Record Review: Blancmange – Mange Tout

London Records ‎| UK | CD | 1984 | 810 235-2

Blancmange: Mange Tout UK CD [1984]

  1. Don’t Tell Me
  2. Game Above My Head
  3. Blind Vision
  4. Time Became The Tide
  5. That’s Love That It Is
  6. Murder
  7. See The Train
  8. All Things Are Nice
  9. My Baby
  10. The Day Before You Came

Though I was officially a fan of “Living On The Ceiling,” I never have heard “Happy Families.” Even nearly 40 years later. My first Blancmange record was the USP 12″ of “Blind Vision,” a song that I had not even heard, but this was the first used Blancmange record I found in the bins where I lived. I thought the 12″ mix, at nearly ten minutes, was repetitive and too long by half. Even so, when a used copy of the album from which it would eventually come, “Mange Tout,” showed up in the bins at Crunchy Armadillo Records [r.i.p.] I seized a copy and back in the pre-CD era, I actually played any vinyl I bought as soon as possible!

I think I had seen a brief clip of “Don’t Tell Me” on an episode of MTV’s “London Calling” and I was immediately drawn to the song as Neil Arthur’s vocal performance was so charismatic and engaging. The way he drew out “I can’t get a grip on… yoo-hoo” in the bridge was surely smilebait of the strongest kind. The track continued in the Indipop vein of “Living On The Ceiling” but was far sunnier in its outlook.

“Game Above My Head” was a tense, underplayed deep cut that provided strong contrast with the gregarious pop that had preceded it in the program. The four minute version of “Blind Vision” that followed was a far more judicious timespan for the bombastic dance tune. Arthur’s vocal here was almost stentorian as he seemed to be locked in a battle with Tony Hadley for dominance.

By the next track, it was time for a complete change of scenery. I liked the eclectic drive already in evidence on this album! “Time Became The Tide” showed that the band didn’t need to be pigeonholed into a synthpop corner as strings, flute and percussion made for an all-acoustic dramatic ballad for the duo. Then one more single closed out side one with the relentless machine energy of “That’s Love, That It Is.” I can’t shake the feeling that both this and “Blind Vision” were attempts to use relentless machine energy to explore trancelike musical energy. Almost the same personnel filled out the sideman roles on these songs, and yet “Blind Vision” just fell flat for me, while “That’s Love, That It Is” remained endlessly enchanting to my ears. The latter had a better single sleeve, too.

Side two kicked off with an explosive bang as “Murder” was one of the finest deep cuts one could hope for in such a strong program. The song began with such a lurching, haphazard energy only to eventually careen downhill in a snowball of dark intensity. There was still their penchant for Indian flavoring to the music, but this was not the dance pop of “Don’t Tell Me” of “Living On The Ceiling.” This came closer to the burning art rock of fourth album era peter gabriel. Not surprisingly, Gabriel’s guitarist David Rhodes was all over this album; not just this bold cut. Arthur and Luscombe knew exactly what they were doing here and did it in the best way possible.

After Blancmange Go Acoustic, why not take it all the way and deliver an a cappella song? “See The Train” was just that as a folk song that featured stacked harmonies of Arthur multi-tracked into mass choral wall of sound. A brief, but engaging sidestep. Following it with the left field “All Things Are Nice” showed that the inventive arrangements of “Murder” weren’t just a fluke as this song also jabbed and darted in ways unfamiliar to their biggest hits.

Finally, the album ended with a daring cover of ABBA®’s “The Day Before You Came.” I had not heard the original yet in 1984, so I had to take this at face value. I now know that Blancmange brought greater dignity and restraint to it with Arthur’s assumption of the narrative center of the still amazing song. The ABBA® original, while being a masterclass in songwriting, still feels a little close to schlager territory with the original vocal.

So this was certainly a very strong sophomore album. Having never heard the debut, I still can’t imagine this as anything but a quantum leap over the first album. I have taken immense pleasure out of hearing this for the last 35 years and I finally got the CD of this when I saw it in Canada 27 years ago. What I need now is the DLX RM of the album, though I think there were snafus on the 2008 Edsel remastering. Good thing there was a 3xCD mediabook edition two years ago that looks like the one to get. Though Edsel Records is often a crapshoot of sound quality.

I think my reticence to hear albums one and three in the Blancmange 80s sequence comes down to finding “Mange Tout” to be such an zesty, eclectic album that offered me uncounted pleasures over the 35 years I have owned a copy. I should also mention that the best of breed cover design by Martyn Atkins’ Town + Country Planning was just icing on the cake of this album of powerful art-pop that made it look as beguiling as it sounded. You simply can’t go wrong with this one on your racks.

– 30 –

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18 Responses to Record Review: Blancmange – Mange Tout

  1. Douglas McLaren says:

    Now I think you are just daring your readers to step up and tell you you really have to listen the “other two”. I have to say I personally Happy Families is much stronger than Believe You Me, which I also think happens to have the ugliest cover art of any 80’s band I collect, just a shade more disgraceful than the 12″ of Locomotion by OMD. If you want an interesting and “different” way of getting into the songs of Happy Families, you might try Happy Families Too, the 2013/4 re-recording the band did of the original as their “fifth album” . Though being a purist, I suspect you would no doubt prefer to listen to Happy Families first, and then see what the band felt needed to be changed to eliminate the “datedness” of 80’s instrumentation and put a present day polish on things. By the way, I personally would also highly recommend Blancmange’s most recent album, Wanderlust (2018). I think it’s fantastic. Blancmange for the modern world, the way, say, The Punishment of Luxury is OMD for the modern world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Douglas McLaren – Plus, good gawd, “Wanderlust” is produced by Benge from The Maths, so it will sound incredible! I actually own an LP of “Believe You Me” rescued from the dollar bins of Vinyl Fever ca. 1992 but I have never spun it. Even when the album was current, I recall seeing the original CD of it in the Peaches import bins, but I never crossed that line. I also want all of the Fader releases. I need a LOT of things, but only have scant dollars to purchase them. Actually, the covers of “Believe You Me” and the “Locomotion” 12″ are conceptually similar, though one is designed by Peter Saville and one which I’ve never had a problem with. I do see where you are going with “Believe You Me,” though.

      Like

      • Douglas McLaren says:

        I guess it’s just a “concept” in album art that doesn’t have any appeal to me. Interestingly, though, Peter Savile also does the cover art for Wanderlust, and it is back to his classic geometric styling I think is fantastic.
        I have the Fader album as well, and it is also very good, though a lot more minimalist electronic for the most part. Some great, bleak, oblique slice of life vignettes set to a kind of Martin Gore solo type backdrop, if you will.

        Like

  2. Echorich says:

    Mr. McLaren is quite correct Monk! You NEED to hear Wanderlust. It is (post) Modern Blancmange. It is an album made with much love and care for what has always been Blancmange. It enhances an already powerful legacy.
    I don’t have a thing to say in opposition to you opinions on Mange Tout! It is a stellar album of Synth Pop in a era when there were so many roads for the genre to travel down. Oh,well one thing, I LOVE every second of the Blindvision 12″.
    As for Happy Families, it is a debut album which set out a course for Blancmange. It is a musical mission statement which was well thought out and over the course of their career, has been adhered to. It is a Post Punk Synth album, filled with a mixture of pathos and cool emotions. There is Synth Fractured Funk in the form of Can’t Explain and Feel Me that remind me of Gang of Four and even Talking Head, only the with more synths and less guitars. There is a wonderful mixture of minimalist approach and Big Music production coming together. Happy Families uses space in the music with a great deal of respect. Arthur’s ability to sound wooden and then suddenly break out into rabid emotion is only bettered by the man who must obviously influence his vocal approach, David Byrne.
    I look forward to the day you and Happy Families come together Monk. I think you will pleased when that day comes…

    Finally, a short story … I had the opportunity to see Blancmange during a short promotional tour in either 83 or 84 at The Ritz in NYC. I can’t source the exact date except to say it was not during a US tour any sort and definitely prior to their LIve At The Ritz show circa 85 which was broadcast on MTV. It was a half full venue and the band played their hearts out getting every single person throwing shapes on the dancefloor. It is one of those shows I still remember to this day for moments of pure live music excitement. I had a Canon Sureshot camera with me that night, I’m not sure why, and took a half a dozen very jerky photos of the band from the dancefloor (which at the Ritz used to move a bit like a trampoline once everyone started to get their grove on) and over the decades managed to get those very unprofessional photos published in magazines and books about either the band or 80s Synth Pop.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andy B says:

    Mange Tout is an excellent album just when other bands that I loved were starting to go off the boil. I concur with the opinions expressed about Happy Families. You MUST listen to it Monk! I agree with Echorich’s comparison with Talking Heads/Gang Of Four, especially on the single Feel Me. It’s really hypnotic once it gets into it’s groove. The different versions that accompanied the single are excellent too and are available on the recent reissue.

    Believe You Me has it’s moments but for me doesn’t match the first two. I bought the comeback album Blanc Burn which I found very disappointing. I haven’t bothered buying the other albums. Is it really Blancmange without Stephen’s input? Perhaps I need to have a rethink.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – Good point about the cusp of the Mid-80s Malaise® affecting so many bands we probably both liked. It was encouraging to hear such vibrant music and ideas by Blancmange at that time. I suspect that “Happy Families” was never a priority for me due to my mistaken belief that “Blind Vision,” which I had the 1982 USP 12″ of [that promo 12″ was released in America far in advance of the UK single] was from “Happy Families,” and I felt that it was a step down from “Living On The Ceiling.”

      Like

    • KeithC says:

      Agreed somewhat on Blanc Burn but I find all the post Believe You Me releases tend to be spotty with a few killer tracks (which can be said even with the first 3 CDs; there are a few tracks I continually skip to this day). I did manage to buy all the latter releases — except for the Nil by Mouth Instrumental CD — and while enjoyable, they are not at the front of the Blancmange queue. In fact, I pull Neil Arthur’s Suitcase out more often than not. Given my penchant for a Sony headphones / DiscMan combo when listening to my collection, I find the vocal work on that CD so enjoyable to listen too (esp tracks 1-5 including my fav “I Know These Things About You”. In fact, his solo CD is my second fav to consume this way (other than any VOTB release where there is so much going on in every song).

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  4. zoo says:

    So, this is a band I’m somewhat familiar with, but the little I’ve heard hasn’t called out “zoo, you must listen further.” HOWEVER, Monk, you’ve hit the magic button by dropping David Rhodes’ name into the milieu, so I’ll give it another go. Thank you!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – Rhodes is all over this album and a couple of tracks are definitely miving in that classic pg direction. I find this album very engaging from start to fiinsh. And thank you for using the word “millieu.”

      Like

  5. Taffy says:

    I’ll second/third/ninth the motion that Monk listen to Happy Families. I’ve enjoyed all three 80’s Blancmange albums for decades (even Believe You Me, which has one of my fave tunes by them in “What’s Your Problem”) and there’s much to love there. There’s a surprisingly high quality control to the post-hiatus stuff too, particularly Semi Detached and Wanderlust. Wanderlust is particularly well-done; my 1980s self would be utterly shocked that one of my very favorite albums of 2018 would be by Blancmange!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Thanks for adding your voice to the sound of the crowd! I get it! Mea culpa! I think my only excuse was that when I first heard “Living On The Ceiling” I had already heard and loved Monsoon’s “Ever So Lonely” and found that to be a more adroit Indipop fusion example ahead of Blancmange.

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  6. negative1ne says:

    mr monk, thanks for bringing back the true genius for blancmange,
    their peak album, ‘mangetout’, nothing has come close to it since
    then, everything just works more or less on this album. even the
    slower tracks have some rewarding parts in them.

    i have followed them since their first album, although good, it’s
    nowhere near the quality of this album, and the next ‘believe you me’,
    is not close either, but has some redeeming features, especially
    with my all time favorite from them ‘lose your love’.

    back to blancmange, if you prefer the experimental sound, you
    might have to dig further back on the re-released EP ‘irene and mavis’
    from 1980 as a 7 inch, and in 2013 as a 10 inch:
    ====================================
    Disco-A-Bomb-Bomb 2:35
    Holiday Camp 3:01
    Overspreading Art Genius 2:16
    Concentration Baby 2:03
    Just Another Spectre 3:05
    Modichy In Aneration 3:21

    a very artsy, experimental, and set of brief cuts
    ranging from early electro and ambient sounds.
    ——————————————————————
    i actually prefer the more vocal works, and as mentioned
    even the solo neil arthur album fits in well with their works.
    their last ‘commercial’ album was blancburn, which
    initiated a huge comeback followed by several albums
    and singles, which are still being released and going on now.

    i really don’t care for any of them, instrumental or side projects
    either. they just don’t resonate with me anymore, and although
    i like that they are still producing music, and i still get all of it,
    i keep hoping something will click with me someday, but until
    then, i will stick with the deluxe sets of their first 3 albums, and
    everything else from that era.

    however, one single that came out this year, did catch my attention,
    and surprisingly, i do actually enjoy it:
    Kincaid Ft Blancmange ‎– Big Fat Head
    Label: Disco Halal ‎– DH019
    Format: Vinyl, 12″, Single
    Country: UK & Europe
    Released: 2019

    Tracklist
    ——————————————————-
    A1 Big Fat Head (Club Mix) 6:40
    A2 Big Fat Head (Dub Mix) 6:38
    B1 Big Fat Head (Instrumental Mix) 6:38
    B2 Big Fat Head (Nucat Remix) 8:55

    There’s actually, beats, electronics, and a semblance of
    what I liked about the band.

    Of course a much release would have been like
    the one neil did with fortran 5 – persian blues:
    Fortran 5 ‎– Persian Blues
    Label: Mute ‎– CD MUTE 157
    Format: CD, Single
    Country: UK
    Released: 04 May 1993
    Tracklist
    ———————————————————
    1 Persian Blues (Original Mix) 3:59
    2 Persian Blues (Full On Orchestral Philharmonical Mix) 8:58
    3 Persian Blues (The 11.56 Sound Clash System Remix) 11:59
    4 Persian Blues (3YE1270 Mix) 7:15
    5 Persian Blues (Pulsation Mix) 6:15

    Excellent, techno, trance, electronica.
    ===============================
    Again, the side projects to me are much better
    than the unfortunate turn that blancmange has been
    stuck in the last decade or so.

    later
    -1

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – Believe it or not, I have never heard the “Some Bizzare” album. When I finally saw the LP, I was CD only [1986?] and it seems like Daniel Miller released a 1992 CD of it, but I’d heard that the tracks were different, so I didn’t bite. I hate that! Maybe that’s why I’ve never heard it after all of these years? I see now on the internet that he only changed the running order on the 90s edition, and there was a more recent 2008 edition that had the original order, plus a few more tracks for good measure. Maybe now it’s safe for me.

      So I have not heard the “Irene + Mavis” EP, though I was aware that it had been reissued a few years back, but on vinyl only! I think chasinvictoria had the “Suitcase” solo album that I recall seeing in his domain back in the day. Have not heard that. But it’s interesting to see that you are with me on the perfection of “Mange Tout.” As you say, it just works like a charm, no matter what they tried to do. All of it was pretty rewarding. A high point of 1984; the year it all started to turn ugly.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I could write a lengthy essay on these three records, but to be brief I concur that Mange Tout is the overall finest of the lot. That said, I really enjoyed back then and enjoy to this day the shameless style-robbing adventure that is Happy Families. The opening track sounds like something the B-52s would have written with some assistance from the Talking Heads, “Feel Me Now” is something out of a Simple Minds-Sparks (!!) fusion, and there are plenty of cheerful nicks from others like Joy Division, Depeche Mode, OMD, Mark Mothersbaugh, Yazoo and basically all of their contemporaries at the time. I love “Living on the Ceiling” (original version) for its Indian music influence and just being a great dance track. I also love “Sad Day” and “Wasted” and, really, the whole bloomin’ thing.

    So yes, I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s the first stage of the Blancmange rocket, yes, but it allows for the second stage to sail so much higher. Believe You Me is an album I haven’t heard in total in too long to give more than general impressions, but the lead song “Lose Your Love” is an especially meaningful one for me, capturing the magic of being tragic and true and yet joyously beautiful — not to make a direct comparison, but the sort of thing Beethoven (and The Beautiful South) did very well. I remember that Believe You Me really set them off on a new direction, while still keeping the old touchstones intact — but only about half of it really grabbed me.

    I’ve had difficulty enjoying some of the recent Blancmange albums, but Wanderlust sounds very promising on a cursory listen. I remember buying Blanc Burn very excitedly in 2011 and being very disappointed — no more than three songs interested me. Neil Arthur’s voice was far better on 2015’s enjoyable Semi Detached, but much of the time on the tracks I have sampled since then just don’t remind me of Blancmange much at all.

    Side Note: Luscombe released some Indian-influenced music with help from Vince Clarke, Daniel Miller, and others under the name West India Company, and that IMO is where the real imagination of Blancmange largely went. It’s a pity they released only one “proper” album, but I thought it was very good.

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    • Mathmandan says:

      The ‘proper’ West India Company album is quite enjoyable, but the real gem is the Ave Maria EP/single. (I believe this is the only release Vince Clarke appeared on. I don’t see Daniel Miller credited anywhere, but Eric Radcliffe is.) I don’t really hear any Vince Clarke influence, but “Ave Maria” sounds like a Blancmange track with a guest female vocalist to me. They even put it on the b-side of the U.S. “Lose Your Love” 12″ single. It’s a great song. I *still* haven’t found this on CD anywhere.

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Mathmandan – Gosh! I have a US promo 12″ of “Lose Your Love” in the Record Cell. Looks like I should actually play it one day. Sad, I know. But I have a job and it eats up ~11 hours of my day for five days of the week, leaving me super busy on weekends doing all of the other things I need to do. It really cuts into my music listening.

        Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Not to mention one of the best music videos ever for “Lose Your Love!” The 12″ remix was astounding, too, as I recall hearing it on your Crusty Old Wave® program on WPRK-FM back in the day. I do need to obtain “Happy Families” in some form or another as you paint a very appealing picture of it.

      Like

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