Record Review: Armoury Show – Castles In Spain

Parlophone | UK | 12" | 1984 | 12R 6079

Armoury Show: Castles In Spain UK 12″ [1984]

  1. Castles In Spain [Wubb Dug mix]
  2. Innocents Abroad
  3. Is It A Wonder

I vividly remember when I first heard Armoury Show. A friend was over dubbing music videos and in between clips we had the live MTV feed on. When “Castles In Spain” came on, I hit “record” since I didn’t recognize it. Good call since Armoury Show were a supergroup made up of  Richard Jobson [vox] and Russell Webb [bass] from The Skids with John Doyle [drums] and the ever lovin’ John McGeoch [guitar] from Magazine. Throw me in that briar patch!

“Castles In Spain” was a cookin’ riff rocker that most successfully hit the too popular “Big Music” target of the day. This was the period when Post-Punk was giving way to more commercial sounds that were expansive and extroverted and looked back to rock music instead of trying to run away from it. So this was certainly to be grouped into the steaming cauldron where one could find U2 on the tragic end and this band on the sunnier side of the street, with albums by Big Country and Simple Minds of that period in between. Though I look askance at Big Music, by and large, on a good day it can resonate with me as on Simple Minds’ “Sparkle In The Rain” or on this record, for example.

The 12″ version [Wubb Dug mix?] of “Castles In Spain” sounds like an alternate recording for all the world to me. As such, it loses the tightly coiled tension and release of the 7″/LP version in exchange for a regrettable overall diffusion of its energy. Many coming to this record after the 7″/LP version might do well to curb their enthusiasm, since an extension of the original this is most definitely not. The guitar’s sting has been dulled considerably with the inclusion of some acoustics instead, though the bass is more prominent. And Richard Jobson’s vocals are less confident. The best way to analogize the differences in the versions is to use the mono/stereo versions of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as an example. Sure, the stereo version of “Satisfaction” is interesting, but would you trade it for the mono version? In a heartbeat.

Far better are the B-sides, which offer much for the listening. “Innocents Abroad” would not have embarrassed on the “Waiting For The Floods” album, but it’s “Is It A Wonder” that is the buried treasure on this disc! Fans of McGeoch from his tenure in Siouxsie + The Banshees would do well to seek this track out! It starts with an intro that sounds like a cut from “JuJu” and the middle eight solo is a wondrous thing redolent of the acid psychedelia of “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse!” As such, it stands far afield from the majority of Armoury Show songs and it makes perfect sense that it appeared as a B-side, since it is a textbook perfect case of the heights to which a B-side can aspire to while proudly wearing all of the limitations of such. That is to say,  it’s a fantastic song that simply doesn’t fit thematically into the album [possibly even the group] but will bring great pleasure upon hearing. The kind of B-side that rewards careful record collecting in spades and builds the stuff of young Monkdom.

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4 Responses to Record Review: Armoury Show – Castles In Spain

  1. Echorich says:

    Ah The Armoury Show…you hit the nail on the head…Big Music…I agree 1984 was at turning point for the rock division of the Post Punk Era. Where 82 and 83 brought us to amazing heights with The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain, Simple Mind’s New Gold Dream, Gang of Four’s Songs of the Free, The Chameleon’s Script of the Bridge, 84 saw U2 unleash The Unforgettable Fire, The Waterboys’ A Pagan Place and Declaration from The Alarm – more pomp less pulp…
    Now previously I would have lumped The Armoury Show in with the latter group, but over the past year or so I have given them another assessment. They still are not everything I would have hoped for in a band made of it’s members, but I will willingly say that Jobson is mostly to blame for that in my ears. I listen to the Waiting For The Floods now and am much more open to it. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the Castles In Spain single b-sides and I have to agree that Is It A Wonder is the music I would have expected from this band.
    Time has definitely opened my ears to The Armoury Show. Wonder what else I should re-visit.

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  2. I think my exposure to this band has been quite limited, but I do recall enjoying a song of theirs on the magazine+album “Debut” (I think it was “Is It a Wonder” in fact!) and then again somewhere else (probably the radio show). Now I know why I liked what I heard!

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  3. I first heard this band via an issue of the magazine+album “Debut” and I’m sure the song was the very “Is It A Wonder” you refer to! Now I’m kind of sad because it appears that was their high point! :)

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – You are incorrectly inferring that I consider “Is It A Wonder” as their career high point. We are only discussing this rather fine single of “Castles In Spain;” not their entire career. It is certainly my favorite song on that record.

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