Altered Images: Bring Me Closer – UK – 12″ 
- Bring Me Closer [extended version]
- Surprise Me
1983 brought with it many changes as the New Wave/Post-Punk and even New Pop trends of 1981 began to mutate in an increasingly conservative pop marketplace. We had heard [and loved] the last Altered Images single, the dip into the Giorgio Moroder sound that was “Don’t Talk To Me About Love.” As produced by Mike Chapman, the record also crossed into Blondie “Heart Of Glass” territory and with the same producer at the helm. I remember being at either a Peaches Colonial Drive or Record City Colonial Drive when the “Bring Me Closer” single manifested.
We picked it up and were struck by the “New Look” sophisticated, 1983 model, glammed out Clare Grogan on the sleeve. We also noticed that production this time was not by Mike Chapman but by the stalwart Tony Visconti! Unusual given that their last album, “Pinky Blue” had been at the hands of Martin Rushent. Then a producer of “the moment” following his Human League triumphs. I wonder what the famed Bowie producer would bring to the table this time?
The extended A-side was lush, string and conga-driven widescreen disco, ala Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra! With wah-wah rhythm guitar for miles. Clare was singing but she was almost swamped by the high powered backing vocalists that I had a real problem with in the mix. Ms. Grogan’s was a…distinctive voice. Her high, chirpy vocals were a love/hate thing with the public, but enough loved the band to give them a run of top 20 hits in the UK. I felt here that Mr. Visconti was hedging his bets and not letting Grogan be Grogan.
The velvety production was nothing I would have expected from the group, but was not off putting in itself. It sounded like an army of steely-eyed, flat-bodied professionals doing that they did best on the additional keyboards, BVs, strings, and saxophone [Andy Hamilton of “Rio” fame!]. The 12″ mix had lots of dropouts where different aspects of the mix got the spotlight for a few bars. Rhythm guitar. Congas. The best aspect of the song to me were its lyrics. The refrain below was sung with a smooth, creamy phrasing.
“Something that you do to me fills me with unease” – Bring Me Closer
So much so, that the brain of this listener did a double take once it began processing the lyrical content of this whipped cream napoleon of a song. It was that ironic juxtaposition of happy music with contrary lyric that I had reacted to on their last album [see: “I Could Be Happy”] that had given me the frissons of pleasure that I would now look to this band for going forward. But the music here was neither happy, nor sad; merely lush, so that perhaps represented a variation on their theme.
The B-side was also produced by Visconti but “Surprise Me” was a real throwback to the ebullient sound of “Pinky Blue,” albeit produced by a very different hand at the boards. If anything, I liked his production better than Rushent’s. The latter tended to emphasize the sugar in the arrangement, and I felt that “Surprise Me” was more “nutritionally balanced” than the sound that Rushent had brought to the band.
So this single represented new branches in the Altered Images tree, for sure, but alas; it failed to click with the British public. “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” made # 7 [UK] but “Bring Me Closer” got as high as #29 [UK]. The next two singles continued the downward trajectory with “Change of Heart” barely hitting the Top 100 [#83 UK] and that was that! Altered Images were finished. I considered it a brutal and premature end for the band. Looking back it all seemed so cutthroat, but then again, it was the Thatcher era. I suppose the early 80s was the last time where a band could develop [even wildly] over the course of three, very different albums. In that respect, Altered Images were in good company with the likes of fellow New Pop band ABC who certainly matched Altered Images penchant for an admirably wide stylistic profile.
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Nice piece, haven’t heard a lot of Altered Images
It really was a career in hyperdrive when you look back. They were one of my first gigs in I think July 1982, I still recall Clare and the band hanging around for ages afterwards signing autographs!
I actually think the writing was already on the wall even then, although they drew a big crowd, Don’t Talk was almost a blip in terms of success, the curve was heading downward sadly.
I’ve always had a bit soft spot for Love to Stay from that period.
SimonH -“A career in hyperdrive.” I think you hit the nail on the head. Things were just playing out very swiftly, for some reason. “Love To Stay” was a sumptuous pop song, wasn’t it? A bit crazy when we recall “Dead Pop Stars” two years earlier.
This was the single that turned me from being a casual fan into a huge one.
“Bite” has always been by far my favourite AA album.I bought the UK limited cassette and still have it.
I had never heard anything quite like “Bring me Closer” at the time as a 14 year old.It oozed an exotic and sophisticated sound which I still find mesmerising today,even as a jaded old never-was!
Gavin – “A jaded old never-was!” You make me laugh, sir! As I’m even older, it didn’t quite have that “first time posh disco” relevance for yours truly as I was conversant with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra from growing up in The States in the 70s. But they probably were ahead of the Post-Ironic Disco Reclamation Curve® with this single at that time.
Oh, YES! Now we’re talking. Altered Images has been a fave since I first heard Happy Birthday back in 1981 and fell for Clare’s girlish, helium vocals. I particularly loved Bite’s hi-glam image rethink, perfectly melding with their new luxe sound. Both Visconti and Chapman’s productions sounded great to these ears, altho I guess i’d give the slight edge to Mike Chapman (as Don’t Talk To Me About Love and Love To Stay are my pinnacles of this divine album). Having said that, I just replayed Bring Me Closer’s extended version and it’s perfect. I really like the backing vocals – sometimes a smidge less Clare is OK too!
Now I simply must hope that by December 2021 Americans can travel abroad and Brits can have live music, so I can finally see Clare (and whoever passes for the Images!) warmup for The Human League on their Dare 40th anniversary tour.
Taffy – Clare Grogan now plays with an all-female band so one hopes that December 2021 will work out so you can experience 1981 nirvana. I’m not convinced where I’m sitting now. But I hope I’m wrong for your sake. I have to say that the music of 1981 was for me a pinnacle with so much out there that was peaking after bands had been simmering and developing for a few years after the Punk Ground Zero.
I absolutely hated this song for so many years. I thought the disco guitar and strings were painfully dated. But having been such a fan, it once played at the right time and I started appreciating it. And now I rank the 12″ mix as one of their best moments, and just love it.
Interestingly, there’s a mix of this song used for their appearance on Razzmatazz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aerW00phQrY) that removes the strings and sax, and I have to say I love it. Too bad this wasn’t released as an alternative mix somewhere, I think it gives it a more timeless feel.
Scott – Welcome to the comments! I can’t believe this is your first time here, but a quick search tells me that’s the case. Well, you are right. It was a very dated mix for 1983. A retro-disco number from about 6-7 years in the past at the time. And nothing could sound much more dated than that. I didn’t hate it at the time, but it did puzzle me. You know, for decades I thought that the first artist to salvage wah-wah guitar from the scrapheap of musical history was Dr. Robert’s playing on The Blow Monkeys “Animal Magic,” but this happened three years in advance of that! So credit perhaps to …Altered Images? I didn’t know about the alternative mix for Razamatazz. Interesting that they would have an alternate mix to mime to there. It would have been a great addition to the 12″ single. Thinking about Altered Images playing British kid’s TV reminds me that I taped a live Altered Images concert off of Nickelodeon back in 1982/1983 which I may still have on tape somewhere.
Oh, I’ve commented a couple of times before, though I may have used a different email address. I read a quote from Gary Kemp around the time thinking this was going to be a #1 for Clare. Boy, was he wrong. I think it peaked at 29? And the next single, the amazingly brilliant Love To Stay, fared even worse in the charts. I would have liked to see what could have happened if the public didn’t toss them aside so quickly after the hits of 81/82.
Scott – I concur that it was a shame that Altered Images were hung out to dry so swiftly. Though the “Love Bomb” single didn’t do much for me, and I’m a Zeus B. Held cultist. Have you ever heard any Universal Love School? That was the post-AI Clare/Stephen project.
I only found out a few years back about the whole Gary Kemp/Clare Grogan situation. That was surprising to me in retrospect. At least Kemp wouldn’t have that whole “dirty old man” vibe that John Peel and Martin Rushent brought to the table. It creeped me out years later to read about their “crushes” on the much younger Ms. Grogan. All of this put the photo of Ms. Grogan reading “Lolita” in a new, and slightly disturbing light.
All these years later I look at this photo and now I’m the dirty old man. Where has the time gone? Big fan of all eras of Altered Images and think every single they put out was great. The albums as a whole were a bit patchy. I know this B-side feels like a bit of a throwaway, but I can’t help but love it anyway. I put it on mixes all of the time.
I can’t say I’ve heard Universal Love School but if it sounded anything like the few Clare solo songs I heard from the shelved 1987 album, I don’t think we’re missing much.
Scott – Was wondering what the status of that might have been. One can never know what’s been leaked to YouTube or not if one doesn’t look, so I asked.
Completely agreed with Brian — I never heard anything from them that I didn’t like. The non-TV version is new to me and definitely different, but I think it obscures the lyric a bit too much. While the BVs in the Visconti version do come on strong, I think Taffy is right … Grogan’s distinctive vocal style can overwhelm a song if not treated with care.
I may or may not be a dirty old man, but I actually loved her as Kristine Kochanski in Red Dwarf more than I did as a pop star. Ironically, her character was a hologram because the “original” was no longer alive, so she was … wait for it … a “dead” pop star!
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