Vice Versa: Stilyagi Dutch 7″ 
- 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 –