February 22, 2011
Blondie first hit the heights of fame in the UK around the time of “Plastic Letters,” their second album. They were superstars in Britain at least 18 months prior to their hitting the top with “Heart Of Glass” in the US, so with that fact in mind, it’s not surprising how influential Blondie were in influencing the UK bands of the New Wave. By 1978 you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a New Wave act with a female singer fronting the group. What is fascinating is that while Blondie were active, sure, there were lots of bands inspired by them, but there also arose what I’ll call the New Wave of Blondie Influenced Pop in the UK roughly a decade later.
The Darling Buds emerged from the C-86 scene in Wales and within three years, they managed to have a hit debut album on CBS with “Pop Said.” That album offered clean, pop rock with all the fresh-scrubbed verve of Blondie, minus the heavy dose of irony. Andrea Lewis sings with clarity and vivacity and all of the songs keep the hooks coming as if on a conveyor belt. All of the cuts come down on the shy side of four minutes and follow my first edict of this dirty business called show: always leave them wanting more.
Their second album, “Crawdaddy” veers away from the Blondie pop of the debut to embrace indie dance influences rather magnificently. Cuts like “Crystal Clear” and “Tiny Machine” managed to reflect the culture of the time without disgusting me – a neat trick! They managed a third album, “Erotica,” that came out just weeks before the other record of 1992 with that name, and the sound is fully “grown up” from their youthful beginning. Alas, the half life of the New Wave Of Blondie Influenced Pop [or NWOBIP – tell me you didn’t see that coming] seems to be three albums exactly, as we shall see.
The Primitives, from Coventry, also come from the same roots as The Darling Buds; C-86 influenced pop rockers. Like that band, they gestated and burst forth in 1988 with a respectable selling debut album and are fronted by the platinum blonde Tracy Cattell. Besides the obvious peroxide usage, she favored some of Debbie Harry’s blasé detachment in her delivery. The hit single “Crash” got a lot of airplay, in a case of cream rising to the top for a change. Apart from the other bands discussed here, occasionally Paul Court would step up to the mic [on their third album] for the occasional lead vocal. Intriguingly enough, his vocals were not dissimilar from Tracy’s in character, making the transition between singers relatively seamless.
Like The Darling Buds, their second album was even better than their great debut and evidenced some further artistic growth. “Way Behind Me” was a killer single and in keeping with the band that was their namesake, they perform the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” That makes sense given that the VU probably also influenced Blondie’s use of irony and dark humor.
Their third album, “Galore,” issued in 1992, didn’t even get a US release. It was their last hurrah; an album so obscure, I could only find a Japanese copy for sale! Nevertheless, it’s fantastic 60s-slash-nineties pop rock that mines the vein deep. It’s telling that they cover The Nightcrawlers’ “Little Black Egg” in the song selection. In looking into the band, I made the discovery that the band reformed in 2009 to commemorate deceased bassist Steve Dullaghan and have since reunited with producer Paul Sampson to record a fourth album. The band are now officially back! They have even played a US concert date once so far, so here’s hoping they make their way to my neck of the woods this time.
Transvision Vamp also sported a blonde, female vocalist whose debut album appeared in 1988 and who also maintained a three album career before fizzling out in ’91-’92. But hey, whose counting? Admittedly, TVV differ from the previous two groups in that they alone absorbed Blondie’s ironic stance and multiplied it until it was almost too much to bear. Their debut album, “Pop Art,” [that title’s a dead giveaway, isn’t it?] is delightfully overproduced by either Zeus B. Held or Duncan Bridgeman. Unlike The Primitives or The Darling Buds, the sound is steeped in high tech, synthesized touches; veering far afield from the basic rock combo sounds favored by the other two. The opener, “Trash City” lays it all on the line for an over the top, jet trash manifesto that owes at least as much to Sigue Sigue Sputnik as to Blondie. “Sister Moon” is a winner that manages to show a dreamy side to offset the brash, if not crass, attitudes on display here.
Unlike the others, TVV’s debut album is my favorite of their releases. No gentle bell curve of achievement for them. Like the others, it sold respectably well, but it was their second album, “Velveteen,” that saw them reach their commercial acme. “Baby I Don’t Care” is a crass re-write of “Wild Thing” that has no shame whatsoever. That’s about as good as it gets on album number two. Still, it sold well enough to top the UK album chart. That made their sudden fall from grace all the more shocking.
Their third album, “Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble,” was issued in, you guessed it, 1991… but only in America! The two pre-release singles [“I Just Wanna Be With U,” “If Looks Could Kill”] stiffed so badly, that the long-winded album never get a UK release. MCA dumped it in America [and Australia, where they had a following] and the band split before a UK release was mooted. It’s a little better than the preceding “Velveteen.” “Twangy Wigout,” besides being a hell of a great song title, has the distinction of being co-written by no less than Serge Gainsbourg! But like their peroxided peers, three albums amid a swirl of success was all they were capable of providing. If anything, the advent of the Madchester/baggy scene bulldozed these bands off of the airwaves with their [tedious] ecstasy-fueled grooves.
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