[…continued from previous post]
The title seemed sort of cribbed from Brian Eno, but “Dead Fish [Don’t Swim Home]” perhaps owed more to the arch pop strategist than its title. The extended intro was all based on backwards synth tapes that played, unresolved for 90 seconds before the rhythm section announced that the song had begun in earnest. It seems that Tony Mansfield was capable of writing a late 70s nuclear anxiety song with the most subtlety I’ve ever heard applied to the task. The line “potential dangers lead to potential calm” was followed by a beat of utter silence midsong. Pretty disturbing.
“Adventures” was one of the songs here that was left off of the US “Sanctuary” album, but it’s a really sharp observation on a guy who’s unable to get a leg up on this whole relationship thing. The closing song was “The Safe Side,” opened with the line “someone said the magic words today” which would be repeated on the next New Musik album on the fadeout of the song “Churches.” Then the bonus tracks were added to the running time. There are nominally three B-sides, but actually four, as we’ll see.
“Missing Persons” was a track on the B-side of “This World of Water” and it’s a track with almost do synthesizer production on it. It was probably a band demo that never got the full polish that all of the other songs had, but that’s not to suggest that its in any way substandard. It’s a very catchy number and even though there are almost no synths in it, the band’s in studio modus operandi relied so heavily on noise gates and compression that even without those keys, it still feels like technopop. The integrity of the production ensures that. The 7″ single had two tracks on the B-side, and “Tell Me Something New” followed on from “Missing Persons,” as it indeed did here. It’s just grouped together as part of track 11 [“Missing Persons”] so that means that when “Missing Persons” had its abrupt, cold ending, there was two seconds of silence before the abstract instrumental “Tell Me Something New” unspooled for another two minutes. It’s the least commercial song here; it sounds like actual Krautrock. It could be a Roedelius track.
The last two bonus tracks were “She’s A Magazine” from the “Sanctuary” single. This was comparatively, a full-bodied New Musik track that for one reason or another, failed to make the cut for the album. Mansfield was deconstructing marketing and sales here. A real opportunity was lost as the 7″ had three B-sides on it! Two brief instrumentals were not included here along with everything else: “Chik Musik,” and “Magazine Musik.”
Finally, the last B-side, from “Living By Numbers” was “Sad Films.” This was an early New Musik composition and from the sound of it, one of their earlier recordings. Like “Missing Persons” it’s almost technopop with synths taking a big back seat to the band. It’s the acoustic guitars that hit you straightforward, with enough compression to give them a power that they usually lack. This could have been an A-side, really. I have fond memories of this one from the US 10″ EP that preceded “Sanctuary” in the US market.
In reflection, the elephant in the room with New Music has always to me been The Buggles. Not only do Tony Mansfield and Trevor Horn look alike, both showed an inordinate talent for making technologically advanced pop music at exactly the same time. “From A To B” makes a fantastic bookend to “Living In The Plastic Age.” And both began production careers at the same time. Mansfield has plenty of hits under his belt, too. Not as high profile as Horn, but that’s to our collective disadvantage. See many of his productions here.
Yet it sounds even warmer than The Buggles classic. There’s a richness to the sonics of this album that may be down to the EQ limitations of its mixing desk. Mansfield was also a more powerful writer than Horn. Horn relied on other writers [Bruce Woolley, Geoff Downes] and applied his work in the arrangement and production areas, whereas Mansfield had expertise in all areas. Had it been a few years later, he might have opted for a one-man production schema, ala Thomas Dolby, with a few selective guest musicians on a track-by-track basis. I’m happy this happened when it did. The fact that this was written and recorded in the late 70s gives it a cachet missing in the early 80s synthpop era. This sounded like a band with great ideas and performances doing their best, and it was appreciated. A great deal.
– 30 –