Record Review: The Photos [part 1]

Cherry Red | UK CD | 2007 | CD MRED 338

The Photos: The Photos UK CD DLX RM [2007]

  1. Do You Have Fun?
  2. Irene
  3. Barbarellas
  4. Now That You Tell Me That We’re Through
  5. Look At The Band
  6. Friends
  7. Loss Of Contact
  8. She’s Artistic
  9. All I Want
  10. Maxine
  11. Evelyn 11
  12. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
  13. Last Time
  14. With Honours
  15. Sex Object
  16. Lady Is A Tramp
  17. Do You Wanna Dance
  18. Skateboard
  19. Evelyn
  20. I Saw Her Standing There
  21. I’m So Attractive
  22. Guitar Hero
  23. Je T’Aime

Six years ago, I posted about wanting to buy this CD and when I pulled something to listen to yesterday, It fairly leapt out at me from the racks. I obviously had purchased it, eventually, in the interim. As produced by Roger Bechirian, the album was a tight twelve tracks that ran the gamut of Blondie influences [and influence] while never scaling the heights that the US band had made their stock in trade by 1980, when “The Photos” had been released. But by the same token, neither did they succumb to the stumbles that befell Blondie in the ’80-’82 period that saw them tabled at the end of it.

The liner notes to this edition paint a vivid portrait of the band as being fairly savvy and accomplished. When Satan’s Rats, a Birmingham punk also-ran felt the limitations of their chosen genre, they were talented and inspired enough to realize that they needed a female singer to take them a bit closer to pop success. The beauty was, they while far from being singularly inspired, they were also a few steps beyond merely workmanlike. Listening to this album today reveals eleven sharp originals delivered by a band who were certainly above average in their abilities.

The band had wanted Bechirian to produce them since they were fans of his work for The Undertones, and yet at the end of the day, they lamented the general lack of rough edges more in line with their live sound than were able to make it to their [at the time] single platter. If the bonus album of demos included with “The Photos” was any indication, then they should thank their lucky stars that Bechirian guided them in the fashion that he did, as the “Blackmail Tapes” bonus free album was very much a mixed blessing.

The album proper had great pop/rock tunes that would sit comfortably on the New Wave shelf of the day. “Do You Have Fun” was, like most of the songs here, a snapshot of the peer group of the band. For their first shot at an album, the band wisely stuck to writing what they knew instead of trying for any grand statements. The observational songs, have a ring of veracity as they are without pretension and are occasionally even heartfelt portraits of people who could be standing next the band at a club’s bar.

While the instrumentation here is hugely traditional bass/drums/guitars a cut like “Irene” began with a random synth patch to lend it a little something else. I loved the “where have all the good times gone” vibe of “Barbarellas” where the band lament how the legendary Birmingham club that they used to see punk bands play at was now just “another rotten discotheque.” In 1980, one where Nick Rhodes was probably spinning the tunes! You have to have been young and passionate about music to live and love a song like this, but if you’ve read this far, I think it’s safe to assume that you too, were in the target audience for this song.

Bechirian buffed the pure pop chops of the band and didn’t bat an eyelash at bringing in string sections to add to the gloss of this album. “Now that You Tell Me That We’re Through” was a lovely, albeit clear-eyed kiss off by a reflective protagonist. The urgency of the strings really made the number shine. “Look At The Band” almost echoes the “Blondie Is A Band” campaign with a self-deprecating admission of “I’m not very bright/but I think there’s a spark/of creativity in me/alone in the dark.”

Next: …Blackmail Tapes

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Record Review: The Photos [part 1]

  1. Echorich says:

    Somewhere packed away is a copy of The Photos debut 7″ – I’m So Attractive. What a sound that was. All I Want was in the mold of early Blondie and worked really well.
    Roger Bechirian did do a great job of smoothing the edges just enough that they The Photos could straddle Punk and New Wave.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I think Colin Thurston got the sound down perfectly for that single but I will admit at the end of the day that the relatively greater sophistication of the Bechirian sessions served the songs rather well, given the classic Shadow Morton vibe they were all shooting for at the time. It’s a warmer, somewhat less clinical sound than “Attractive.” Though the detachment enhances that song for what it was. I guess, what i am trying to say is that Thurston and Bechirian were the right talents for their respective duties and times!

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  2. KeithC says:

    So does Wendy Wu’s voice sound similar to what we can hear on Strange Cruise or more of an early Deborah Harry type voice?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      KeithC – Shocking as it may seem, I have never heard Strange Cruise… yet!! My friend JT gave me a CDR rip of his LP ages ago, but I prefer to own something before I listen to it. That hasn’t happened yet, but I should get the Cherry Red DLX RM this year [crosses fingers].

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  3. I came to this band through “I’m So Attractive,” which indeed embodied the group’s Blondie inspiration exceedingly well (indeed, to this day I think Debby should cover it!). I bought this album around the time it came out, but compared to what else was going on 1980 it didn’t make as much of a mark as it likely would today. Happily, Apple Music has a version of the above album with just (“just”) the first 20 tracks listed on your version, so I can re-acquaint myself with them!

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    • Echorich says:

      I have to echo chasinvictoria here. There was too much too fast, musically, in 1980 and while I briefly paused to take in The Photos, they weren’t a stopping off point for me. These days, their songs sound familiar and comforting in a nostalgic sort of framing.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – Yeah, when I think of the music of 1980, it makes my head spin at the embarrassment of riches. A good, strong pop album like this one was a dime a dozen back then!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Yeah, today this would have been an album with 12 strong song on it. How often does that happen now? But we were young and jaded, then. It was a different world.

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