Record Review: The Photos – Crystal Tips + Mighty Mice [part 2]

The new-look sophisticated Photos of 1981

[…continued from last post]

Speaking of strong songs, “Kill That Girl” began with a evasive minor key intro only to blossom upon the first chorus into a vibrant Motown pastiche complete with a buoyant James Jamerson bass line and perky strings bouncing the tune along merrily. If only the title were different it had “hit” written all over it, though the tattoo of drums that ended the song coldly would have probably necessitated a remix. Speaking of strings, with Tony Visconti involved, we knew we’d get some tasty string arrangements for this album, since they had strings on two cuts of their first album. The pizzicato notes that shared the space in the intro for “The Final Scene” with the hi-hat were a quick way to get pulled into the song. I loved how it eventually developed into a muscular disco sound with strong bass and string hits.

“Side two” took things further left field with the intro to “We Fight” featuring acoustic guitar and brushed drumming. It wasn’t the first time that The Photos “went acoustic;” “Friends” from the debut album also trod this path, but the arrangement developed until the prominent backbeat manifested and the handclaps to accentuate the beat were clear winners. I thought that “Thinking Of His Girlfriend” was single material that escaped the tin ears of Muff Winwood, the band’s A+R exec who tabled this album in 1981 since he only heard one number one single on it. The observational lyrics here were fantastic, and the riff that was underscored by the synths subbing for strings this time, afforded the song a freshness here that real string, by this time, might have dampened. The closing solo by Steve Eagles actually crossed the line into Alex [Rush] Lifeson territory with a long solo the furthest thing from punk in the song’s coda. For a song about a boy’s thoughts it was an insightful choice to have made.

Speaking about number one singles, I said that Muff Winwood, the CBS executive in charge of The Photos only heard one number one song to his ears on it. He picked “For Beauty’s Sake,” as strange, obscure little number with lyrics that referenced ancient Egypt somehow. I still can’t figure it out, but it sounded well enough, except for the buckets of vibrato that Wendu Wu had heaped upon her delivery there. So much so that this song became a problem for me. Sorry, Muff! If her delivery were different? A great deep cut, but certainly not a number one single!

VIsconti in his Good Earth studios in the 80s

The original album ended with “Time Of My Life,” which opened boldly with the exact same intro that Visconti had used on Bowie’s “Up The Hill Backwards” not a year earlier! It’s pretty blatant, but at least the off beats were different. Other than that, yow! One would think that one was hearing a cover of the Bowie single. It also had a haunting quality in the verse structure, but the arrangement on this one changed even more than the give and take present throughout the album and really developed with each new chorus of the song. Then, at the song’s midpoint, the waltz time middle eight [complete with recorder solo] actually became the template for the next section of the song. This time abetted by brass and strings only to slow the tempo and deepen the choral backing for the extended coda that saw the music dropped out entirely. Leaving only the tubular bells and chorale. Wow. That sort of reminded me of “Just Like You” from The Tourists’ debut album. Then, following a suitable break, the bonus materials were next.

“More Than A friend” was the B-side to “Life In A Day” and almost a throwback to the first album in its simplicity. The B-side to the non-LP single “We’ll Win” was a radical shift in sound with spoken vocals and the much imitated Harmonized drums first used on “Low.” The odd arrangement had a catchy chorus so it made perfect sense as a B-side. Songs like this were why they were invented! Next came one track of two which were the direct result of Muff Winwood sending the band back to the studio with producer in tow for some songs that would sell. “Always The English” was a drop back to the punk tempos of the band from their initial Satan’s Rats guise with a real throwback that sounded more ’77 than ’81. For this reason tha band called their A+R manager “Duff Dimwood.” he was the reason why the band ceased to exist rather than toughing it out, which they all now see as what they should have done.

The other single that was released didn’t have a berth on the stillborn album, so “We’ll Win” sported a gimmicky Chinese-esque arrangement that marked it as potential novelty song fodder. Visconti wrote in the liner notes that he was disgusted by this command to do more sessions to “save” that album. You can tell that his heart was not in it since the track simply faded out. One of the hallmarks of this album was that Visconti was never content to fade a song! Most of the songs here sported vibrant and inventive definitive endings. It’s one of the many pleasures that this album afforded to the jaded listener.

The other unreleased track was “Charlotte” with a girl’s name as the singular title, this was more throwback material. An attempt of the band to step back into their 1980 persona after having already emerged from the 1981 chrysalis. Not a bad song, but nothing that the band hadn’t already gotten out of their system. To drive the point home further, the CD ended with the two B-sides that had not fitted on to the first Photos CD released prior by Cherry Red. “She” was a great “Irene” B-side that was included on the band’s US version of the album and “Cridsilla” was yet another of the band’s girl name songs, which threatened to become a stylistic quirk that they fortunately bypassed with this sophisticated second album.

It’s a shame that the label didn’t see eye to eye with the band on this one as it really showed the band growing by leaps and bounds. There was no reliance on “portrait” songs by Steve Eagles, who cast the net far wider with this one. The band matched him in the studio and Tony Visconti made sure that all of the songs were packed with arrangement detail that kept them stimulating and eclectic. To these ears it sounded like a lot of development had happened between “The Photos” and “Crystal Tips + Mighty Mice;” the latter a play on Visconti’s “Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps.” While it did not slot into the trends of 1981 per se, it sounded like an album for the next decade, certainly. I’m certainly glad that wiser heads prevailed and that this orphaned album could finally see the light of day [groan] …27 years later!

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Record Review: The Photos – Crystal Tips + Mighty Mice [part 2]

  1. SimonH says:

    Steve Eagles’ later band, Bang Bang Machine were completely different, I’ve only really heard the amazing Geek Love single though.

    Like

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