June 21, 2013
Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip: Geisha Boys + Temple Girls UK CD 
- Circus of Death
- Word Before Last
- Geisha Boys + Temple Girls
- I Don’t Depend on You
- Houses In Motion
- Burn For You
- Soul Warfare
When you least expected it, it’s time to dive into the B.E.F. bucket again! Back when Martyn Ware was separated from The Human League, his crafty manager, who engineered the split [twice the fees] fed his ego in the maneuvering by saying that he should cut a deal with Virgin as a production company instead of an artist [even more fees for Bob Last!] and Ware took the bait. The upshot of this contract was that Ware could deliver as many as six albums under his B.E.F. production umbrella per year to Virgin. Having been freed from the crashing and burning politics of The Human League, he and Ian Marsh hit the ground, laying rubber. When did they find time to sleep?
In 1981-2, there was the “Music For Stowaways” tape, “Penthouse + Pavement” by Heaven 17, “Music of Quality + Distinction Vol. 1” and this curio, ostensibly by the TV dance troupe Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip. For those not familiar, it’s as if DEVO had produced an album for The Solid Gold Dancers! [note: this almost, sort of, did happen – see “Word Of Mouth” by Toni Basil!] Ware, no chump himself on the royalty front, top loaded the disc with material he had a hand in writing; old Human League songs from the pre-“Travelogue” era. The only holdouts were a pair of songs from Sting and Talking Heads that the group had already recorded in pre-production. Even the odd single by The Men was revisited.
The old Human League material benefits the most from the re-recording here if one is looking for new kinds of kicks in these interpretations. Three songs from “Reproduction” get a new coat of paint right up front. “Circus Of Death” get’s a new whipcrack beat and environmental sound effects added into the mix. The vocals are handled by the dancers gamely, but the material is so weirdly contrived, the cognitive dissonance the whole thing generates is considerable. The lyrics are so deeply enmeshed with the strange mind of Phil Oakey, the notion of a cover version seems ridiculous.
“Morale” appears here shorn of its partner, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” The arrangement differs the least of all of these songs. It just has a new vocalist, Kim Leeson. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same track you know and love. “Word Before Last” is transformed by the addition of Synclavier and Linn Drum to the trusty Roland System 100 and Jupiter 4 that Ware and Marsh used on the original cut. Once again, the sound of anyone but Phil Oakey singing this deeply weird music is jarring.
The title track was ripped screaming from the then current Heaven 17 album and the Wendy Carlos styled intro is intact, but for this track only, live drummer to the stars, Simon Phillips is added to the mix. Vocalist Richard Lloyd King does better at standing in for Glenn Gregory, but the killer revision here is the revisit of the odd one-off single by The Men [Human League operating incognito out of embarrassment]. I always liked “I Don’t Depend On You” and here it gets a big makeover that only serves to make it sparkle more brightly. The vocalists are much better suited for this song since it’s reasonably conventional in terms of its lyrics. Roy Gale actually sounds pretty good here! He’s definitely an improvement over Phil Oakey on the original. The addition of Linn Drum makes the syncopation pretty funky but the funk-o-meter seriously pegs with the addition of bass and guitar from Heaven 17’s secret weapon, John Wilson. He adds tremendously to this cut and it manages to outshine the already great original version handily.
“Houses In Motion” also works well since Richard Lloyd-King stays within the parameters set by David Byrne. Geoff Westley produced this track instead of B.E.F. because it was recorded before Ware became attached to the project. It’s out of sorts to the rest of the album in sound, but it’s all so weirdly eclectic, it doesn’t matter much. The brief version actually ends before you expect it to. A cover of Sting’s “Burn For You,” from the “Brimstone + Treacle” soundtrack goes on for what seems forever! It actually manages to become even more pretentious here. Finally, Heaven 17’s “Soul Warfare” ends the album in a version not very dissimilar from the Heaven 17 version, save for the vocals.
This album is an odd curio that I can recommend to Human League/B.E.F. fans with an open mind. I know I saw this album but once in my life, in a record store used bin some time in 1981-1983. After taking a look at the cover, I demurred. It just didn’t look like a record that would give me any pleasure. It wasn’t until Cherry Red’s Repressed sub label rose to the occasion, that I decided to put it on my want list. Having finally purchased it, I can state that it’s worth having for the curiosity factor alone. About half of it is a fascinating take on an alternate universe version of H17/Human League. Even the worst of it is better than several Human League albums that followed.
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