Record Review: Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It [part 3]

RAGNAROKWell, the album is almost redundant on the face of it. Most of the songs were built on the same relentless electropulse that was introduced on “Love Missile F-111.” They all had cut-up dub effects strewn throughout the whole production. There were originally samples galore, but EMI’s lawyers [never ones up for any fun] put the kibosh on that gambit, leaving the album with voice actors emoting, or in the case of Clint Eastwood, sound alikes quoting famous lines. The band and Moroder didn’t know about getting clearance in the Wild West days of the sampler.

SSS - Crucified by the Media?

SSS – Crucified by the Media?

The juxtaposition of the ads within the flow of the album feels more right than right and hearing the banded promo LP version with the links removed for airplay must count as the worst sort of comedown from the heady media overload vibe that the album legitimately attains. Some of the ads sound for all of the world as if the band mixed and recorded them. I suspect as much. The guitar vamps at the end of “Network 21” dovetail into the subsequent “Sex Bomb Boogie” like a fiend. One major point of reference that comes up with the inclusion of the ads that I’ve not heard anyone else mention, was that this marks the album as the obvious sequel to the brilliant Who album “The Who Sell Out” in more ways than one. That album also had a smattering of “ads” to better conjure up the heady pirate radio media stew that SSS were taking into the video age. Hell,  Network 21 was real pirate video micro caster! I can’t believe that I’ve never heard the obvious debt to The Who being made on behalf of this album before.

Parlophone | GER | 12" | 1986 | 1C K 060-20 1565 6

Parlophone | GER | 12″ | 1986 | 1C K 060-20 1565 6

Sure, most of the tracks seem like one big dub mix. “Rockit Miss USA” and “Massive Retaliation” attain a darker vibe than the rest here. The former is especially foreboding with its references to Berhnard Goetz via the opening subway squealing sound effects juxtaposed with not Clint Eastwood saying “go ahead, make my day” followed by gunshots. As if to make the allusions perfectly clear, the track ends abruptly with the Troy Canty soundbite of “I said give me five dollars” were repeated over with stuttered samples of “get the gun” over a bed of “hail to the chief.” It paints a picture of a violent New York City that’s not far removed from the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange and certainly not very satirical any more. 30 years later men with guns are still shooting unarmed men with dark skin with the gun manufacturers [who have congress in their pockets] cheering it all on.

“C’mon down and buy a sputnik. We have miles and miles of sputniks. They’re friendly. They’re cheap. They taste good. Because, a sputnik a day keeps the doctor away.”

“Massive Retaliation [M-A-D]” recalls FGTH’s “Two Tribes” in more ways than one with almost the same bass sample figuring in this track. Instead of the relentless, breakneck bassline of “Two Tribes,” this track was built on a more plodding beat that recalls “Let’s Go All The Way” by Sly Fox from the same year. The juxtaposition of the backing vocals and samples repeating “shut up” give the track a loopy sense of the absurd, never more prevalent than when a female announcer [!] delivers the quote above this paragraph only to be again followed by more “shut up” samples.

The final two tracks perk up from the gloom a bit. “Teenaged Thunder” and “She’s My Man” are just a few degrees of separation from one another. They proffer almost a rockabilly sensibility and end the album on a slightly flat note with a very low quotient of satire compared to the album at its stimulating best. And therein lies the paradox at the heart of “Flaunt It.” At its acme, it has more to offer than scores of the competition with an almost depthless Post-Modern ambiguity and a seemingly limitless ability to be parsed along any number of sociological vectors of inquiry. But all of this intellectual content is delivered at the expense of memorable tunes, even though some might say that good tunes would have defeated the whole purpose of this album! In other words, the sameness and surface banality of the music is the only honest embodiment of the ideas that it was built to serve! With one exception.

The musical heart of the album stands so far apart from the bulk of this album, that it almost should stop the momentum of the concepts in their tracks, except that “Atari Baby” plays instead like a lush oasis in the middle of a concrete brutalist city. The tune is at a fraction of the BPM of the rest of the album, and it offers what approaches a love song built from the vocabulary of the SSS project and points the way to a rare instance of the band having its cake and eating it too. The gorgeous song sounds like a close cousin to one of my favorite Art Of Noise tracks, “Snapshot” from “Daft.” Of course, what each of these songs have in common is the stirring B-F-E chord sequence from The Who’s “Baba O’ Reilley.” It invigorates each of these songs in turn and quite frankly I never grow weary of hearing them; even the venerable Who classic. “Atari Baby” shows that it may be possible for SSS to fulfill their intellectual brief while offering actual ear candy.

When I view the SSS website, I can see an additional eight albums of SSS material that have been released over the years, with much of it being of fairly recent vintage. Does anyone have any experiences with these and should I look into hearing more than the classic debut album? On the face of it, they needn’t have released anything else other than “Flaunt It” and perhaps too many 12″ singles to accompany it, but if they plowed the furrow of most of what I’ve already had for years, then I don’t mind having given it a pass. If they instead took “Atari Baby” as a direction to follow, then I might be interested in more from the 5th Generation of Rock & Roll.

– 30 –

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7 Responses to Record Review: Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It [part 3]

  1. Echorich says:

    I guess I would have thought the referencing of The Who Sell Out was kind of obvious. And with the neutering which EMI imposed, those ads even fell a bit like the “ads” on sell out. But as Sputnik were more media savvy – read able to manipulate them initially – you knew that James & Co were actually going for the gold with the ads rather than conjuring up an aura.
    I have to agree that Atari Baby is the stand out track on Flaunt It. All the right references culled together with a memorable tune. Time was obviously taken with this track. The mid 80’s was wild with cut up dub and early sample experimentation. This would all be taken to new heights towards the end of the decade and appropriated by the burgeoning dance music scene. – Pump Up The Volume or Whitney Joins The JAMs anyone? The cinematic sampling SSS flirted with does remind me of B.A.D. at times – again with more chaos over melody – and the fact that James and Jones were still good mates may have some influence on this. SSS brewed a chaos that doesn’t come to the fore with FGTH or other pop sensations, like the rigid Art Of Noise, which came just before them. Like FTGH though, they gave their all with the first release in my mind. I would be interested with what James came up with after his time with Sisters Of Mercy – Eldritch having been his original choice for SSS frontman.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Eldritch as SSS frontman?! Crazy! I’m glad it didn’t happen. Degville was perfect for the role. He had the naked ambition necessary to fulfill the brief of a band that was in part a comment on the same, and he was extremely image conscious [as only an ex-New Romantic could be] with ties to fashion design that were very useful within the band. His styling chops were perfect for the group! That Tony never quite clicked visually with the others made the overall gestalt even more perfect.

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  2. Jon Chaisson says:

    Why yes, I do have all the albums, why do you ask? :p

    I do like ‘Dress for Excess’, and though it’s not as punchy or glitchy as Flaunt It, it’s way more melodic. There’s some interesting tracks on there, and they’d hired different producers for different tracks like Stephen Hague, Liminha, etc. The single “Success” is pure Stock Aitken Waterman 80s pop gloss (they’d hired them to do that song precisely for that reason) and catchy as hell. The lovely closer “Is This the Future” is even moodier and dreamier than “Atari Baby”.

    The others were recorded over a decade later, mostly just with James, Degville and Neal X, and they lack a certain Sputnik punch (although ‘Ultra Real’ was an attempt at the original sound). ‘Piratespace’ is the strongest and has some interesting tracks on it. ‘Blak Elvis’ is just…weird, as it’s an album of Elvis covers as only Sputnik could do them. And of course there’s a boatload of compilations that collect most if not all the singles and demos. They’re probably not essential, but are interesting to check out.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jon Chaisson – Thanks for the advice. Your overview was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to hear. I will keep my options open. The likelihood of finding any if those in a used bin save for maybe “Success” is slim to none, so the rest will have to go on my web want list. I like the fact that you say that album two is stronger on melody. Though I am engaged intellectually with “Flaunt It,” it doesn’t have the “playability” to encourage frequent listening. “Atari Baby” excepted.

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  3. stellaVista says:

    Excellent! 3 parts on SSS!
    If you haven´t done so already I highly recommend to read the full band history in Tony´s own words: http://www.sputnikworld.com/The_Sputnik_Story.html
    It explains extensively how the whole thing came together…and fell apart.
    In the end, James claims that today SSS exists exactly in the place where it belonged from the very beghinning: in cyberspace

    I remember not liking SSS that much when they exploded on the scene. I WAS into Suicide (the band) at that time and could only accept one band ripping them off and that was Soft Cell (who had just split). Of course the Sister of Mercy were a big thing, they had already signed to WEA and would be labelled as “sell outs” by 1985. See, this was all terribly serious for me and I would not allow a band of ridiculous clowns to take the piss. (that´s what Alien Sex Fiend was for!)

    But it was the relentless release of brilliantly designed singles that kept me interested (different covers for each country with hilarious spelling mistakes…you could even argue they anticipated google translations).
    “Buy EMI” (the b-side for “21st century boy”) finally won me over: This was supposed to be some glossy, futuristic, hi-tech pop and it sounded so cheap and trashy like an unfinished demo.

    When the album finally came out (with that fantastic cover) the world had already turned against them and I would eventually buy all their stuff as it was flooding the 2nd hand stores shortly after.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      stellaVista – You were lucky! In The States, SSS material was hard to come by. I suspect the importers simply didn’t touch the stuff; sensing pure hype… But that, of course, was the whole point! I was initially dubious of SOM but repeated club exposure won me over to the point of a very neat and tidy SOM collection to this day. In spite of Jim Steinman.

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