Visage was always one of my favorite “bands.” Their debut album was one of my first purchases after finally tracking down a copy of Ultravox’s “Vienna.” The sounds of that Ultravox record were the map that I had been waiting to follow even after two Gary Numan albums had already been in the Record Cell. I recognized in “Visage” the immediate predecessor that fostered its birth. This was post-disco dance rock; heavy on the electronics and attitude. I rode the Visage bus until the patchy third album and the Mid-80s Malaise® derailed the project. Seemingly for good. Truth be told, it was probably the heroin as much as anything that scuttled the group. With Steve Strange adrift by that point, I could only look longingly at the “V” section in record stores and imagine the records I’d missed.
Until 2002, and the abortive first Visage2 stirrings surfaced on the internet. But nothing came of it from my end, and barring the occasional compilations, Visage was seemingly a done deal. Strange was by that point more [in]famous for his fragile state [he got caught shoplifting a Teletubby toy in 1999] than any musical contributions he was going to make. It took until Visage3 formed and in 2013, that new material surfaced and against all odds, I was completely floored by the results. I had been cautiously investigating the new material. The first single, “Shameless Fashion,” was good. It was helped considerably by the presence of my favorite Post-Punk Guitarist, Robin Simon, in the lineup. The next 30 second sample they released from the song “Never Enough” was just a powerhouse, and I ordered the DLX CD package immediately after hearing it.
Visage then went on a three year tear that saw three albums, a remix album, and a wildly successful string of seven singles [six issued from “Hearts + Knives” alone] released to my ever-fascinated ears. The band were laying down a lot of material with a very strong band lineup and a production crew that were all aligned to pilot the good vessel Visage out of the shallows where they had been trapped for so long, and into satisfying artistic waters. It was all the more tragic that Strange died suddenly in early 2015, just two years into this final phase of the band, but the band’s legacy was in good hands. The followup to “Hearts + Knives” was finished and it was another solid album. Now, the last piece of the puzzle has fallen into place and a new Visage compilation has been produced that draws together for the first time the phase 1 and phase 3 eras of the band.
Disc 1 – Visage: The Wild Life The Best Of, 1978 to 2015 UK CD 
- Fade To Grey (Original Version)
- Mind Of A Toy (Original Version)
- Visage (Original Version)
- Tar (Original 7” Version)
- Anvil (Original Version)
- Night Train (7″ Version)
- The Damned Don’t Cry (Original Version)
- Pleasure Boys (Original Version)
- Never Enough (Original Version)
- Dreamer, I Know (Original Version)
- She’s Electric (Coming Around) (Original Version)
- Hidden Sign (Tiger Face Flame Remix)
- Love Glove (Orchestral Version)
- Aurora (Original Version)
- The Silence (Original Version)
The first half of this compilation consists of masters now owned by Universal Music, so they licensed tracks 1-8. There are a few curve balls and I’m here to tell you about them. The first three tracks are all UK 7″ mixes previously on CD. The version of “Tar” is the same one on the 7″ only. Comparative listening reveals, that while it is the right version, the recording here was clearly mastered from vinyl with broadband Noise Reduction. The subtle, yet telltale, artifacts in the final fadeout were revealed to me in headphones. I personally prefer a lighter touch than that sort of thing, but they didn’t ask me. It’s not a deal breaker, but the mastering was. For reasons known only to Yuri Dent, the mastering engineer, this track alone was heavily brickwalled. Have a look.
Ouch. Lots of clipping and the total fade to silence in the editor three quarters through the track is another technique that I tried… once. I abandoned it because such hijinx cross the line of good taste and leave us stranded in Jon Astley territory! He thinks nothing of such heavy handed clinical treatment of music. So… the good news: “Tar” in its original 7″ 1979 version has been reissued here. In these days of labels making bucketfuls of mastering errors for legacy reissues, we should be thankful, I suppose. The bad news is that it sits alone in the hell of brickwalling, singular in this album, which has been mastered with great taste and care in all other instances. As this screen cap of the waveform for “Night Train” from the same disc clearly shows.
Look at that waveform. That is what anyone with ears wants from music. Strong, loud, and detailed music with no loss of detail at the expense of loudness. Sermon over. What else do we need to know?
“The Anvil” is not the 7″ remix, but the LP version. “Night Train” is the much promised, but never delivered 7″ remix by John Luongo, the presence of which warms the cockles of my heart. All I have in house is the lo-fi picture disc 7″ of this single. The 12″ version lacked the 7″ remix. When I wanted to really hear this track, I had to play my Visage laserdisc. This has been since corrected. The remaining UK 80s singles are the 7″ edits, making “The Anvil” something of a missed opportunity, thought I do have it on the German 1st CD of “Fade To Grey: The Singles Collection.”
Then the program conveniently leapfrogs the “Beat Boy” era singles, which I have to admit I found a jarring continuity jump. The CD has about 65 minutes of material. To include “Love Glove” and “Beat Boy” singles at this point probably would have still fit everything onto a single CD. I suspect that the eternal bête noire of licensing issues came home to roost with this decision to forego the third album singles. While the third album was reviled in its time, even by me, I think that time has been much kinder to it than with most of its contemporaries. For what it’s worth, I never found either single from it to be particularly weak.
From this point onward, the fruits of the final Visage flowering figure in the program. I’ve written hundreds of words praising “Never Enough.” Suffice to say, it’s still my favorite Visage song ever. The winsome pop of “Dreamer I Know” is the furthest thing from the haughty Visage arrogance of old, and aren’t we all the better for it? In a similar fashion, the sophisticated elegance of “She’s Electric [Coming Around]” walks closer to the late period Roxy Music sound than anything else they had bone before then.
To this point, this CD had two cuts I did not have on CD before, but there were two more versions making their debut here. The first, “Hidden Sign [tiger face flame remix],” adds a little of the rhythmic panache of Pet Shop Boys “Rent” to the synthpop on offer here. Two cuts were pulled afterward from the “Orchestral” album and the last Visage album, “Demons To Diamonds.” “Love Glove [orchestral version]” took a gorgeous melody to begin with and swathed it in elegant strings that sounded like they were meant to be there since day one. “Aurora” was another rivetingly beautiful track from the final Visage album.
Finally, the original version of “The Silence” finally bows at the end. The orchestral version made its debut on the “Orchestral” album of 2014, but the band only version makes a perfect capper to this compilation. It makes all the sense in the world as the last Visage song one would ever hear on this CD… except that’s not the case. There is a hidden track included about eight minutes afterward and it’s a brief, orchestral dub of “Love Glove” taking the song into a jazzlike space.
Finally, we are left with a somewhat compromised Visage “best of” that comes tantalizingly closer to that goal than any of the earlier attempts. At least it picks up the fecund final phase of the band to good effect, though I would have opted for “Love” Glove” and “Beat Boy” 7″ versions to have been tracks nine and ten. They deserved at least that much. Then if a track from “Orchestral” had to be included, perhaps it should have been “Fade To Grey” since that was the single issued in advance of that album. Since it’s their calling card, having two versions should not have been too much of a problem on a single disc, given how good the orchestral versions were.
So this was ultimately a necessary volume to chart the successes that typified the final phase of Visage’s career. When this was announced, there was a mooted CDX version, and I imagined that there would be a 2/3xCD version with more remixes offered. I could not have imagined in my wildest pipe dreams that six further discs would be on offer, and for the reasonable price of £49.00. I thought those discs would be interesting. I didn’t know the half of it!
Next: …Vive La Differánce!
I am blown away by Love Glove Orchestral Version. I always thought of Love Glove as the most romantic and tragic of Visage songs….Steve and Company wearing their emotions on their satin and tulle sleeves…but the way John Bryan and Sare Havilcek enhanced it with a lush, orchestral dressing is sympathetic to the songs basic beauty — and simply masterful.
I agree with you on Tar. It is absolutely jarring. Sure, I appreciate the improvement in fidelity, but it sounds disembodied.
Finally, hearing The Silence does put an air of finality on the almost 40 year project which was Visage. Steve Barnacle’s rubbery fretless bass and Logan Sky’s wavy synth lines bring back memories of those earliest recordings and then the build up of Robin Simon’s guitars and the more complex beat brings the song into the 21st Century. Steve’s lyrics ” There’s nothing left to hide, there’s nothing left inside…” is absolutely gripping. For their to be the hidden gem of Love Glove (Orchestral Reprise) approximately 8 minutes after The Silence bows out, was both eerie and magical. I have to admit that I was sitting taking in The Wild Life for some time after The Silence ended and then to hear the fade in of Love Glove one more time seemed to set everything that came before it just right.
Steve Strange, for all his highs and lows, false starts and wrong turns, really took pride in the work of Visage. He held the music proudly from those first decadent singles as the 70s turned into the 80s to the renewed vigor of the material on Hearts + Knives and Demons To Diamonds nearly 4 decades later. I’ve been a proud fan of each of Visage’s eras. Their songs have stayed with me over the years and will remain with me.
I love this compilation but do lament the omissions of Love Glove, Beat Boy & Shameless Fashion – all of which would have fit nicely on this disc.
I’m curious to read what you write about the remix disc – if you didn’t notice, these remixes are not the originals but re-recordings (not indicated).
All in all, a fitting epitaph (but probably not the last statement as I suspect a new comprehensive career anthology will be released at some point in the not too distant future)
Nearly forgot – would have loved to somehow see We Move & In The Year 2525 included as well.
Rob C – I’ve picked up that Universal is reluctant to let Visage projects happen, so until there is a turnover of personnel at UMG, maybe not. But this is just interweb heresay. I don;t think we’ll see another Visage project for at least five years, though I am hopeful that the Steve Strange solo album I caught wind of may see the light of day. Word has it it was to be a much more light hearted, glam rock sort of thing.
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