Record Review: Blow Monkeys – Atomic Lullaby

RCA | UK | 12″ | 1984 | RCAT444

Blow Monkeys: Atomic Lullaby UK 12″ [1984]

  1. Atomic Lullaby [ext.]
  2. Kill The Pig
  3. My Twisty Jewel

After hearing that the first two Blow Monkeys albums were being given DLX RM status later in November, I have made a bee-line for the fat stack of BM wax I’ve been accumulating for the last several years. In particular, the 12″ singles from “Limping For A Generation” have proven to be difficult to find, even online. Now, they’re everywhere, but ten years ago it took careful monitoring of e[vil]-bay to pounce on the scarce records. It was as late as 2-3 years ago when I finally managed to 12″ snag copies of: “Go Public,” “The Man From Russia,” “Wildflower,” and today’s record, “Atomic Lullaby.”

I had bought all of these on mint 7″ in the mid eighties, so I had the B-sides for about as long as I had been a Blow Monkeys fan. What I didn’t have were the A-sides, if they were extended or not. Info available on the net was inconclusive, so actually having the records in-hand was necessary to determine just what was on the releases. “Atomic Lullaby” was the only of the records that was reputed to be extended, but if you’ve been collecting records and especially singles, for as long as I have, one comes to expect little unplanned surprises that can only be discovered by actually playing one’s records!

As it turns out, the extended version of “Atomic Lullaby” is a typical ca. 1984 extended version that adds instrumental vamping that got the early fade on the LP or 7″ mix of the cut. “Atomic Lullaby” is an excellent example of the band’s early punk-jazz phase. Unlike, Carmel, who were a jazz band that approached punk from their home base, the Blow Monkeys were a rock band who added jazz touches. Neville Henry’s sax on the early records could be abrupt and abrasive, but on “Atomic Lullaby,” his horn is the balm that soothes; presaging the more MOR pop-soul sound that the group would adopt for their next album, their commercial breakthrough, “Animal Magic.”

The vibe on this cut is languid and lyrical with Dr. Robert’s expressive guitar vying with the sax for a warm, sepia-toned sound. Robert’s fey vocals can almost make one suspect a Stephen Duffy track might be playing instead, but the propulsive middle eight, that snaps into a furious, contrasting tempo is nothing that Duffy would have ever tried. After this fevered peak, the track relaxes right back into its previously torpid groove. It seems as if the extension to this track is all on the tail end, with a coda that was simply excised for other formats of this song during mastering.

“Kill The Pig” was a fascination to hear in this, that track’s initial version. The band create a dark, smoky jazz-funk vibe that’s unquestionably a killer groove. The version here is completely instrumental cut far different from the version of “Kill The Pig [pig mix/sharpsville mix]” that appeared later on the flipside to the later single “Forbidden Fruit.” Since the US “Forbidden Fruit” EP had the pig mix of “Kill The Pig” and it was one of the earliest Blow Monkeys recordings I came across, I was well acquainted with that version of this track. This earlier mix is all vibe with none of Dr. Robert’s lyrically biting, almost chanted vocals.

Finally, “My Twisty Jewel” is a vocal non-LP B-side that points to the influence of Marc Bolan on Dr. Robert’s vocals. Of course, the Blow Monkey’s music is nothing like the chugging electric boogie that T-Rex served up. It’s been mutated here to something approaching jazz. I’ve had this B-side on the 1999 “Atomic Lullabies” 2xCD with a generous serving of B-sides on disc 2 for some years now. The gold here is definitely “Kill The Pig” in what is a very different, early instrumental mix.

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3 Responses to Record Review: Blow Monkeys – Atomic Lullaby

  1. Echorich says:

    Interesting when you mentioned both “…Blow Monkeys were a rock band who added jazz touches,” as well as Marc Bolan. If I think to what seems would be their influences, and with most pop bands of the period, because of the age of the players, I tend to go back to the glam/art rock bands which would have made an imprint. Going for Bolan/T Rex and definitely Bowie would be pretty on point in my mind. TBM are certainly a rock band with jazz/art leanings, but as The Devil’s Tavern show quite well, TBM can ROCK and have never lost their pop sensibilities.
    Now Robert Howard is certainly influenced by some more pastoral predecessors as well – Nick Drake, Tim Harden and maybe even early Bowie. He tends to show this more in his solo outings, but The Devil’s Tavern and Staring at the Sea have some very quiet, intimate moments.
    Their current and continued activity pleases me very much!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Not forgetting the elephant in the room with Paul Weller! It was not for nothing that Pete Wilson wash the producer of the first two Blow Monkeys albums. That Howard later played with Weller on “Wild Wood” ties it all together. I heard some solo Weller in an antique shop in the early 90s and though it sounded good. I was a fan of The Jam, but not The Style Council, so I bought the US promo 2xCD of “Wild Wood” and Robert Howard guitar notwithstanding, I didn’t really care for it, so I put it in the “out” bin pretty quickly. Maybe it was material from his first album that caught my ear instead?

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  2. Echorich says:

    Robert had more influence on the first Weller album and was just a player on Wildwood. I believe Robert co wrote a few songs with Weller on that album but is uncredited. He worked on DC Lee’s solo/Slam Slam album which he is also credited as being a member of. Robert has more writing credits on the Slam Slam album, but Weller wrote the majority of it and the album has more affinity with the last Style Council album, Modernism: A New Decade. Robert’s solo singles at the turn of the decade fit nicely with these two albums as well.
    And finally I agree. Paul Weller – the debut solo album is brilliant, with really strong moments, but Wildwood still eludes me a bit. Wildwood seems to show a great deal of influence from Brendan Lynch and less from Weller himself.

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