Record Review: China Crisis – Hanna Hanna

Virgin | UK | 12" | 1984 | VS 665-12

Virgin | UK | 12″ | 1984 | VS 665-12

China Crisis: Hanna Hanna UK 12″ [1984]

  1. Hanna Hanna [ext. mix]
  2. Here Come A Raincloud [live]
  3. African + White [live]

It took me a minute of cogitation, but China Crisis were a band I first heard via a music video on MTV’s late, lamented “London Calling” program. I believe it was a minute or two of their video for “Working With Fire + Steel” that alerted me to their discreet charms. Never ones call undue attention to themselves in an attempt to get noticed, China Crisis nonetheless packed their songs with more than competent craftsmanship. The playing and writing foundations of the band were such that after chancing to hear them, ex-Steely Dan member Walter Becker put a bug in someone’s ear at Warner Brothers that he’d like to produce them one day. Which… was almost the group’s ruin, but that’s another story for another time.

This was the band’s fourth single pulled from their vibrant second album “Working With Fire + Steel [Possible Pop Songs vol. 2].” At this time they were on top of the world. Producer Mike Howlett, far from just lending fellow Liverpudlians OMD a helping hand into the pop charts, did just as well for this group with a sterling production that was the best that the band ever had. It certainly seemed that in the early 80s, hippy-prog act Gong was busy spinning off members as producers for Virgin’s burgeoning roster of synthpop acts [see also Steve Hillage/Simple Minds].

At the time of release, I was all over “Wishful Thinking” as a favorite single from this album, but in 2007, when I was busy compiling my China Crisis BSOG, the latent charms of this A-side suddenly smacked me in the forehead in a way that it hadn’t before. The elegant, reserved melody is a typically fine China Crisis asset but what reached out to me then in a way that it hadn’t before, was in the fluid fretless bass lines of Gazza Johnson. China Crisis had been opening for Simple Minds the year previous in that band’s UK tour for “New Gold Dream” and it sure seems like Johnson was soaking up inspiration from The Minds’ own Derek “Big Dan” Forbes; the Scot God Of Bass®. What Johnson laid down on this wax was every bit as supple yet powerful as anything that The Minds were still doing at this time.

The song has a unique, dubbed up percussive hook that one reviewer likened to a “skeleton xylophone” but really, this song is all about the bass now. Once I latch onto a strong bass line, I almost can’t hear anything else afterward. The horn charts add a unique touch. In fact, one imagines that OMD might have heard the fruits of this album and though “that’s it, we need to get a horn section!” Which, of course, they got for their next album. Three albums, in fact. The 12″ version adds modest extensions to the arrangement in the respectful order of the day.

Since this was the fourth single, they apparently exhausted all of the studio B-side tracks available, so the single was filled out with live tracks recorded on tour at Reading University. “Here Come A Raincloud” is one of my favorite tracks of the band due to the killer oboe that this track sports. This track is China Crisis at their elegant, understated best. That they manage to deliver this gentle beauty live speaks volumes. That it’s a full 50% longer than the exquisite album track means that the group don’t believe in moderating luxury! After that, the inclusion of the band’s first single in a live setting is something of a comedown. But “African + White” was their calling card, if not their biggest hit, so I wouldn’t begrudge them that.

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3 Responses to Record Review: China Crisis – Hanna Hanna

  1. You are on a roll of songs I really enjoy, Monk!

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  2. Echorich says:

    China Crisis has always been near to my heart. The debut album was a record store find that was playing when I walked in and that I later walked out with. WWFAS is a brilliant record – as complete as records get. The production is certainly a big part of it’s success as well. China Crisis is so subtle yet strongly pop. Soul Awakening an Here Comes A Raincloud are truly stand out tracks.
    You allude to some disappointment with the Becker album and possibly their attempt at improving on it with the Becker/LangerWinstanley follow up. I would enjoy a full discussion on the band someday.

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  3. md says:

    Notwithstanding HH’s excellent 12″ remix treatment it was the live tracks that did it for me on this release. HCAR has that wonderful drum machine intro/fade-in and, yes, oboe, and this rendition of A&W is fairly unique..they even manage pull off a drum solo with style!

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