The title of the third China Crisis album was always something that I saw as deeply ironic. At the time, the notion of a member of Steely Dan producing this band seemed to be a wacky, left-field idea, but the album stood as a watershed of musicianly accomplishment by the then fully configured band. What Walter Becker brought to the table was nothing more than a burnished professionalism which saw that no note played was not considered fully with its place in the whole as well as its place in the moment. When I listen to this album, imperfections were the last thing I heard.
#2 • China Crisis: Flaunt The Imperfection DLX RM UK 2xCD 
- The Highest High
- Strength Of Character
- You Did Cut Me
- Black Man Ray
- Wall Of God
- Gift Of Freedom
- King In A Catholic Style
- Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling
- The World Spins, I’m Part Of It
- Blue Sea
- Wall Of God [demo]
- Black Man Ray [demo]
- Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling [demo[
- Christian [live]
- You Did Cut Me [live]
- Seven Sports For All [live]
- King In A Catholic Style [Wake Up] [extended version]
- Animalistic [A Day At The Zoo Mix]
- It’s Never Too Late
- Orange Mutt-Mutt Dance
- Gift Of Freedom [BBC]
- Strength Of Character [BBC]
- Wall Of God [BBC]
- King In A Catholic Style [Wake Up] [BBC]
One could hear the difference immediately when playing the third China Crisis album. “The Highest High” started out sounding like that rarest of objects; a wistful Steely Dan song! The arrangement and recording had all of the familiar Dan polish, but the vibe was wistful and yearning. The lyrics were completely lacking in irony or sardonic humor. Steely Dan might have a mellow vibe, but their lyrical thrust always showed that their heads were in a dark place. I don’t think that China Crisis would know a dark place if it bit them in the rear!
One interesting aspect about this album was that the dalliance with reggae that had manifested on their first album, sat out the near-technopop of album number two. It roared back with a vengeance here and “Strength Of Character” was even further down the reggae road with fantastic playing by drummer Kevin Wilkinson. Wilkinson had played with Fripp’s League of Gentlemen, so his timekeeping had to be of an impeccable character. The liner notes revealed Becker’s shock at recording the drum track the very first take and finding it flawless! He reluctantly accepted the first take and it was the first time in years of recording that it had ever happened. He opined that if they ever found out about this in L.A. they’d think he’d gone soft.
I have to say that I never cared at all for the single “You Did Cut Me.” The Steve Gregory sax and Tim Renswick guitar was just too smooth jazz for my tastes. I like some of the genre but it had to be backing a vocalist who could make me pay attention. As much as I love China Crisis, it’s not for their vocal prowess. I much preferred the pre-release single, the delicate clockwork construction of “Black Man Ray.” I knew something was up when I bought the 12″ single prior to the album release and there was no extended A-side. That was an outlier as to where their heads had gone.
Another reggae influenced track was the effervescent “Wall Of God.” The band revealed that it was inspired by Bob Markey’s “Exodus” and how could that be a bad thing? I’m not a fan of reggae and even less of Rastafarianism but I give props to awesome music that can make me love it in spite of having two strikes against it from the onset.The verse structure was soaring sophistipop and the verse dropped into the reggae beat most handily. A fantastic song.
I loved the jazz influence on “Gift Of Freedom? it maybe could have been a single here. The band said they they were influenced by the “Super Freak” Rick James riff and betcha-by-golly-wow they’re right! I can’t believe I never heard this similarity before in 33 years of having this album. An obvious single was “King In A Catholic Style” and Virgin funded a “sledgehammer-lite” video for the song in their confidence. It was the one single here that was extended on 12″ single, and therefore the most dance oriented track in the program.
The most Steely Dan sounding track on the album by far was “Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling.” It simply had to be Walter Becker playing the ultra-Dan synth lead lines …complete with distinctive pitch bending. The melody and ecstatic joy of the lyric was infectious. The next song was just as giddily and distinctively upbeat and “The World Spins, I’m A Part Of It” made for a potent one-two punch of the China Crisis outlook that was so much a part of my enjoyment of their music. Finally “Blue Sea” was a gorgeous song than ended the album on the sort of cinematic, ambient mood that the band had always favored.
The bonus disc had seven tracks that had never been released before. The three demos that kicked it off were a fascinating look into the instrumental demos that the band had cut on a Portastudio. They are significant for sounding every inch like the finished material that we have known for years. These songs were not re-invented at all for final recording. All of their melodic power was there in four simple tracks. It’s interesting to hear these now because it makes me want to hear all of their demos. It seemed like all Becker did here was to tighten up and inject some session pros into the mix in ways that did not obliterate the intrinsic charm of the songs. I’ll bet it cost a lot of money, but the sales on this were probably justification. Only on “You Did Cut Me” did I feel that Becker might have lost the balance.
The B-sides were all here. Even the 7″ version of “Animalistic,” though the lilting reggae lover’s rock was obviously edited from the “Day At The Zoo Mix” because the fadeout missed a second of the koto coming in at the transition! The live tracks from the “You Did Cut Me” single showed a band that had been road-toughened to the point where they had added Brian McNeill on synths to fill out the new sophisticated live sound. It’s interesting to hear this large band playing “Seven Sports For All” from the first album with undoubtedly more polish than would have been heard three years earlier.
I can’t say enough about the groundbreaking “Animalistic [A Day At The Zoo Mix” that originally appeared on the B-side of the “Black Man Ray” 12″ since I am absolutely convinced that the band invented ambient dub mixes of the kind that The Orb would be making several years later. I swear that Jimmy Cauty must have been spinning this in his chillout rooms before he formed The Orb! The way that the song faded out into ambient field recordings of an oriental zoo [?] for several minutes before the song gradually returned in dub was like nothing that was part of the 1985 sonic landscape. That it took over eleven minutes to achieve its unique goals was even more strongly redolent of groups like The Orb.
The second 12″ of “Black Man Ray” kindly gave us the second album outtake of “It’s Never Too Late” for those of us who couldn’t get enough of the oboe phase of the band! I wish they’d have plowed that furrow a little longer and deeper but c’est la vie. While the “Highest High” B-side “96.8” was an instro that slotted nicely into the smooth world of “Flaunt The Imperfection,” the extra track on the 12″ single, “Orange Mutt-Mutt Dance,” was the inexplicably cheerful mariachi/technopop hybrid that no one expected. It was definitely the loosest moment from this album campaign.
The four BBC sessions for Janice Long that ended disc two once again point out that the character of these songs was there from the onset, with Becker simply providing an immaculately buffed glossy surface to the songs. The one surprise here was the new lyrical couplet in the coda of “King In A Catholic Style.” It was jarring when Gary ended the song with that and what sounded like a fit of laughter in the song’s last seconds.
Apart from the failure to edit the “Animalistic” track down by a second, which would have been perfect, there’s nothing about this package that I would find lacking. The mastering was sensitive to the dynamic range of the music and the liner notes were very informative with the full band weighing in on each track and Gary and Eddie giving an overview of the making of it. I can recommend this to any China Crisis fan and I can only say that you should buy now and avoid the sure to be gouging prices of these DLX RMs in a few years. The 2013 “Diary Of A Hollow Horse” is consistently going for about $60 right now on Discogs. Caveat Emptor.
CONCLUSION: enjoy …its perfection