Torch Song: Wish Thing US LP 
- Don’t Look Now
- Ode To Billie Joe
- Another Place
- Prepare To Energize
- Tattered Dress
- Sweet Thing
- You Said You Were Coming
- Water Clock Secrets
The Torch Song debut album arrived like a strange harbinger of the future in 1984 on the least likely label to host such an act. IRS Records was a known and loved New Wave specialty label that signed and licensed many of the better bands working in the Post-Punk idiom, but they never had a penchant for what my friends and I referred to as techno in that innocent time. Synthpop bands using high technology never seemed to fit the IRS roster, which was more comfortable with quirky pop and left-field rock with a New Wave slant.
This album was the first flowering of William Orbit’s mastery of instruments, recording and production. He plays every instrument here except for sax with Laurie Mayer adding her lilting, feminine vocals. I first saw the video for “Don’t Look Now” on IRS’ The Cutting Edge and wanted this album very strongly from that point on. It took the better part of a year until I found a promo copy of the LP in the used bins. That single lead off the album in a ceaselessly stimulating mix of over seven minutes and that’s but a teaser for the tracks that follow it. The next track, “Telepathy,” was a tour de force of mixing and cried to be heard on headphones. The climax of the song actually sounds like it is being beamed directly into the listener’s skull!
The next track was the first of Torch Song’s left field electro cover versions. I vividly remember Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” from the pop charts of my childhood and the notion of a deeply electronic cover version of it had never occurred to me, but it pointed to a fascinating side of William Orbit’s aesthetic influences, namely that of folk music. Most bands making such furiously electronic music wanted to be England’s Kraftwerk. Full stop. On his third album, the self titled “Orbit,” in 1987, he went all out with the only song he ever sang lead vocals on, the impressive “Cluny Ann.” That track is definitely the apotheosis of the techno-folk style that nobody ever asked for! Synthesizers, banjo and a lyric that the Carter Family would have been happy to sing.
The closest thing to a hit single on this album was the instrumental raveup “Prepare To Energize.” This really does presage 90s techno with the proviso that its not boring and repetitive. Orbit’s directive seems to be lets make the arrangement as stimulating as possible. Trevor Horn famously opined that the arrangement of each verse of a song should stand apart from the ones that preceded it in some way. In this way the listener experienced delight at the unfolding of the song instead of boredom. Orbit reduced that down to a measure from a whole verse!
The result was a hyperactivity of sound that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is the stylistic glue that makes me treasure the first two albums by Torch Song 28 years later. There was a third Torch Song abum, “Toward The Unknown Region,” from 1995, but that album is just another William Orbit “Strange Cargo” solo album of relatively faceless instrumental electronica. I vastly prefer Orbit’s song-oriented work as evidenced on this album and that of 1986s “Ecstasy.”
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Interesting that you posted this today, as I’ve spent the entire week listening to REVO products during my work day. Both Torch Song albums played through twice on Wednesday! So grateful to have them.
Brian Ware – you and me both, pally! It took over a year to find “Wish Thing” and I didn’t even know “Ecstasy” existed until the early 90s when I saw it in the Trouser Press Record Guide. And then it took me another dozen years, at least, before I found a copy that I could afford!
How very cool to see someone appreciate the long forgotten Torch Song! Are your remasters available for purchase? I would be most interested in the TS CDs.
Mark Randall – Thanks for stopping in. I am a big fan of Torch Song. At least the first two albums, but no. I do not sell these discs I make. I do write about the experience of making them, though. That is free for the taking.
A superb album.
I first heard the “Wish Thing” album back in the 1980s and loved it from first hearing. I eventually got a good copy on vinyl but that was ages ago and I no longer have my record collection, so MP3’s have to suffice. The versions of some of the songs differ between the UK and US editions I believe.
BTW, it was never released on CD in the UK/US because the original master recordings were recorded in a home studio onto cassette tape, and so the audio quality was not considered good enough for a CD release. I believe a CD version may have been released in Japan though, but I may be wrong on that. Possibly with newer digital mastering techniques and noise removal methods they may be able to produce an acceptable quality signal suitable for a CD issue now although I seem to remember that IRS went bust leaving some of their back-catalogue in limbo.