Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 2]

steve[continued from previous post]

Aurora unfolded like a lotus flower; all shimmering synths with buttery sax dancing around the streams of synths that were as diaphanous as dragonfly wings. The lyrics were slightly changed from the Adam Fielding original with all of the positivity capped by Steve’s critical change of the word “beautiful” to “merciful.” It’s interesting to hear Visage see how far they can strive for beauty in their final phase. It’s fascinating to hear the band push far outside of the confines of club music as if they didn’t care to be pigeonholed any longer.

The uncredited sax that appeared for the second half of the album beginning here was strongly redolent of Alan Sheppard’s playing on Freur’s “Doot Doot” album. It had that same summery, carefree quality that I’d previously heard on a song like “Runaway.” It could be Steve Barnacle’s brother Gary, who was a member for 1984’s “Beat Boy” album, but Steve Norman was thanked in the credits here. It sounds like it could be either to my ears.

bottin - punicafidesUKCDAAfter Bottin remixed “Never Enough” for the band, it looks like Steve did a quid pro quo for Bottin by co-writing the song “Poison Within” for Bottin’s “Punica Fides” album of last year. It re-emerged here in a decidedly different form as “Your Skin Is My Sin.” The number lost its original loose-limbed funkiness, but the version here burns more intensely. It’s the darkly introspective number from the second half of the album where Strange confronts his demons in the lyrics that baldly stated “Once more I’m left on my own and I try not to screw up my whole life.”

It gained a lot from the band playing the song here, with Steve Barnacle’s  taut basslines contrasting with Robin Simon’s flanged rhythm guitar. Logan Sky’s synths supplied an atmospheric ostinato to the track and Simon’s flanged wah-wah solo at song’s end sounded like a cry for help.

The effervescent “Clubscene” was a winsome serving of electropop that simply reeked of the production sound on the last OMD album, “English Electric.” This was remake of a 2007 track “Clubscene Popscene” by Hiem. Specifically the Diskopop Version, not the darker original mix. In this instance the band adhered tightly to the cover template to the point where it sounded exactly like the Hiem remix version. Here, the live band were not in evidence as the drum machines and programmed synths dominated the sound for the one time on the album, leaving it to be a compassionate look back to a life spent in clubland. I’m sure Strange had seen lots of girls like the one on the song.

Finally, it was time for a Visage instrumental! There had not been one of these since the debut album [but that one had three], and when Steve died, I felt that it would not be a shock if there were some tracks that there might not have been a vocal take from Steve for them. The precedent was certainly there, but this was a track that due to the Russian narration on it, I could hardly imagine being a full song with Steve singing. “Star City” plays like a less campy sequel to “Moon Over Moscow” as the song paid tribute to the Soviet astronaut training center that was the backbone of their space program. The keys here were regal and elegant as the CR-78 kept the time, but I couldn’t help but wonder if co-writer Didier Marouani wasn’t also playing synths on the track himself. When the male Russian vocal choir from “Moon Over Moscow” made a showing half way through singing a new melody it was a brilliant touch.

Then the album proper reached its end with another introspective reflection from Strange with Steve Barnacle playing a fluid fretless bass line. In that aspect, “Never” was similar to “Breathe Life” from “Hearts + Knives,” with the exception that the full band were in evidence here, unlike more spartan 2013 track. The airiness of the tune certainly recalled the vibe of China Crisis as Steve delivered a benediction to cap off the album with one final expression of positivism. Sadly, his last to reach our ears.

Next: …Bonus round

About postpunkmonk

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2 Responses to Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 2]

  1. Echorich says:

    Sometimes a songwriter takes a second look at something he’s heard and finds a certain magic which was not evident to him the first time around. When that happens, you get Aurora. The magic here is direct connection which this version’s instrumentation takes from forbearers Roxy Music. The guitar harkens back to melodic ocean of More Than This, swaying back and forth, setting Strange’s lyrics adrift in a sea of want/need/hope. It’s absolutely enchanting.
    I can’t think of a more on point self reflective lyric than those on Your Skin Is My Skin. Don’t be mistaken, Strange isn’t singing to anyone other than himself. If an artist is going to have a late in life career “rebirth” he or she cannot (or more accurately should not) avoid the subject of looking back and taking stock. Aside from this being great fodder for lyrical content, it gives a great deal of legitimacy to that very comeback. There are more than enough 50+ artists out their still trying to strut their stuff as magnets for teenage affection. Here Visage approaches as a prime time club track, it’s a classic tow tapper, full of New Romantic hooks thanks to the synth and sax. Simon’s guitar reminds me of Journeys To Glory era Spandau Ballet and I’m sure that’s not by chance.
    Clubscene is a bit of timeless dance-pop. Steve pushes the visuals in classic “been there and seen it all before” fashion. Having worked in NYC nightclubs for a good number of years in my youth, this hits home in a very knowing sort a way. The song’s wide open sort of ambient/dance vibe gives the effect that Steve is floating over the club reflecting on club life now and then.
    The best trip backwards that Demons To Diamonds may offer is Sin City. It transported me back to 1980 in a flash. It feels like a tribute to the times that gave birth to Visage and their comrades in arms. Gorgeous.
    That Demons To Diamonds ends with a soaring pop song of positivity and hope is a testament to the band culture which grew from this final version of Visage. It’s as if all concerned knew this had to be the albums closer. I have to admit reading along with the lyrics the first time I heard it, I got a bit misty eyed. Success Steve Strange, SUCCESS!


    • Echorich says:

      Re-read my comment and right at the beginning I have a glaring error – proofreading is not my strong suit… I meant to say “…a songwriter takes a second look at something he’s heard…” no written… All props due to Adam Fielding – an artist who deserves a great deal of appreciation for his work.


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