Record Review: The Passions – Sanctuary DLX RM US CD [part 3]

The Passions Cars Driven Fast German LP cover

The album was called “Cars Driven Fast” in Germany and had an alternate cover that looked like it came from its era.

[…continued from last post]
What had been side two of the LP began with the unique “Cars Driven Fast.” That had been the original title of the album before their management made the change to “Sanctuary” and Polydor Germany called the album that in defiance of the band’s management. The cover was also quite different [see left]. One could say the same thing for the would-be title song itself! It had a skittering, almost dub reggae beat like something from a Police song, but the guitars and synths ably depicted waves of doppler-shifted traffic sounds that perfectly conjured up the essence of the title. Meanwhile, Ms. Gogan was buried with heavily phased vocals deep into the song, leaving the impressionistic art jazz of the music bed the fascinating dominant element here. Jagged extrusions of guitar and keys jabbed at the listener’s ear with almost dub technique since the vocals were so low in the mix. This fascinating track sounded like little else of the era.

After beginning side two with such a left field excursion [singles are usually put there in the LP era for pacing] the next song was the most radio friendly tune here so far. “Love Is Essential” was not from the band’s collective pen. Instead it was a song that guest guitarist Kevin Armstrong had brought to the program. Surprisingly, only France received a promo 7″ of this song. It’s almost too eager to please, with sound design that leaned heavily on a slightly M.O.R. Fender Rhodes piano sound. It could almost be a Quarterflash song… but for better lyrics and vocals. The keys here were the only instance of the album’s sound design ever aiming for the conventional.

“Your Friend” began with a bass line very reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days” before quickly kicking into high gear a few bars in as the tempo never flagged again.  Armstrong seemed to be investigating the sort of Post-Punk space that John McGeoch used to explore here as he sprayed a ferocious, biting solo on the song’s middle eight. The song’s coda piled on the layering of elements and volume to become ever more thrilling as the song shocked the ear with a cold ending.

The staccato delivery of the title to “Hold On Don’t Go” held a repetitive, monosyllabic power as the arrangement favored minor key unease to echo the desperation of the lyric rather well. The synth solo in the middle eight was a head scratcher. The pleading lyrics were delivered over a dinky-sounding synth patch that didn’t quite work. Once the song corrected its trajectory, it finished painting its anguished portrait.

The PAssions - Sanctuary UK 12" coverThe real title track “Sanctuary” might have had listeners wondering if they had put on a Rick Wakeman album by mistake as the tolling bells and church organ solo could have been a Prog holdover. But after a minute the loping drum [machine] beats and the lyric “sympathize with the underdog, sympathize with the one who has not” manage to recast the song as a secular hymn of compassion that circled back on itself without reaching a climax. Thus attaining the feeling of benediction of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones to these ears. But not before an acoustic Spanish guitar solo on the middle eight got to share the space with the drum machine rhythms for a few intriguing bars. Then it faded out and it was time for the bonus tracks.

The PAssions - Africa Mine UK double 7" coverI’ve written before about the glorious “Africa Mine,” which had been the only song I’d ever heard by The Passions back when they were actually active. The modest bass line grabbed my ears subtly, but once the metronomic cymbal hits from drummer Richard Williams gave a spartan foundation for Barbara Gogan to sing, her delivery insured that she had my full attention. The phrasing of her delivery suggested an almost sensual abandon more common to a lust song, but the lyrics could not be further from that. Because the lyrics to Africa Mine” were a scathing riposte to capitalism, colonialism, and masculine privilege.

“Money matters, all mine
I’m going to make a fortune in an African Mine
Boys own, popular romance
To be king of a country called, high finance
And the poor, sweat blood
Bound to serve their master’s word and…

Money is power, the poor pay the price
Money is power, a rich man’s romance” – “Africa Mine”

After she delivered the biting chorus, it became apparent that the ardor that fueled her delivery was that for the trappings of the ruling class. This song delivered the bitterest irony possible, couched in cascading echoplex guitars and underlaid with African rhythms. The title itself was a double entendre rubbing our collective noses in the essence of the colonialism behind the exploitation of Africa’s riches.  It was simply a stunning piece of work and one of my favorite singles of the 80s. A song that laid out exactly what the big problems were and in the most compelling way possible.

Holy… !! I just looked and found an alternate recording [demo?] of the song on Passions drummer Richard Williams’ Soundcloud page. The version on this CD differs from the one below but the song should be heard by any means possible.

Next: …Bonus Round Continues

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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