Record Review: Vice Versa – Stilyagi

Vice Versa ca. 1980: [L-R] Mark White, Stephen Singleton, Martin Fry

Backstreet Backlash Records | DUTCH | 7″ | 1980 | BBR 003

Vice Versa: Stilyagi Dutch 7″ [1980]

  1. Stilyagi
  2. Eyes Of Christ

Now, we’re talking!! This records delivers on the promise of “Music 4” in spades! Sure, it still sounds like Cab Volt a million times over. This time it manages a very credible take on attaining a “Nag Nag Nag” vibe! The production is steeped in vintage BBC Radiophonic Workshop tropes, leaving it sounding like a magnificent Doctor Who pastiche. The use of reverb is excellent. The title suggests Russian and a quick check of the web reveals that the Soviet Stilyagi [“style-hunter”] movement of postwar Russia was a subculture that embraced the modern and Western in the heart of the Stalin era. Okay!

The track starts with a frantic heartbeat rhythm with highly reverberated synth chords shooting through the “blu-bump, blu-bump, blu-bump” like cheesy sci-fi laserblasts. When new vocalist Martin Fry begins singing “Stilyagi, still young…” he sounds like a train with no brakes careening through the Sheffield Post-Punk sonic wasteland. He has all the energy and lack of control of a V2 and he sounds a far cry from the polished crooner who turned heads globally within two years. The dubby production adds significantly to the sense of exciting chaos. In the latter sense, I can make tentative comparisons to the much more polished, yet thrilling, Simple Minds anthem “I Travel,” which was contemporaneous to this cut.

Make no mistake, that was a thoroughly professional product. This, by comparison, sounds like it was produced in an afternoon with the tea budget for the former song, by youth with more energy than talent. But it certainly does get the blood flowing, nonetheless. Longtime followers of Mr. Fry would be hard pressed to recognize him here. The closest that he ever came to sounding this inchoate was on “Alphabet Soup,” the B-side to the ABC debut single. With that song, Fry was offering his take on James Brown funk. Here, it’s his vision of the Sheffield minimal synth of Cab Volt-meets-Clock DVA. The obscure Soviet cultural references add to the perfection of it all as a sonic Polaroid of its time.

The B-side, “Eyes Of Christ” sounds almost nothing like the Martin Fry we all know and love. The pacing here recalls the iconic “Warm Leatherette.” The use of keyboard percussion with “tattoos” that sound like machine guns mark the B-side as a minimal third cousin to the early Human League B-side, “Introducing.” The track is ultimately far less coherent than the A-side, which at least makes a bit of sense, once you know what “Stilyagi” means. Your guess is as good as mine as to what Fry is going on about here. I suspect that he may be referring those kitsch portraits of Our Savior rendered in lenticular art that shows His eyes following you as you move in front of them. When Fry hits the bridge and proclaims from nowhere “…now take it away Mr. Saxophone Man…” Singleton plays a skronk solo that no one could have predicted at the time.

It’s bracing to think that within a year or so, the “Tears Are Not Enough” single will be unleashed, and following that, ABC will finally meet up with Trevor Horn and really lay down some tread. But this single paints a tantalizing glimpse of the strange, parallel universe where ABC were a very typical Sheffield band of the era instead of the band that “did for funk what The Police did for reggae.” When thinking of how much territory that the first three ABC albums mapped out, perhaps it’s not that strange. From 1980-1985, ABC were restless butterflies frantically shedding their chrysalides. Why not have Sheffield minimal synth at their ground zero?

Now that I have these two Vice Versa records, there is a glaring omission in my Record Cell. The final Vice Versa release was an EP the band released on Neutron Records called “1980: The First 15 Minutes.” On it, the band share the groove with I’m So Hollow and Clock DVA and the Stunt Kites. Vice Versa offer a final track, “Genetic Warfare.”  I didn’t want to go down this road, but now, with 2/3 Vice Versa releases, I need to take this all the way before making the truly spectacular ABC boxed set of god®. Wish me luck.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Record Review: Vice Versa – Stilyagi

  1. JT says:

    Stilyagi were more or less Russian rockabillies.
    I saw a fascinating movie about them a few years ago [title: “Stilyagi”] that was more or less a Russian version of “Grease”. Very campy, but a whole lot of fun.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – I saw a still from it on the “Stilyagi” WP page where I delved into the word. Who knew? They didn’t discuss this factor in “Americanism Versus Communism” class. Yes! In Florida, it was a requirement to graduate High School! Notice that they didn’t call it “Capitalism Versus Communism.”

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  2. chas_m says:

    Not even going to TRY to explain to people just HOW fucked up/Reagan-esque Carl Dragstadt’s AVC class was. The title tells you everything you need to know, except this: playing devil’s advocate in there nearly cost me my graduation!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      For those who didn’t attend Oak Ridge High School, Carl Dragstedt was the coach of multiple sports teams [cross country, track, swimming, etc.] at the school who was entrusted to hone our minds to accept the finer points of Capitalism in order to graduate.

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  3. Tim says:

    I really try to avoid political comments on entertainment threads but that’s just messed up, Cold War or no Cold War. And this is from someone who studied as much Russian history, language, geography, etc. while in high school and college. I would love to hear that single, btw.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim: It’s a fascinating record. I’ll bet you can hear it at the usual places. As for Florida and the lingering Cold War, yes. It was messed up. I took AVC during summer school to get it out of the way in six weeks! And why should you avoid politics? It doesn’t avoid you? As a Cab Volt fan, I have the tendency to deconstruct power/control structures all of the time! Naturally, I’m drawn to “entertainment” that does the same!

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  4. Tim says:

    I am a pretty opinionated person when it comes to politics and this blog as well as a couple of other blogs and a group or two that I am a member of on Facebook are places where I do my best to be 100% politically neutral in my posts. I think it is important and creates an oasis for me where certain places are meant to be explored and enjoyed as much as possible without bringing that into it. I’m actually quite new to FB (long story) and the interesting thing is i sometimes take a look at the pages of people who consistently “like” things that I post or comment and I apparently have a couple of people who “like” or agree with my post trail but are diametrically opposed to me politically, one quite viscerally.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I was thunderstruck to see that on a local political blog I post to on occasion, I was complimented on my PPM name [“Post-Punk Monk has to be the most awesome screen name ever!”] by a person who turned out to be a high level operative for the most despicable politician ever to be fully funded by the Koch Brothers in Bumcombe County. So I completely understand where you’re coming from.

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