It’s Election Day, But We’re Not Discussing Arcadia…

shep fairey vote today image

If you are a reader in the UK then please STOP READING THIS BLOG RIGHT NOW.

You must head to the polls and VOTE.

Vote as if your life depended on it.

Because if the Tories privatise [Commonwealth spelling this time … just for you] the NHS, then it will eventually come to that. We are all in this boiling pot together and must stick together in this adversity because in a privatised world…

There is nothing else but society.

Thank you.

Now, let’s let Mr. Brian Eno have the last word…

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Record Review: Shriekback – Some Kinds Of Light UK CD [part 2]

virtual 3D images of the band shriekback

I could not get a recent photo of the band that I liked so hats off to Pot80Sh3D [Andy Lewis] for making these virtual simulacra available

[…continued from last post]
The second half of the album began with an  real curve ball as “This Is The Science” delivered an almost pastiche of The Tornados iconic “Telstar” with an appropriate [and lively] beat-combo arrangement. The almost playful sound was a big departure for a band best known for its willful obscurity and often burning intensity. Carl Marsh’s lyrics spent the first verse recounting perhaps a metaphoric foray into black magic and the commensurate price paid. But it certainly ended with a big finish in the way that Shrieksongs rarely do.

An immense Bo Diddley-beat from Martyn Barker fueled the thunderous “Hyperactual” wherein Carl Marsh danced around the shouted vocals and got to soar in the middle eight with a touch of harmonica as the album peaked with a chaotic energy that managed to even best that of the opening. The final coup de grace was the tumultuous shower of words as recited by Andrews just below the surface of the  climax; once more revisiting the delivery he first tried on “Win A Night Out With A Well-Known Paranoiac.”

My favorite song on this album was the quintessentially saturnine mystery of “The Fire Has Brought Us Together.” The delicate number that had Barker barely playing a delicately brushed beat while Barry Andrews rocked the spectral string patches as well as delivering the lyrical payload. The soar and sustain on Marsh’s guitar suggested possible EBow involvement. His brief solo was just that; I could have withstood several bars more. The arrangement not only had massed chorus vocals but also featured Andrews on his long-missed falsetto in the contrapuntal vocals. Of course Andrews managed to fit a word like “prophylaxis” into the paradoxically lyrically dense but musically spare tune. This band were still finding ways to explore arcane beauty like few others.

The even more delicate “The Elated World [Cornell Boxes]” was just drones and vibes and spectral bass synth; barely there as Andrews echoed in the spacious song’s expanse. Barker’s skittering snares only entered the song after the first chorus to begin propelling the song forward out of its inertia. The title alluded to the work of Joseph Cornell; the compulsive assemblage artist and collagist whose “Soap Bubble Box” I’d seen at the Art Institute of Chicago s few years back. The Nits wrote a winsome song by that title, but I think that Shriekback have managed to wrest the crown from that band with this one; so named after the phrase that the reticent Cornelll gave to his environment.

The mood continued to its conclusion with the only slightly louder “Galileo” from the pen of Mr. Marsh, who stepped out of his more usual extroverted role in the band dynamic to investigate the shady side of the street on the closer. There was more delicate reverberant electric piano from Andrews as the notes trickled down like raindrops on the shimmering synths and Marsh’s coolly observant vocal. It was a pensive closer to this album.

When Shriekback began the process of making this album in the spring of this year, the conceit was to get the members together in a room, writing and arranging like the old days. Mr. Andrews had confided that the last album was initially created in member’s recording sheds, etc. and then Mr. Barker came in the studio and played the very real drums that figure on Shriekback albums of this era. In defiance to the Linn Drum reliance of the band’s commercial heyday. I found this album to be more or less of a piece with “Why Anything? Why This?” To these ears, it felt like the “Big Night Music” vibe was still the jumping off point for the writing process with the machine-led era of the “Jam Science”/“Oil + Gold” era being the aberration. The only hint of discord was to be found in “This is The Science,” which could have been the weird outlier B-side in an earlier time. As for the rest of this, it all fit together like a puzzle of dark pieces which were almost, but not quite, entirely black.

Shriekback have indeed proven adept at weaving their tapestry over a large span of time and space, using numerous methodologies at different times. And yet the essence of the band’s artistic P.O.V. remains as vivid and unchanging as their sonic footprint is mutable. Cut a Shriekback song and it will bleed the distinct lyrical plasma that Andrews and Marsh bring to the task. These twin sons of different mothers have their own distinct approaches while being clearly perpendicular to whatever the norm may be in popular song over time. The dryly clinical approach of Andrews sounded like the work of a particularly poetic scientist at odds with his surroundings. Marsh instead sought to recombine familiar elements in new and startling ways. They both cast a jaundiced eye at the expectations of society around them as they strove to have a human response to the inhumanity that we all have to deal with.

This is the second Shriekback album in as many years nearly 40 years into their lifespan. A man could get used to this. It’s gone out to Indiegogo pledgers, but anyone else of interest would do well to haunt the band’s webstore or try the big button below. “Some Kinds of Light” will undoubtedly show up in one of those two locations any day now.

communist purchase button

– 30 –

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Record Review: Shriekback – “Some Kinds Of Light” UK CD [part 1]

Shriekback - some kinds of light UK CD cover

Shriekback | UK | CD | 2019 | SHRIEKCD019

Shriekback: Some Kinds of Light UK CD [2019]

  1. Agony Box
  2. Bollo Rex
  3. Putting All The Lights Out
  4. Weatherman
  5. All About Nothing
  6. This Is The Science
  7. Hyperactual
  8. The Fire Has Brought Us Together
  9. The Elated World (Cornell Boxes)
  10. Galileo

Is it early December already? It seemed like only yesterday [cue harp run…] that Shriekback had run a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund group writing sessions and the recording of their latest album, “Some Kinds of Light.” While we were caught up in our own personal drama, The Shrieks have diligently done what they alone do best and have delivered their new album, as promised, “by Xmas.” My CD has not yet arrived from across the Big Drink, but I finally found the time to load the WAV files provided to all sponsor as of December 6th [official release day!] on my iPod the other night, so let’s dive into the Shriekback bucket and report our findings with a some of the usual considered musings and a [hopefully] commensurate uptick in gut-level reaction!

Mr. Andrews drew first blood with the potent “Agony Box.” It began small with a bass synth riff and Martyn Barker on the floor toms but it eventually built up to a suitably anguished roar against the impossibility of compartmentalizing all of that pain out there in the zeitgeist. The middle eight chorus of multiple Andrews intoning “agony is your friend” brought to mind the famous Sanskrit mantras from “Running On The Rocks.”

The point of crowdsourcing the writing of the new album was immediately apparent as the central role that drummer Barker obviously played in the compositions this time was certainly all about the groove that he was putting out for these songs to build upon. “Bollo Rex” was all about the jazzdrums that Andrews added organ drone and Carl Marsh added guitar roar to.

But the drums were central here; Andrews was his typical verbose self and included a lyric that kicked into doubletime on the middle eight with as many politically pithy observations as he could jam into the song as possible. Making it a real throwback to his delivery on “Win A Night Out With A Well-Known Paranoiac” B-side of 1980. It can’t be a coincidence that he was revisiting that material for reissue recently and now the technique popped up again after a 39 year tabling. The cold break for several seconds after Andrews intoned “there was a long pause…” for the third time in the middle eight was freaky powerful arrangement, before the grinding vibe again resumed. The coda spiraled into chaos with a complete psychedelic breakdown of the track while a narrator recited what seemed to be parts of a poem over it all.

Following this sound and fury, it was time for a change of pace, and Carl Marsh on vocals for “Putting All The Lights Out.” This was a low key throwback to an early 70s sound with meandering Hammond organ patches and reverberant Fender Rhodes piano from Andrews while Marsh opted for some deep twang. The catlike song was perfect for late night listening and the glorious Partridge Sisters on backing vocals added delightfully to the vibe.

Mr. Andrews was still investigating his clavinet for that mid-70s funk feel on the Marsh-led “Weatherman.” Then the eerie trills of his lead synth along with the deep bass synth gave this one a smoky power that the tribal drums of Barker exacerbated. At the song’s midpoint, Barker expanded the narrow channel of rhythm that he’d previously hewed close to and widened his approach with greater complexity and fills as Andrews’ keys carried the melody forward. There seemed to be no guitars at all in this one.

That couldn’t be said for the third turn of Marsh in the spotlight for the stripped down groovy protest rock of “All About Nothing” He took a great semi-acid rock solo on the middle eight to spar with the spacey bass synth and organ fills of Andrews, who seemed to be sticking to a deliberately limited palette of sound design this for this album. He might have gotten any eclecticism out of his system on his recent solo album; As ever, the drums of Mr. Barker add the pulsebeat that seemed to almost flashback to the Madchester era. Dig, if you will, the picture…below.

Next: …Big Science

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Record Review: Sparks – Hippopotamus EURO CD [part 2]

Sparks at work

A rare glimpse of Sparks working in their studio…what do you think, chasinvictoria. Is that a G5 Mac Pro keyboard I spy?

[…continued from last post]

Like many, I was astonished when the band seemingly came out of nowhere with their game-changing opus “L’il Beethoven” in 2002. I got the feeling that Ron had been listening to a lot of Philip Glass and light opera [with a little Faith No More] thrown into the mix, but it imbued their songs moving forward with a penchant for serial repetition where the music was concerned. The emphasis on stasis instead of movement was perhaps the band reflecting on the techno movement of the 90s. After all, their albums of the 90s were either informed by techno [especially “Balls”] or were an excursion into strings [“Plagiarism”] and orchestration. By 2002, they united these two threads into their own self-genre.

sparks hippopotamus 7

The title track to “Hippopotamus” the biggest throwback to the “L’il Beethoven” methodology was the title track itself. It was a rigidly formalized light classical, choral construction with lyrics that were picked for their ability to rhyme [sort of] with the loaded word “Hippopotamus.” By the time they had dragged Titus Andronicus into the song one could only laugh in wonder. Ever relevant was the “lady with an abacus” who ultimately figured in the song. She “looked Chinese” but Russel was quick to add the caveat “not that I’m prejudiced [x3], no, not me.”

The throbbing rhythms of “Bummer” recalled those of “Perfume” from “Hello Young Lovers.” I especially liked how the title hook for four bars in the middle was a sample of someone from some forgotten 60s/early 70s movie saying the word “bummer” where Russell was dropped completely from the mix at that point. The upbeat pop razzmatazz of “I Wish You Were Fun” was fully capable of getting stuck in my head for long hours of the day. Ron’s piano playing on this was particularly jaunty and it’s telling that the outro of the song belonged to him and his 88 keys.

The rock urgency of “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play” used nervous tension to illuminate its meditation on  a protagonist who is floundering at his own breakup scene due to his inattention to the events unfolding around him with the harshest metaphor possible as the title chorus. It may be inferred that this lack of attention to detail is what placed him in this precarious position in the first place. At this point I am contractually bound to state that “chicks, dig, dig, d-i-g, dig, dig, metaphor,” but even so, the Hell of loneliness may yet be one’s fate.

French director Leos Carax smoking, of course

Did I say yesterday that Sparks were throwing raw meat at their French fan base on “Edith Piaf [Said It Better Than Me]?” Then on “When You’re A French Director” they were roundly mocking the most specialized of French stereotypes while doing the same again by including idiosyncratic director Leos [“Holy Motors”] Carax in a duet with Russell relegated to support vocals! The wheezing Gallic chanson veered beyond self-parody as they even included Carax playing accordion on the lurching number. The lyrics mocked not only the impenetrability of art cinema, but also the alleged indifference to fame to its practitioners, as one verse speculated how nicely “un César” [a.k.a. the French equivalent of an Oscar®] might just fit on that shelf over there. The brief song made a hilarious point in under three minutes. I should point out that Sparks have written the story and music to Carax’ latest film, “Annette” which will star Adam Driver and Marion Cotilliard; his first English-language film. So they have already, actively participated in The Seduction of Leos Carax!

The “Balls” album featured the brother’s response to the relentless nature of techno in the 90s. That sonic thread was picked up once again for “The Amazing Mr. Repeat,” a ribald tale of an aberrant specimen who had the uncanny ability to have no sexual “downtime” in a song that was as incessant as the music itself was. Of course, the subject of the song felt misunderstood and exploited for his abilities even while the neighborhood girls queued up to receive his ministrations.

“L’il Beethoven” operated at both ends of the lyrical density spectrum. It had repetitive music with either a simple lyric line repeated endlessly [see: “My Baby’s Taking Me Home”] or with densely packed lyrics [see: “Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls”]. “A Little Bit Like Fun” stood that conceit on its head by matching glorious, almost psychedelic music [especially the intro that sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard Sparks sound like] with a massed chorus of Russell singing the zen-like lyric.

portrait of Rebecca Sjowall by Adam Taylor

Ms. Sjöwall managed to sing at a higher register than even Russell on the closing “Life With Macbeths”

“Life With the Macbeths” closed the album with the third Shakespeare reference [“Bummer” also referenced The Bard] as an opera duet featuring Russell sharing the mic with soprano Rebecca Sjöwall, who had previously sung on the brother’s “Ingmar Bergman” opus. This amazing song extrapolated “Macbeth” into a “reality TV” show to stunning comic effect. Part of the stunning was accomplished by soprano Sjöwall reaching C6 on the lyric “soar” [obviously] and “Score” at the song’s climax; having held back throughout the rest of the song.

On early listens, this album seemed like a casual throwback to the earlier Sparks style but the more I listen to it, the more facets of detail I can discern. True, the live band here, Steve Nistor on drums and the steadfast Dean Menta [Faith No More] on guitars and bass, gave more of a band vibe to this album than their 90s material. Ron also played a lot of piano here in addition to synthesizers, so there was certainly a variety of sound design to the fifteen songs.  The tunes had brief running times, so the album was 55 minutes long even with the plethora of material. But it seemed shorter.  Because these songs belied the fact that this was Sparks 23rd album in twice as many years.

Sparks have managed to forge an identity that is singularly theirs in the world of pop music.  The music here may not sound exactly like the band that recorded “Kimono My House” or “Number One In Heaven” but the artistic P.O.V. can definitely be traced back throughout the thread of their career. What distinguishes Sparks, especially now, is their obeisance to the notion of craftsmanship.

That sense of commitment to craftsmanship certainly glows throughout this work. I get the feeling that The Maels grew up in a household where Gilbert + Sullivan, Stephen Sondheim, and The Gershwins were always on play, and yet they also saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan at the right age as well. It all must have informed their vision of what popular art should be capable of. That they can create music like “Hippopotamus” after nearly 50 years going shames their peers, which it must be said, they have certainly outlasted. I can count possibly four imperial eras within their career arc and can think of no other artists who can approach that level of delightful invention [and re-invention] and accomplishment. Hell, their latest imperial period has lasted 17 years with no signs of ebbing! That’s better than most artists entire careers! I would definitely put this down to their commitment to craftsmanship and its adjacent work ethic, which is evident in spades in their music.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Sparks – Hippopotamus EURO CD [part 1]

sparks - hippopotamus euro CD cover

BMG ‎| EURO | CD | 2017 | 538279612

Sparks: Hippopotamus EURO CD [2017]

  1. Probably Nothing
  2. Missionary Position
  3. Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  4. Scandinavian Design
  5. Giddy Giddy
  6. What The Hell Is It This Time?
  7. Unaware
  8. Hippopotamus
  9. Bummer
  10. I Wish You Were Fun
  11. So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?
  12. When You’re A French Director (featuring Leos Carax)
  13. The Amazing Mr. Repeat
  14. A Little Bit Like Fun
  15. Life With The Macbeths

Can it really have been over two years since the last Sparks album came out? I remember saying on the day of release:

And I find myself in a city where I guarantee I will not have the ability to walk into a store of my choice and plunk down the better part of $20 for the privilege.

Well, you know what they say about famous last words. As it turned out, I happened to visit Harvest records on Saturday, September 9th, 2017 and there it was for the princely sum of $10.99! I’ve actually owned this from the day after release. What’s it like?

It began with a deceptively classic slice of Gershwin-esque pop like “Probably Nothing” featuring just Ron on piano and Russell singing. Maybe this was written on the “Son Of Two Hands/One Mouth” tour?” In any case. it clearly showed the influence of American Tin Pan Alley on the bad boys who grew up wanting to be in a rock band any way. The manner in which Ron Mael could investigate a potentially trifling subject like something forgotten from the way to the brain to the lips and invest it with a depth of meaning and emotional ambiguity marked him as a songwriter’s songwriter.

Then the next track started… “Missionary Position.” Only Ron Mael would think to expound on the least adventurous form of sexual congress with this hilarious song of praise for the glory of the destination reached instead of the trip itself. The arrangement there was as plummy a string-laden Beatles pastiche as possible, but please. Give me this over ELO any day.  The single, “Edith Piaf [Said It Better Than Me]” followed and while it may be construed as the band throwing raw meat at their French fan base, the Gallic melancholy marked it as something a little more complex, as well as a bold move for a single. Why not watch the beautiful animated video below?

The music box precision of “Scandinavian Design” may not be the music equivalent of Bauhaus furnishings [maybe John Foxx’s “Metamatic” comes closer to that aim?] but it forms an ornate backdrop to this perfectly sculpted meditation on the lure of purity and minimalism. The singer’s lady friend was normally “some guy’s concubine” but when she has her fill of “chandeliers and bric-a-brac” she comes over for some R+R even if they have to sleep on the wooden floors. All the singer had was a table and two chairs, but what a table and two chairs, obviously. The glockenspiel and sleigh bells lent it all a christmassy air even as the four bars of the harpsichord solo in the middle eight went for Liberace territory. Perhaps a bit over the top, but it was countered with the twangy guitar samples in the well arranged coda.

Back in 2006, Sparks wrote a throwaway track called “Here Kitty” on their “Hello Young Lovers” album that followed “L’il Beethoven®” [and brilliantly]. I can’t help but think that it has finally come home to roost in the form of the mesmerizing “Giddy Giddy.” The highly structured meter of the song wrapped the repetitive structure of the music and lyrics around it and squeezed like an anaconda until I felt ready to pass out. This song really was a call back to the “L’il Beethoven®” methodology of the band that they’ve investigated thoroughly since that album. The repetition was still there, though colored with with a vast array of “hip” rhythmic styles with the song starting as drum + bass, then morphing into a variety of hip-hip beats before crossing the line, just barely, into dubstep. This one’s bee hammering in my skull [to my delight] all morning.

But yesterday, it was the amazing song “What The Hell Is It This Time” that got the mental iPod® nod. Knowing The Maels, one might assume that this was a typically Sparkian riposte to an annoying friend or lover. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The song was no less than the frazzled middle management of Heaven beseeching Mankind to lay off the petty requests; He has a LOT on his plate so don’t be surprised if your small potatoes don’t cut it. That was, until the middle of What The Hell is It This Time? song, where He took center stage and unloaded on Mankind; all of this couched in a magnificent cinematic soundscape of sampled strings and the distorted guitars of Dean Menta.

“What the hell is it this time?
It’s you again, it’s you again,
You get on my nerves
What the hell is it this time?
I’ve billions to serve,
You get on my nerves” – “What The Hell is It This Time?”

Only Sparks give us such pithy points of view for their songs.

I can’t recall ever hearing anything like reggae from Sparks even though they were signed to Island Records during their early Imperial Period. [for those counting, I think Sparks may have had as many as four of them in their 50 year career…] But “Unaware” was surely built on the reggae rhythms from the house that Blackwell built even as Russell was trying a unique vocal phrasing that I’d not heard form his before, abetted by some reverb effects that were in the red for this band. Usually, Russel can be counted on to build multi-part harmonies of his glorious voice but this was something entirely different.

Next: …Yet More Formalism

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A Young Person’s Guide To: The Human League – Fascination! US EP

the hunman league - fascination US EP cover

A&M Records ‎| US | EP | 1983 | SP-12501

The Human League: Fascination! US EP [1983]

  1. [Keep Feeling] Fascination [extended] 4:56
  2. Mirror Man 3:48
  3. Hard Times 4:54
  4. I Love You Too Much [version 1] 3:18
  5. You Remind Me Of Gold 3:35
  6. [Keep Feeling] Fascination [improvisation] 6:12

I realized by 1981 that US record labels hated loose singles. In the American record industry, singles were only calling cards to sell more profitable albums. Thus a pair of non-LP UK singles by The Jam, would be bundled and sold as a five track US 12″ EP. Or the singles that The Pretenders put out in the gulf between albums one and two would get the same treatment. Thus it came to pass that The Human League, who were dealing badly with the pressure of hitting number one everywhere in the modern world with “Don’t Yo Want Me” found themselves foundering to make that all important follow up album to “Dare.”

the human league - mirror man UK 12" cover

Virgin ‎| UK | 12″ | 1982 | VS522-12

The Human League: Mirror Man UK 12″ [1982]

  1. Mirror Man [[extended] 4:21
  2. You Remind Me Of Gold 3:36
  3. You Remind Me Of Gold [instrumental] 3:56

1982 had brought the “Mirror Man” single in the UK and while it had made a reasonably successful follow up at the number two UK slot, A+M, their US label wanted it only with an album to sell on the back of it. So America waited until 1983 to issue the “Fascination!” EP with the 7″ version of the A-side and the vocal B-side. “Mirror Man” was a shimmery slice of Martin Rushent-produced synthpop that was moving away from the more-Kraftwerk-like “Dare” sound to something more redolent of Northern Soul.

The rhythms were certainly Tamla-Motown influenced. When researching the UK release [which I never owned] I saw that the 12″ of “Mirror Man” had an extended mix and a dub B-side on it which I’ve never heard. Considering how in early 1982 I was all about The Human League, why have I never gotten a copy of this? I certainly collected all of their previous UK 12″ singles.

The B-side was “You Remind Me Of Gold;” a nice throwback to the earlier, off-kilter Human League sound. The squelchy lead synth and minor key string synths would be the last time that the band ever sounded this way. It really sounded like a track dating back to the “Boys + Girls” era of the band. I would not be surprised if that were the case, since we now know that the band were struggling with writing material after succeeding beyond their wildest dreams with “Dare.”

the human league - love action UK 12" single cover

Virgin ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | VS435-12

The Human League: Love Action UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Hard Times/Love Action [I Believe In Love] 10:09
  2. Hard Times/Love Action [instrumentals] 11:10

Amazingly, the “Fascination!” EP was the first US release of the Booker T influenced instrumental “Hard Times” which we first heard on the A-side of the “Love Action” 12″ UK single. If we had been reading the tea leaves correctly at the time, this seeming outlier was clearly pointing to the soul music influence that  The Human League would have in their immediate post-“Dare” sound. The longer dub version of “Hard Times” did show up earlier in America as the first track on the “League Unlimited Orchestra” remix album.

the human league - keep feeling faascination UK 12" single cover

Virgin ‎| UK \ 12″ | 1983 | VS569-12

The Human League: Fascination UK 12″ [1983]

  1. [Keep Feeling] Fascination (Extended Version) 5:00
  2. [Keep Feeling] Fascination (Improvisation) 6:15

Once the band released “Fascination” in the UK, A+M didn’t waste any time in getting the single out in America along with the “Fascination!” EP. The single repeated the UK #2 placing of “Mirror Man” and in America, the solid #8 the song hit on the charts insured that The Human League would never be a one-hit wonder. Both sides of the UK 12″ were in the US EP, but there was no commensurate US 12″ single. In The States, the “Fascination” EP functioned as the very generous 12″ single version.

I always thought that the call and response vocals between the ladies and the deep baritone of Phil Oakey singing “hey, hey, hey, hey” owed everything to Sly + The Family Stone but I can’t remember which of their songs that this felt “sampled” from. The brash synth horns were way over the top and the “Improvisation” instrumental dub mix was a Martin Rushent specialty. The A-side was remixed by Chris Thomas for the 7″/12″ mix who would be taking over the reins from Rushent once he famously fell out with The League over their direction for a follow up.

the human league - keep feeling faascination US 7" single cover

A&M Records ‎| US | 7″ | 1983 | AM-2547

The Human League: Fascination US 7″ [1983]

  1. [Keep Feeling] Fascination [7″ remix] 3:43
  2. Total Panic 3:29

Strangely enough, the “Fascination” 7″ [identical in the US/UK] had the hit mix of the song which US fans had to buy on 7″ to get, so that’s what I did. The real pull, though, was the instrumental non-LP B-side; “Total Panic.” <flash forward five years>

the human league - fascination UK CD3 cover

Virgin ‎| UK | CD3 | 1988 | CDT24

The Human League: Fascination UK CD3 [1988]

  1. [Keep Feeling] Fascination (Extended Version) 5:00
  2. [Keep Feeling] Fascination (Improvisation) 6:15
  3. Total Panic 3:29

In 1988, Virgin Records had their program of re-issuing their 12″ singles of the last eight years on the delightful CD3 format. I snatched up a lot of bands I collected in this program. The “Fascination” 12″ and 7″ B-side first hit the silver disc here and I was happy to get not only the A-side but also “Total Panic” on CD.The title of which may have been an oblique comment on the behind the scenes conditions between Rushent and the band. But the ace producer had one more card up his sleeve. <flash backward back to 1983>

US human league fascination EP hype sticker

One day I need to start a hype sticker blog…

I suspect that the US only “Fascination!” EP found a brisk trade as an item imported into the UK because that EP was only sold in North America in 1983 and it contained a new song from the aborted “Dare” follow up sessions as produced by Martin Rushent. “I Love You Too Much” had complex Linn drum programming by Rushent and featured bass guitar from Ian Burden as had the “Fascination” single. It still had the sparkle we remembered from “Dare” with the kinetic synths having interplay with the Linn drum.

When I heard the version as produced by Chris Thomas and Hugh Padgham on “Hysteria” I was shocked to hear the difference. Even though Rushent was credited for drum programming, it sounded like the scalpel had been taken to his beats. The whole song was stripped back and minimal with the bass given more prominence and the synths diminished. Even the vocal production lacked bite in comparison.

the human league - dare deluxe remaster UK 2xCD cover

Virgin ‎| UK | 2xCD | 2012 | CDVD 2192

The Human League: Dare DLX RM UK 2xCD [2012]

Disc 1 – Dare + bonus tracks

  1. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
  2. Open Your Heart
  3. The Sound Of The Crowd
  4. Darkness
  5. Do Or Die
  6. Get Carter
  7. I Am The Law
  8. Seconds
  9. Love Action (I Believe In Love)
  10. Don’t You Want Me
  11. The Sound Of The Crowd (12″ Version)
  12. Don’t You Want Me (Extended Dance Mix)
  13. The Sound Of The Crowd (Instrumental)
  14. Open Your Heart / Non-Stop (Instrumentals)
  15. Don’t You Want Me (Alternative Version)

Disc 2 – Fascination +

  1. Hard Times / Love Action [I Believe In Love] [Instrumental] 11:08
  2. Mirror Man 3:51
  3. You Remind Me Of Gold 3:38
  4. (Keep Feeling) Fascination [Extended Version] 4:59
  5. I Love You Too Much 3:20
  6. Mirror Man [Extended Version] 4:23
  7. You Remind Me Of Gold [Instrumental] 3:54
  8. (Keep Feeling) Fascination [Improvisation] 6:15
  9. I Love You Too Much [Dub Version] 5:53
  10. Total Panic 3:29

The “Fascination!” North American EP was a temporary stopgap measure that counted as an album in America and Canada and managed to spawn two top 40 singles; justifying A+M’s hand in making it happen. After “Fascination” went top 10, “Mirror Man” was released as an American single over half a year later. Well, it had worked once with “Don’t You Want Me,” but the magic only went as far as number 33 in the US Hot 100. About what the tepid song merited, really. The “Fascination!” EP remained a North American phenomenon from 1983 until the 2012 DLX RM of “Dare” for England included an enhanced “Fascination!” EP as a second CD.

It had the original production of “I Love You Too Much” and both versions of “Mirror Man” as well as “Total Panic.” And for good measure the dub B-side of the “Love Action” 12″ was included in full for anyone who didn’t have “League Unlimited Orchestra” on CD. and best of all, the dub mix of “You Remind Me Of Gold”‘ which was previously unreleased. This was a $12 Amazon item in 2012 [when I still bought from Amazon] but is scraping $40-50 [or higher] now. I should probably source one of these before they get much more expensive but if I don’t, I’ll live. Somehow.

the human league - fascination Japan CD cover

Universal Music ‎| JAPAN | CD | 2015 | UICY-77543

The Human League: Fascination! JPN CD [2015]

  1. Hard Times / Love Action [I Believe In Love] [Instrumental] 11:08
  2. Mirror Man 3:51
  3. You Remind Me Of Gold 3:38
  4. (Keep Feeling) Fascination [Extended Version] 4:59
  5. I Love You Too Much 3:20
  6. Mirror Man [Extended Version] 4:23
  7. You Remind Me Of Gold [Instrumental] 3:54
  8. (Keep Feeling) Fascination [Improvisation] 6:15
  9. I Love You Too Much [Dub Version] 5:53
  10. Total Panic 3:29

Then, three years later, Japan released a stand-alone CD of the bonus UK disc in the “Dare” DLX RM. It used the black cover that later pressings of the US EP had. I’ve never had one of those in the Record Cell but life’s too short to collect Human League sleeve color variations. I would like to have one of these but they are priced out of my…wait for it, league.

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Record Review: Siouxsie + The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo CAN CD5

Siouxsie + The Banshees - peek-a-boo Canadian CD single

Polydor ‎| CAN | CD5 | 1988 | 887 642-2

Siouxsie + The Banshees: Peek-A-Boo CAN CD5 [1988]

  • Peek-A-Boo [7″ ver.]
  • Catwalk
  • Peek-A-Boo [Big Spender mix]
  • False Face
  • Peek-A-Boo [Silver Dollar Mix]

An upside to the late 1980s was while the music was going downhill, at least you could buy your singles on CD format. It’s not that much solace, I know. But the cracks in the vinyl hegemony began to show in 1986, and by 1988, it was easy to buy CD singles. The first release for Siouxsie + The Banshees on the format was American “hit” single “Peek-A-Boo.” I put that word in quotes because even though it was their first popular American single ever, the fact was that it only went as high as #53 in the Bilboard Hot 100®. The story in England was better with a #16 showing, but when the single came out, it turned fans’ heads because it resembled little else, much less the work of our [anti]heroes. I immediately bought the UK CD5 that year but my go-to version of this single was something that I purchased on that first trip to Toronto in 1992. The Canadian version had two extended remixes of the A-side in its favor.

The 7″ mix was a succinct 3:10 mix of reversed percussion loops, accordion, sampled piccolos, and almost binaural hard-gated panning of sound in the stereo field. The embittered look at a stripper’s lot became a psychedelic hip-hop freakout in the band’s hands. Even today, I marvel that something this left-field became The Banshees calling card in America which led to bigger and better things when they released “Kiss Them For Me” a few years later.

Both of the B-side to this single seemed to have 60s Batman qualities to them. The slinky instrumental “Catwalk” was built on the hissing hi-hat of a drum machine with guitarist Jon Klein relegated to almost exclusively rhythm guitar of endless inventiveness. Siouxsie’s presence was down to whispering the title and a series of cat purrs and I can’t help but think that Tim Burton was familiar with this before he conscripted the band into writing “Face To  Face” a few years later. This one’s perfect Catwoman music.

The “Big Spender” mix of the A-side was down to it featuring Siouxsie interpolating the refrain to “Hey Big Spender” from the musical “Sweet Charity” where it had been sung by taxi dancers. Appropriate, for this song. Otherwise, this can be considered the “extended version” of the A-side. It’s much like the 7″ mix, only twice as long with extended vamping and a few new effects thrown in.

The other “Batman ’66” themed B-side was the breathlessly paced “False Face.” I imagine this one named after the eerie villain who stood out from the river of camp that Batman ’66 villains typically were. Siouxsie’s isolated vocal reverberating in the intro was a deceptive lead into Klein’s tightly coiled riffage complemented by real drums this time, thank you very much, for a quickly paced number that stopped suddenly at less than three minutes, just when things were humming along nicely. Though the [fast] guitar feedback fadeout seemed to be a nod to Mick Ronson’s climax to “John, I’m Only Dancing.”

The UK CD single ended there but the Canadian bonus package also had the “Silver Dollar Mix” as remixed by Rolon’ [B.B.] Deth [a.k.a. Mike Hedges, the song’s original producer]. This one was colored differently from the first 12” version. For a start, this one was almost bereft of the piccolos and instead leaned heavily on squelchy bass synth to vie with the now forward playing martial drum loop. Now the horns were reversed instead of the drums. It was less left-field with a less extreme hard panning of its elements and more of a relentless juggernaut of sound, listening to it again today I was reminded of Bjork’s “Human Behavior” which I think owed something of its vibe to this remix. At the mixes midpoint more squelchy synths belied the influence of acid house but with the slow methodical tempo of this mix, nothing could be further from the typical acid house mix of 1988. No, this track didn’t jack; it lumbered.

I would buy all of the singles from “Peepshow” on CD, but this one was the highest charting of the three, in spite of always holding “The Killing Jar” in the very highest of esteem. Now that was a single that I could not wrap my head around the fact that it never went on the American charts since the song had an upbeat vitality that can’t often be said to exist in Banshees music. But that’s a tale for another time.

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