture of a marriage on the skids and though the “sakes of the children” mentioned in the lyric was a tad melodramatic, Dr. Robert’s first marriage was nearing its end around that time, so it was grounded in reality. The production on that track was shared by Adam Mosley and Dr. Robert. Like the earlier single, it had one foot in the 80s with the drum machine and another in the 70s with the funk bounce of the [uncredited] clavinet.

blow monkeys sweet murder label artHaving dispensed with the second and third singles up front, they next delivered a deep-cut, deep dish sonic pizza topped with more ingredients than most of us would care to mix in the undeniably zesty “Sweet Murder.” When it opened with Reggae artist Eek-A-Mouse in dub right on the one, the next thing to reach our ears was an impressive wall of brass from the arranger’s pen of producer Peter Wilson; showing that he was more than just a “strings guy.”

Then brash waves of wah-wah guitar, courtesy of Dr. Robert rolled out to assault our ideas of good taste. I swear that in retrospect, I hadn’t heard wah-wah guitar since around 1976, and I was shocked to hear it after what seemed like decades of its exile in the aftermath of Punk. But the mixture worked like a fiend for me. This was a classic track that really stretched out to show that The Blow Monkeys were a force that could do anything they wanted to. The heavily percussive Go-Go sound was one of the most compelling uses of it by a white, British Pop band I’ve heard. Amazingly, this was a commercial 12″ single in America in a rare show of taste for the States. This over six minute tour de force could last for ten if it were up to me.

Next: …The Aeroplane Soars

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 4]

The Japanese sleeve swapped grotesquerie for glamour

[…continued from last post]

Acoustic guitars and strings fueled “Professor Supercool’s” rent boy melodrama. For a guy who was married at the time, there was a lot of queer energy running through the early Blow Monkeys material. Robert Howard attributes this to time spent in Leigh Bowery’s Taboo Club at the time and an affinity to the gay music scene. Dr. Roberts’ camp crooning sure wasn’t evidence of any hang-ups in that regard. If anything, he laid it on with a trowel on this album. His triumphant vibrato lead in to the melodramatic middle eight certainly took no prisoners.

blow monkeys - the man from russia cover artThe album’s second single, and a long time favorite was next. “The Man From Russia” was the only song here that was co-written with bassist Mick Anker, and it was an early triumph for the band that helped to give them a foothold to build their case on. Dr. Robert has stated that it was an early live favorite from the band’s early days and it’s easy to hear why. The song was a showstopper of dark camp that the good Doctor gave his most florid delivery. The cover had a clue by way of the fully tattooed man depicted. Back in the simpler times of 1984, the only such “man from Russia” who looked like that was undoubtedly a criminal. Tattoos were far from being mainstream then and the Russian Mob used them to mark their men. The lyrical scenario suggested a homoerotic relationship between one such man and a younger one who remained possibly naive about the whole scenario.

The melody and production here was warm and acoustic with no synthesizers. The only synthetic moment came during the middle eight with Neville Henry’s chorused saxes playing an Eastern European melody while drummer Tony Kiley switched from his acoustic kit to Simmons drums in a move that made the bridge all the more jarring. The two verse/two chorus construction of the tune was bare-boned and simple but the performance lingers long in the mind.

“I just lost my soul in the snow

And I just lost my pain in this rain, yeah

Was I too young for that boy to come

The man from Russia

Whoa-whoa, yeaa-aaaa-aaaah”

“The Man From Russia”

Then the dark heart of the album arrived with the full-on acoustic Jazz Noir of the title track, “Limping For A Generation.” Tony Kiley’s drums kept to the brushes while Anker played a double bass here. The instrumental middle eight picked up the lurching tempo to swing time pace with Anker giving the bass notes everything he had as Dr. Robert scatted his way to the breakdown and fade. Perfectly setting the mood for the slow-paced, and hypnotic theatricality of “Waiting For Mr. Moonlight” which followed.

Then the album climaxed with a burst of energy in “Trashtown Incident.” Following a backwards crescendo introduction, the motorik drums of Kiley kept up a relentless pace as Dr. Robert played a very unexpected sitar to connect with the saxes and drones. The Indian psychedelia was definitely a one-off in the band’s wide-ranging canon and the manner in which the song climaxed with the forward recording of the same intro that had kicked the song off; making it a perfect loop.

The original cover of Cubistic photos of the band in an art gallery was the far more appropriate cover for this challenging album of “Punk Jazz.” There were undercurrents of pop melodies here and Dr. Robert loved to deliver these songs with a trowel full of garish camp energy, but these concerns were secondary to the shadowy, confrontational vibe that wasn’t ready for the Top 40 by a long shot. In fact, it left most of the band’s New Wave Of British Jazz pop contemporaries sounding as light as candy floss in comparison. Only Scunthorpe’s Carmel sounded capable of taking on The Blow Monkeys in a back alley knife fight at a draw.

And the production of Pete Wilson gave it all a timeless, analog sound with only scant piano and no synthesizers being the only keyboards here. Even Dr. Robert’s guitars were mere shading next to the dominant saxes, real strings, and rhythm section that defined the band’s sound at this point in time. But in spite of RCA’s confidence, there were no hits on the ground this time out. The album and four singles that made up the “Limping For A Generation” campaign had failed to catch ears, so there would probably be a trimming of the artistic sails to better triangulate chart wise the next time out.

Next: …Making The Scene

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 3]

blow monkeys - limping for a generation cover art

The Blow Monkeys

Limping For A Generation 1984


The first Blow Monkeys album arrived over two years following that debut indie single. Changes had occurred in the band with original drummer Angus Hines being replaced with Tony Kiley by the time that RCA offered a contract. Little shakeups like these are part and parcel of many a band signing. Kiley had more than enough of the Jazz chops to deliver on Dr. Roberts’s vision of the band carrying on in the direction that Laughing Clowns had, earlier in Australia. I’ve not heard more than the band’s 1980 song “Holy Joe” off of their self-titled EP but the vibe was definitely there.

In the NWOBJP [New Wave of British Jazz Pop] environment of the era, I can’t say it was a misstep. Some of the best British bands of the mid-80s would be drawing from those sorts of Jazz/Punk traditions. Given that the charts were full of bands like Culture Club and Wham, also drawing from Soul music was hardly avant garde, but the darkness of the band’s hybrid vision ultimately gave them a coloring with far more chiaroscuro than the primary-colors of the pop charts could ever deliver. The Blow Monkeys were probably closer to Carmel in temperament than any other bands I could compare them to. Albeit with an unabashed pop element that would see them having a much bigger chart footprint.

The album began with a drum break not a million miles away from the one in Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” but its placement right up front was edgier than the bubblegum star of the 60s. Then swelling stings and the sax of Neville Henry carried the expansive, cinematic melody to the forefront. meanwhile, Mick Anker invested the tune with a tarpit bass line that grabbed and didn’t let go.

“He’s Shedding Skin” was already a statement of intent from the band before Dr. Robert made his vocal debut with his fey crooning drenched in over the top vibrato that took his delivery deep into the redline zone of camp. After that it was the sign that not everyone in 1984 was going to be pawning their grandmother to rent a Fairlight. Everything about this record suggested that the richness of Tony Visconti’s T-Rex productions was the aim of this crew, and nabbing The Jam/Style Council’s producer Peter Wilson showed that they would find the means to achieve it. The luscious [real] strings scoring this song underlined their intent.

The instrumental middle eight intro where the horns and strings vied with the guitars of Dr. Robert to build an emotional crescendo before the verse took the song down a minor key path before circling back to the light for the showstopper climax of the song had one more chorus that went into double time as the strings ultimately swelled to a series of fortissimo stabbing hooks that were musical dynamite! The audacity of fading on that figure had me hooked from the first song.

blow monkeys wildflower cover artThen the [fourth] single “Wildflower” wrapped its seductive charm around the listener with strings and acoustic guitar laying a foundation for Dr. Robert’s “do-do-doo-doo-dooo”vocal hook in the intro. The warm, rich sound was worlds away from most of the music that was competing on the 1984 charts. The double-tracked vocal in the complex middle eight added the right frissons to the ultimately winsome ear candy of the perfect, three minute pop song.

blow monkeys - atmoic lullabye cover artThen the [third] single came next and was there a warmer and more languid nuclear annihilation song than “Atomic Lullabye?” In a year when Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” was the standard bearer of high pressure nuclear anxiety, The Blow Monkeys showed how to approach the theme from the completely opposite direction with this dreamy number that more than lived up to its paradoxical title. The three things that were particularly striking about this single were the fey vocals of Dr. Robert, his nimble guitar, and the smoky, creamy [screamy?] sax that flowed through this one courtesy of Mr. Henry. I loved how the middle eight of the song went into double time [again] as it hurtled toward the explosive climax of the song. Only to once again swirl back into that reflective groove to carry the listener aloft in the aftermath of desolation.

blow monkeys go public cover art“Side One” of the album ended with the first RCA single, and [unlikely] calling card for the album, the prickly “Go Public.” The florid delivery of Dr. Robert did the restless song no favors; leaving Mick Anker’s fretless bass line as the draw in the queasy, unsettling mix. It’s hard to believe that RCA would have pulled the trigger on “Go Public” as the band’s RCA debut given the other three singles on offer later were far more attractive to the ear. In contrast, “Go Public” offered only dark, manic energy that was in retrospect closer to the “Punk Jazz” mark that was the band’s aim.

Next: …Supercool Professors And Men From Russia

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Nick Cave + Warren Ellis Taking “Carnage” Across North America Next Year With Tickets On Sale Tomorrow

Cave + Ellis journey across North America next year – will you be there?

This was a fast happening story, but we received an email this week from the Nick Cave mailing list and stating that he and the stalwart Warren Ellis are touring across North America next year with tickets on sale tomorrow morning at 10 AM EST. We had tickets for Nick cave + The Bad Seeds “Ghosteen” tour in 2020 that did not happen. We were planning on seeing them in Atlanta.

This time, the action is very close to home in our town, Asheville. The site of a 2017 Bad Seeds tour which was my transcendent entree to Nick Cave fandom after decades of watching [even The Birthday Party] from the sidelines. We are currently sitting on a quartet of orchestra floor tickets that were not painfully expensive at $97 + [modest] fees, thanks to the mailing list presale. If you are a big enough fan to subscribe to the mailing list, then you will also have access. The dates are only seventeen in number, and our show will be the only one in the Southeast US; the same as in 2017. If you have an interest [and you should] then the button below is your friend.

Nick Cave + Warren Ellis – North American Tour – 2022

March 1 – Asheville, NC – Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
March 4 – Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre
March 5 – Austin, TX – ACL Live at Moody Theater
March 6 – Austin, TX – ACL Live at Moody Theater
March 9 – Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Auditorium
March 13 & 14 – Oakland, CA – Paramount Theatre
March 17 – Seattle, WA – Paramount Theatre
March 20 – Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theatre
March 22 – Boston, MA – Wang Theatre
March 24 & 25 – Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre
March 27 & 28 – New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
March 31 – Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
April 2 & 3 – Montreal, QC – Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

post-punk monk buy button

This is not today’s posting, by the way. This is a public service announcement [with guitar].


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