Since I’ve been neglecting the “deadpan women” category that holds a near and dear place in my heart for quite a long time now, I decided to dust off Hilary’s “Kinetic” EP for a long-overdue listening. This was a release on Backstreet/MCA circa 1983 that I became aware of through one of my legendary MTV late night tapes. Back in the first five years of MTV, you could catch really obscure videos if you set up a tape to record from 1:30 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. That’s 4 1/2 hours in Beta III. Whenever I got a new tape, I would always do this and invariably there would be at least two or three gems caught in my video net the next morning. I’d then tape around the clips to save when moving forward.
Hilary was one such discovery when I saw her “Kinetic” clip on a trolling tape. The song was letter perfect dry synth-pop, American style. I picked up the EP when I ran across it and that, as they say was that. There was not another peep from Ms. Blake ever again on the vinyl front. The song was an early production by Stephen Hague before the Brits got wise to him and swept him off to produce Malcolm McLaren’s “Fans” and OMD’s “Crush.” To say nothing of the Pet Shop Boys. At this point he’d only produced Gleaming Spires and Slow Children. Hilary was his hat trick of American synth-pop. Hague played synths along with Hilary, co-wrote a few tunes, and was the only other musician on the EP. “Kinetic” was originally paired with “I Live” on a clear vinyl 12″ that Hilary self-released earlier in 1983 to see her pressing sell out and attract the attention of Backstreet records.
Hilary: Kinetic EP
- Drop Your Pants
- I Live
- Goose Step Two Step
The lead off track is dominated by a methodical synth-riff that catches quite easily in the brain pan. Hilary’s impassive delivery is excellent. The science geek trappings of the title make it a perfect little snapshot of New Wave, American Style. “Drop Your Pants” is a novelty number extolling the virtues of her lover. This track was probably the best known of the tracks here due to the novelty factor. Apparently, some adventurous stations played it quite a bit. The cartoony synths thankfully keep it from getting too serious. Were that so, it would have been a drag of a song. The light delivery makes the difference.
“I Live” moves away from synth-pop territory into a bit of Talking Heads afro-funk style. In fact, it really sounds like a lost M+M track from “Danseparc” or “Mystery Walk!” Hague apparently sings backing vocals and he comes off here really sounding like Ben Brierly as evidenced on Cristina’s [another deadpan woman!] cover of “The Ballad Of Immoral Earnings.” In fact, until today, I thought for certain that it was Brierly on the cut since the voice and delivery is identical. But no, it was revealed on the Hilary website [!] that the EP was just her and Hague, with Hilary only playing some synths. The final cut was a fave of an enigmatic friend of mine in college. “Goose Step Two Step” is a foreboding anti-Nazi attack that’s heavy on the sturm und drang dramatics. Hilary doesn’t mince words as she underscores the full banality of their evil.
Hilary was a promising talent with a theatrical flair who probably made the crossover from acting to music since it was a natural course of development. After this album, I would imagine that she probably set her sails for the stage again. I’m thrilled to know that there is the Hilary fan page liked to from the previous paragraph! It’s my belief that every person who ever made a record should have an internet web site! Sadly, this one reveals that Hilary died four years ago at a rather young age. At least her vinyl remains. She managed to work with an up and coming producer just before his career hit flashpoint and has recorded an EP of tunes that are diverse and memorable.
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