The first single from the album didn’t trouble the charts any, but “A Day’s Wait” had another long drawn out Cure-like instrumental buildup before the vocals entered the song at the halfway point. Original guitarist Ceaser had left the band after they recorded their debut single [not on the album proper] and this song; citing their signing to Epic Records as a punk sell-out. If he only knew what was in store for this band after that! The song, was built, appropriately, upon steady train-like rhythms. The minimal lyrics and vocals with a dub breakdown functioned as the middle eight. At 4:10, this was the Prog-opus to this album!
The next song was the third bonus track on the cassette single version of “A Day’s Wait.” Back when such an event was incredibly scarce. All of the vitriol that Siouxsie and the Banshees were capable of showed up for “Leave Me Alone,” a song of a jilted lover attacking their onetime paramour. The queasy organ line that flowed through the song mirrored the descent of the singer into what can only be called breakdown as Ms. Grogan formed the same shaky alliance with pitch that John Lydon often made for the emphatic nature of such a delivery. The ascending bass pulls on the middle eight before the screams of Clare intruded reflected the mental breakdown of the one singing.
“Insects” had an interesting provenance. The bright shiny pop certainly implied the hand of Martin Rushent, and my US copy of the LP duly credited him on the cover and label for production of the song. Except that any UK copies of the album, including this CD, fail to make this credit. Implying that Steve Severin produced “Insects,” but I just can’t buy it! It sounds too much of a kind with “Happy Birthday.” Clean, bright and reverberant, there’s no way this was part of the Severin sessions. It made a sensible way to end the album with this as an outlier to where the band would go next with “Pinky Blue.” One more run through of “Outro: Happy Birthday” made it official.
The bonus tracks here were ideal. We began the bonus round with the band’s debut single, “Dead Pop Stars.” This featured Caesar on guitar and was a deeply ironic look at the disposability of pop music, with a forgotten band wondering where the fans went. This was perhaps the best song that Siouxsie + The Banshees never recorded. The SATB equivalent of a song like Icehouse’s “Hey Little Girl” was to Bryan Ferry, or JAPAN’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” was to Roxy Music. It takes no imagination at all to imagine ice queen Siouxsie channeling her inner Grace Slick while the band here did a very credible run through the Banshees playbook. The sepulchral pick scrapes in the intro set the ideal gothic tone for the minor key guitar and vocals.
Which is what made the B-side, “Sentimental” so surprising. This sounded for all the world like a deep cut from “Pinky Blue” as the tune sported a see-sawing upbeat melody of the sort which was in short supply on this largely melancholic album. The motorik drumbeats mirrored the stop-start of the guitar line cutting through this one like a serrated knife. In a different world, maybe this would have been the A-side of the single and Altered Images wouldn’t have had to wait six months for their commercial breakthrough. It still sounded like a deep cut, but in contrast the A-side resembled a Siouxsie + The Banshees song, only one from 1978. In the context of early 1981, it’s not a surprise that the single failed to make much of a dent in the charts, though John Peel was a big supporter.
The B-side to “A Day’s Wait” was the ramshackle track “Who Cares?” which was clearly the least memorable song on this disc. While the rest of the B-sides contained here were some fine gems, this one was the sort of song that gave B-sides their larger reputation. Finally, the full contents of the
Happy Birthday” 12″ single rounded out the program. The 12″ dance mix of “Happy Birthday” extended the song for a full seven minutes past its 2:55 version by extending the song past what would normally be its fading point. After that line was crossed, Martin Rushent indulged in his penchant for high-trech dub mixing for a full four minutes. Anyone familiar with Human League B-sides of the time would know what to expect here. Only Clare’s “Happy Birthday”refrain ever entered into the song as instruments dubbed in and out of the mix.
“So We Go Whispering” was the 7″ B-side and it was a self-production by the band, making it sound less assured than either the Severin or Rushent productions, while still some promise on the face of it. It cheekily featured the opening notes of the other “Happy Birthday”[you may have heard it on an annual basis] on the song’s fade as a in-joke. The bonus 12” track was a sturdy run through T-Rex’s jaunty “Jeepster” given an especially perky coat of paint by the band. Ironically, a penchant for T-Rex cover B-sides was yet another shared trait between Altered Images and Siouxsie + the Banshees. It can’t hurt any band attempting them with those T-Rex hits being all but indestructible.
The first Altered Images album turned out to be very much a Post-Punk affair, due to the band enlisting Steve Severin for the bulk of this material. The boy just couldn’t help it! The dark, guitar led music featured only scant keyboards used with much restraint. Not only were Siouxsie + The Banshees the blueprint for this sound, but snatches of other uncompromising or even gothy pop bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, and even PiL can be detected in the mix.
Then there was the bright, shiny [maybe too shiny…] Martin Rushent side of the album, which skewed the needle in the opposite direction on the speedometer of this album. I would like to know which brains decided that “Severin’s not cutting it… call Martin Rushent!” I’ve never heard the whys and wherefores, but I would have to put it down to label influence. After all, Rushent had credible punk hits with The Stranglers, and concurrent with the recording of this album, was really getting ready to make a name for himself with The Human League. If he could sell that band, and he had taken them Top 30 with “The Sound Of the Crowd” earlier that year, anything might be possible! Though it bears mentioning that The Human League had released their first Top 10 single, “Open Your Heart” at exactly the same time as “Happy Birthday” dropped, giving Rushent two Top 10 hits concurrently. Still, whoever recommended Rushent for the job here probably got a fat bonus.
But he did mark the point where Altered Images crossed over from dour Post-Punk into the nascent New pop demographic. Any old fans they had managed to snare with their first handful of releases around the time of this album might not be convinced to stay on the bus as it barreled, out of control into the top of the charts with a bright, frothy payload of ginch-pop tunes that could cause cavities were it not for the band remembering to infuse some of the material with admirable, contrarian lyric content that played against the production for maximum irony. But that’s another post for another day [or two.]
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