Record Review: Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It [part 2]

SSS vs EMI

SSS vs EMI… who won?

“Love Missile F-111” was an audacious blend of Suicide with T-Rex in dub. So what if half of the album sounded like a remix of the track? There are more ideas per square inch here than with most bands of the mid-80s. Kudos to James for daring to create something that had a multiplicity of levels to investigate. At the simplest level, the songs were redolent of T-Rex, possibly the finest “lowest common denominator” for the entire punk generation. Some performers loved Roxy more than Bowie, or vice versa, but was there anyone who didn’t love T-Rex? Marc Bolan had the instinctive magic that cut through the charts and won the hearts of almost everyone in the process. His simplistic updating of blues for the switched-on, early 70s generation was inspired. And if you’re going to steal; steal from the best.

The media overload style that the band synthesized from Blade Runner, Terminator, Clockwork Orange, and Japanese popular culture wordlessly evoked the high velocity zeitgeist of Eros/Thanatos that was now driving Western Culture ever closer to the edge of the precipice in the fat, complacent middle of the Reagan Thatcher era. One might even say in the way it saw the coming age of media overstimulation, that the album manifested pre-millennial tension years before it was trendy to make the attempt.

At the very least, it is obvious that James was drinking the same water as the writers [George Stone + Steve Roberts] of the prescient TV film “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future.” Both efforts, which were concurrent and independent, were darkly satirical examples of the coming techno-overload style which they both cribbed no doubt from “Blade Runner, but with the added frissons of black humor. Myself, I suspect that all of them were probably readers of the American Flagg comic book by Howard Chaykin. It hit the comic shops like a bomb in 1983 and very much laid the groundwork for SSS and the Max Headroom film.

Looking back to A Clockwork Orange, “Love Missile F-111” [and therefore the entire album] has the cheap, tawdry vibe of the sort of bands that Alex disdained; preferring the majesty of ol’ Ludwig Van B. Beethoven gets plundered as well with what sounds like samples of “Ode To Joy” and the “William Tell Overture” as Mooged up by Wendy Carlos [both from the Clockwork Orange OST] surfacing throughout the album. But there is a glimmer of humanity surfacing in the track almost unnoticed amid the sex and ultra violence. As Mr. Degville is extolling “Blaster bombs, bombs, bombs ahead” he follows it with the line “Multi millions still unfed” almost casually in the second verse. If it goes unnoticed, blame the heavy use of crass samples and deep dub effects. That line is crucial, because without it, “Flaunt It” would posit a deeply cynical, amoral universe not worth paying attention to.

With it, it transforms the work satirically, given that Tony James has let his guard down and slipped in the truth among all of this synthetic hypercandy. of course, like any good post-modernist, how much he is commenting negatively on what he sees while actively celebrating certain stylistic aspects of it is in the eye of the beholder. Fortunately, the repetitive, machine-gun-like production of Giorgio Moroder [?] keeps the wheels rolling forward.

Which is important, when the album has its tracks interrupted by advertising! In a sad example of just how ahead of its time that this album was, only five of the eight ad slots were sold to outside concerns. Two were false “house ads” for EMI and The Sputnik Corporation, and the third was for the never-released SSS computer game. For years I thought the “Network 21” spot for “low power TV” was a nod to Max Headroom, but I’ve just learned that it really was a pirate TV broadcaster active in London! Of all of the ads, the best are the spots for I-D Magazine and L’Oreal’s Studio line of hair care products.

I used to read I-D Magazine, back in the day and it was a very congruent fit with the SSS universe. But the best ad of all was the L’Oreal ad, which was a straight version of their TV/radio campaign for their Studio line of products. The rapid-fire techno style of the spot’s delivery was intrinsically what the whole SSS aesthetic was satirizing, and its inclusion here was icing on the cake as it helps the album attain an acme of self-referential satire that is well-nigh unreachable on the face of it.

Next: … yes but what about the album?

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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11 Responses to Record Review: Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It [part 2]

  1. Rob C says:

    No offense, and sorry to say, but this was truly one of the worst bands of the 80s…and Love Missile F1-11 sits high on my worst songs ever list…truly awful.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Rob C – I totally understand your reaction. I find the album inspired and multi-leveled but the fact remains… 28 years later, I only have one of nine SSS albums… But maybe that will change?

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  2. Echorich says:

    Yes Monk, real advertising on a mastered piece of vinyl —-25 yrs later it’s real ads before youtube clips and in between Pandora and other streaming services…Ahead of their time indeed!
    If the listener of Flaunt It doesn’t hear or get the incongruities and commentary buried in the tracks, then James has also been ahead of the curve, knowing that the era of pop with socio-political commentary was truly on the wane and a new era of boy and girl bands and blissed out dance music was at hand.

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  3. Funnily enough, one can see both genius and Rob C’s perspective equally in this song and album. It is one of the worst things of the 80s … in the same sense that Jackson Pollack is the worst painter of all time. The “worst” thing about it is that it could be remade today and the top 40 radio audience would be none the wiser!

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  4. Taffy says:

    i guess it’s reappraisal time, so I’d better get to digging out my CDs of Flaunt It and Dress For Excess and have a listen with 2014 ears. It’s been years since I played either, but my main memory is of enjoying the con but being rather unimpressed with the music.
    One exception…I rather enjoy the “Sputnik Aitken Waterman” production of single Success, with its “sex fun success” refrain. But I guess that’s a comment best kept til you revisit the Dress For Excess album.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – You hit close to my take on it. There’s a deep vein to deconstruct for a month of Sundays with SSS, but the music is as shallow as the day is long, and that tempers my adoration on an aesthetic level. On an intellectual level… SSS have few peers! Or am I reading that into it? Gaaaah! Let’s not forget; David Bowie himself covered “Love Missile F-111!” Memo to self, I must hear what he did with that! And I’ve never heard anything past seeing the “Success” video a few times. It didn’t impress at the time as I was way over our SAW overlords, and in fact, I no longer welcomed them!

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    • Echorich says:

      The Sptunik Aitken Waterman CD Single was the last thing I bought from SSS, but I really enjoy that. It is thoroughly of the time and the SAW sound doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings – thank you Phil Harding…let’s put it this way, I can’t hear Bananarama, Sabrina, Sam Fox or any of the SAW stable singing it. It’s really a pretty straightforward single and remix. Neal X’s guitars are great. The out of control dubby effects are reigned in and it really is quite listenable.

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  5. Echorich says:

    I took a good listen to Flaunt It last night and have decided that Atari Baby stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album for me. Probably because it trades the most on Suicide and I would pay money for Alan Vega to sing this track…real money!! Some of the effects are just ahead of their time — I hear JAMMS/KLF in a big way – maybe the conceptual aspect of both bands isn’t that far removed.

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  6. Well written as usual Monk. Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s idyllic future of capitalism may have been a tad romanticized, but my gosh, the dismal gloom of Ethiopia, the fabricated fear of nukes, AIDS, and the influx of street cocaine brought a thirst-quenching shot of glitter and glitz to MTV. Albeit crudely, SSS were brightly inspiring all without a charity record to boot and an anti-Thatcher t-shirt. I for one, was never burdened with a guilt of social injustice while perpetuating their records to my friends and family. Excellent entry today Monk.

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