I first encountered China Crisis on MTV’s “London Calling” program where a snippet of the video for “Working With Fire + Steel” was shown. I immediately bought the album of that name, which got a release on Warner Brothers in The States and didn’t waste any time in working my way back to their import only debut album in the elegant Peter Saville sleeve with the astonishing Trevor Key foto. The band became immediate favorites and my friend Mr. Ware put one of his sources in the UK to the task of sourcing all of the China Crisis 12″ singles for me. The “Hannah Hannah” 12″, which was the current UK single at my point of entry was helpful in showing a 12″ discography on the reverse of its cover. I wrote about the DLX RMs of the first three China Crisis albums last year and already have two of them just a year later. Be still my beating heart!
#16 • China Crisis: Difficult Shapes + Passive Rhythms – Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain DLX RM UK 2xCD 
- Seven Sports For All
- No More Blue Horizons (Fool, Fool, Fool)
- Feel To Be Driven Away
- Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives
- African And White
- Are We A Worker
- Red Sails
- You Never See It
- Temptation’s Big Blue Eyes
- Jean Walks In Freshfields
- Paula And Patricia (Demo)
- Lowlands (Demo)
- African And White (Demo)
- African And White (Original Extended Version)
- No More Blue Horizons (Fool, Fool, Fool) (Extended Mix)
- No Ordinary Lover
- Watching Over Burning Fields
- Scream Down At Me
- Greenacre Bay
- Performing Seals
- Cucumber Garden
- Seven Sports For All [BBC]
- This Occupation [BBC]
- Be Suspicious [BBC]
- Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives [BBC]
Even for this most genteel of bands, they still ascribed to the “enter all guns blazing” school of rock here with the opening “Seven Sports For All.” Almost singular on this album, it sported what was the heaviest rhythms possible for this band at this stage of the game. Sure, the band were just Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon and at the time of making this album they had no drummer as such, so the album was all down to drum programming. This was not a dance band at all at this stage of the game but you would be forgiven for not knowing that upon hearing “Seven Sports For All,” which the band claimed was influenced by ACR’s “Shack Up.”
Next up was the glorious “No More Blue Horizons [Fool, Fool, Fool].” It was the band’s second single and it wasn’t a hit but that doesn’t mean that the British public weren’t philistines at the time! The interplay between the synth trumpet line and the marimba is to die for and Gary’s vocals float through the breezy melody like a bird on the wing. The synth leads telegraph the latent Steely Dan influence which would manifest in a large way on album number three.
By the late 70s dub reggae was a huge influence on many a post-punk band, but the only time I can ever see it manifesting with China Crisis was on the outlier to nowhere “Feel To Be Driven Away.” An entirely synthetic reggae number with the maximum contrast of the effervescent pop of “Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives.” In the booklet here, Gary Daly rightly points it out as a missed single opportunity though he took pains to reveal that the backing vocals on the outro were producer Peter Walsh singing “someone I know” against his wishes but it was too late to remix.
Has there ever been a least likely hit single [well, since “Ghosts” by JAPAN at least] than “Christian?” The somber ballad was delicate and airy with the slowest of tempos, but the gentle harmonics of it with the fluid fretless bass of Landscape’s Andy Pask flowing through its center was remarkably beautiful. A hushed, minimal, and oblique look at World War I, according to Gary Daly, so take that, OMD. You aren’t the only Liverpudlian band to take the great war as inspiration. Fortunately, the third single from the album was the hit and the band’s fortunes were established then and there.
The debut single had been “African + White” on the Liverpool indie Inevitable. Their success brought Virgin sniffing around and the label remixed the track for a 12″ re-release. The Virgin reissue was not a hit either but one can hear what everyone heard in this band’s songs. The sensitivity and melancholy is there but with a real overriding tenderness. With a refrain like “life is a fever” “African + White” reflects the optimism that still informs their songs almost 40 years later. This was never a cynical band by any stretch of the imagination.
“Are We A Worker” was a hybrid fusion of Soviet folksong touched with Spanish guitar for an unusual effect. I found that the album was brimming over with potential singles in the Top 40 paradox that’s my own skull. [If I like it, that’s “pop” right?] Along with “Fantastic Lives” I’d liked to have seen the gorgeously wet ballad “Red Sails” to have had a chance in the charts. The musicbox melody was enhanced to an amazing degree by the synth glissandos on every bar at the song’s climax. It took a very special band to venture there without the least hint of irony but that’s China Crisis in a nutshell. These guys are in awe of the beauty that they create.
The album had a fantastic ambient ending with the brief instrumental “Jean Walks In Freshfields,” because Gary wanted to cap the album with an Enoesque ambient moment. It was the first indication that the band had a viable sideline in pure ambience, but far from the last. As we’ll be seeing next as disc two beckons.
The lure of the DLX RM was not only 12″ mixes on CD for the first time [most of the B-sides have happened back in the 90s, if one was paying attention] but unreleased demos and BBC sessions. Three demos lead off disc two and “Paula + Patricia” was a twee instro probably named after girlfriends. It seems to belong to the third album era with instro B-sides like 96.8″ or “Orange Mutt-Mutt Dance.”
“Lowlands” was much closer to the ambient territory that always served the band well. The demo of “African +White” still had the rhythm box set to “cha-cha” but was a much thinner production; almost voice and rhythm only. The extended 12″ A-sides were all of the circa 1982 form; mildly extended tracks with extra instrumental vamping and breaks to make them longer. In the case of “No More Blue Horizons [Fool Fool, Fool]” this can only be a good thing.
“No Ordinary Lover” was the slightly Oriental-sounding B-side to “No More Blue Horizons [Fool, Fool, Fool].” It was a perky vocal number. The real payload was “Watching Over Burning Fields,” a long, ambient piece that finally took the time to stretch out at six and a half minutes. Since “No Ordinary Lover” has the lyric “watching over burning fields” these songs are sometimes mislabelled on various China Crisis releases, but thankfully not here.
The non-LP single that followed the album is rightfully here. “Scream Down At Me” was a radical shift to upbeat dance music that must have been a very unlikely followup to “Christian.” It didn’t chart, but the atypically extroverted sound was the one time that the band released a single in this period that was so raucous. The Geoff [Afraid Of Mice] Kelly fretless bass solo against the furious timbale solo [with female backing vocals!] was the closest this band ever came to the Duran Duran sound. The B-side “Cucumber Garden” was a little more like what we all expected from China Crisis; an introverted left-field long buildup for a long seven minute track.
The “Christian” B-sides were the sea shanty “Greenacre Bay” and another ambient number; “Performing Seals.” Strangely enough, the “African + White” B-side [“Be Suspicious”] was conspicuous in its absence here. With disc two at a trim 58 minutes, it could have fit with no problems. Maybe the master was lost? Fortunately, it was issued on CD single in 1990 on the Steve Proctor remix of “African + White.”
The real payload on this DLX RM were the BBC Peel Sessions from April 1st, 1982! Good thing Peel was a fan, as these tracks, recorded in advance of the album were an astonishing glimpse of the band re-imagined fully in the technopop mold! China Crisis had a rep as a synth duo from their early days that doesn’t really tell the story correctly, in my opinion. They were way too sensitive for that sort of thing, but you wouldn’t know it from the all synths + rhythm programming trio versions with Dave Reilly filling in on drums/percussion. These are sharp little numbers that reveal that China Crisis could have given Talk Talk a run for their money.
“Seven Sports For All” differs greatly from the album version. “This Occupation” is little like the 7″ version of that song which would figure on the “Wishful Thinking” single in B-side form. It’s actually more like the remixed 12″ version of that song, which is a great thing indeed! Though ultimately these two tracks sound tentative and inconclusive. As if they hadn’t worked out all of the kinks as the tunes seem to peter out around the three minute mark. At least the BBC session of “Be Suspicious” is here and given that the song had been around the block by then, it sounds far less tentative. It even has an ending. Finally, “Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives” is almost all hyper-kinetic beatbox as it seems like the BPM quotient is a good 30% faster. These Peel Sessions are very fascinating and the real gems on this DLX RM.
The mastering by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham is very good, and after the DLX RM of “Diary Of A Hollow Horse” in 2013, China Crisis fans have been withering on the vine for several years wondering when the band’s imperial period was going to get the love. That time is now [2017, actually] and I recommend buying in haste before these items are three figures.
CONCLUSION: enjoy…even more than from 36 years ago