Record Review: Pete Wylie – Sinful US CD

pete wylie - sinful cover art

Virgin Records America | US | CD | 1987 | 7 90600-2

Peter Wylie: Sinful – US – CD [1987]

  1. Sinful
  2. Shoulder To Shoulder
  3. Break Out The Banners
  4. Fourelevenfourtyfour
  5. If I Love You
  6. Train To Piranhaville
  7. We Can Rule The World
  8. All The Love

I’d read a bit about Pete Wylie in the early 80s. Much of it about his roots in the “Crucial Three;” Liverpool’s fountainhead band from which Ian McCulloch [Echo + the Bunnymen] and Julian Cope [Teardrop Explodes] and Pete Wylie emerged from. Wylie, who made music under a bewildering array of WAH-oriented names. I managed to hear the sounds of Echo [hard not to in America] and even Teardrop Explodes, but from 1981 to 1984, I never heard the first note of Wah, Wah! Heat, The Mighty Wah! or Shambeko! Say Wah! on the radio or TV. This guy had as many monikers as Kevin [Spizz] Spears! That might have been one of the issues that kept his music out of my ears.

wah! nah=poo-the art of bluff cover art

It was hard to take this title seriously…

I had managed to see the occasional import copy of his debut album but the title, “Nah = Poo – The Art of Bluff” was very off-putting to me. I didn’t want to gamble import costs on such a silly sounding record. I remember first actually hearing him on MTV’s London Calling program where about 30 seconds of his hit “Come Back” got an airing. Now that sounded pretty good, so I perked up but then went back into my Wah! coma for another three years. Maybe the fact that none of his recordings, until this album, were issued in America had a part to play in the mystery of Wah. Thankfully, when confronted with a US CD of “Sinful” I jumped in and took the gamble.

As my first exposure to Wylie, the song “Sinful” probably couldn’t have been bettered. It burst from the starting gate at full pop gallop; driving right into the expansive chorus. The vocal arrangement divided between an exuberant Wylie and Josie Jones wove a complex but winsome melody that danced between the pulsating synthesizers. Ian [Deaf School] Ritchie’s c0-production with Wylie was au courant, but not overbearingly so.  The instrumental middle eight spoke of a rarely glimpsed Philip Glass influence with the sampler getting minimal/serial before Pete’s guitar made an appearance on the back end.

The production gumbo on this album was Wylie with Ian Ritchie, Zeus B. Held, and Michael Frondelli but there are no obvious seams. It all gels pretty well to the point that the Ritchie produced “Break Out The Banners” sounded for all the world like a cut from Held’s zesty production of Transvision Vamp’s “Pop Art” album [from two years hence] right down to the zingy guitar distortion over the booming drum machines and kinetic synth sequences.

pete wylie fourelevenfourtyfour cover artMost of the songs here had Wylie emoting at full power as he didn’t seem to be to interested in moderating his vocal force. The third single, “FourElevenFortyFour” was a rare exception that allowed Pete to start out modestly and he only built up to a head of steam halfway through the song. I was taken aback at first with the delicacy of the opening couplet, which was repeated twice.

“My love is a rainbow,
and my live is falling grey rain” – “FourElevenFortyFour”

But by the halfway point he was once again singing from the diaphragm with most of the power he could muster. He seemed like he didn’t have the time to dilly-dally with subtlety.

pete wylie - if i love you cover artThe first track as produced by Michael Frondelli was the second single “If I Love You” and it was a heartfelt love song of bold and inventive declaration. Here was a musician who not only believed in the power of love, but also the power of pop music itself. And he was equally passionate about either one. When he put the two together, it didn’t seem like anything could stop him from reaching his goal.

“We Can Rule the World” began deceptively, using the Conch sample [Zeus remixed this Ritchie track but also used the same seample on his Simple Minds “Ghostdancing” remixes of the same year… fyi] that quickly became a Fairlight cliché juxtaposed against some lightweight ambience but fortunately, the song became grounded once the urgent motorik beat moved it out of New Age land and firmly back into Wylie territory. The chorus laid it all out for us and the vision was huge and bold.

“You and me, kicking planets
You and me, skate on rainbows,
You and me, a thousand miles away” – “We Can Rule the World”

And Wylie’s evident passion absolutely sold such a lyric. This was the longest song here at 5:45, but it felt more like 3:20. Not one minute of our time was wasted here. And when it came time to end the album, he once again cut to the chase by opening up “All The Love” with the song’s chorus. Every inch of that song was packed with Wylie’s idealism and optimism. If anything, this  album was antimatter to cynicism itself.

In the wrong hands, it could have spun out of control and become overbearing, but the caliber of songs and arrangements insured that it far from overstayed its welcome at under 36  minutes. This had been a fine introduction to the world of Pete Wylie. His obvious belief in the redemptive power of pop itself marked him as a true believer in the form, and not to be discounted. At least in the case of “Sinful,” the song was one of his UK top 20 hits and was one of the intermittent instances where his passionate pop clicked with the British audience. The other two singles here were tragically scraping in near #80 on the charts in a case of pearls before swine.

wah - the maverick years cover art

Echorich told me that it was designed to specifically look like a bootleg!

Unfortunately, it was at least two decades before I ran across a second Pete Wylie/Wah! CD. And that was only two years ago when I saw “”The Maverick Years ’80-’81 […and Then Some]” and grabbed it after asking Echorich if it was really a bootleg or not. While this was priced to move, all of the other Wah! CDs I see on the web all hover at half a C-note or higher! With the exception of his recent “Pete Sounds” which is available on his website, directly at popular prices. At least he has the music on the OOP CDs covered there as DLs as well. And there seem to be four volumes of rarities that look to makeup a lot of tracks, though the store asks that we email to see the contents. As shown below.

pete wylie rare v4 cover art

31 tracks for £9.99 is still a deal

At the very least, I need to focus my finances to get his latest CD before it’s too late.

– 30 –

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29 Responses to Record Review: Pete Wylie – Sinful US CD

  1. I too have been in a Wah! coma, only for decades rather than selected periods of years (songs heard from the various Wah incarnations on college radio excepted). Taking a glance at the cleverly-named Pete Sounds, I’m already sold before I’ve heard a note thanks to the title alone of the second track, “People! (The Rise of Dunning-Kruger)”. Not sure when that came out, but it is truly the exact plane of Hell we are currently living on, so this sage and exclamation-point-prone genius very clearly needs further investigation and on the double.

    One of the best things about the New Wave era (in particular) is that 40 years later you can still discover or re-discover music and artists that still works its/their magic and makes the world sound great.

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  2. Andy B says:

    If you get a chance check out the 1982 single ‘Story Of The Blues (Part One)’. It got to number 3 in the UK. Typical Pete. A great pop tune with a humdinger of a chorus. Unfortunately when the band appeared on Top Of The Pops they re-recorded it for their appearance and alas wasn’t a patch on the original studio version.

    In those days the Musicians Union insisted that any artist had to re-record any song they were due to ‘perform’ on the show. However most bands went through the routine of pretending to re-record their single but hand over tapes of the original studio version to accompany their appearance. Alas Pete and co mustn’t have been aware of this ploy and therefore handed over an inferior version of their single that they had hastily recorded. Still it didn’t seem to stop the single doing well.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      AndyB – Ah yes, the sham re-record for TOTP to placate the Musician’s Union. I’m familiar with that maneuver. So Pete gamely complied with that notion?! I find that very cool. I also have the “Story of the Blues [parts one and two]” single on the “Maverick Years” CD I referenced at the end of the review.

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  3. Hugh Hall says:

    I love Pete Wylie in all his guises and I recommend listening to anything he’s done. Some is a bit hit and miss but when he hits he REALLY hits. The various Peel Sessions, Songs Of Strength & Heartbreak, The Day That Margaret Thatcher Dies, Come Back, Story Of The Blues. If anyone wants to dip their toe in the water they could do a lot worse than ‘The Handy Wah! Whole’ collection.

    Thanks for featuring him on your great blog.

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  4. Gavin says:

    Oh-where do I start?!
    For me,Pete Wylie is the greatest songwriter to have emerged from Liverpool if not The World.
    The man has written so many amazing,heartfelt and emotionally charged songs it’s unreal.My favourite of his albums are Nah Poo! and Songs of Strength and Heartbreak,but every one is superb.
    I REALLY hate the way most people only ever refer to Story of the Blues,which for me is ok but not a patch on so many other singles.I only ever play Story of the Blues Part Two,which has much more lyrical importance and appeal for me.Come Back,Weekends and the early singles Seven minutes to Midnight,Somesay and Better Scream are my absolute faves.
    I saw him live just before lockdown in Chester,UK.We compared shoes and had a great laugh.A more funny,witty and endearing man you could not wish to meet.
    Pete Sounds is superb,my favourite song being Your mother must be very proud.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – You started at the beginning. To wit: “Pete Wylie is the greatest songwriter to have emerged from Liverpool if not The World.” And with the two CDs I have in house, I am inclined to understand why Pete Wylie is held in such high regard by his fans, which I am turning into by now; better late than never. I’ll bet that “Sinful” is probably his worst album; dating as it did from the dreaded middle 80s, but it spoke volumes that even during that neon shoulderpad/mullet/trainwreck era, he ended up with an album that good! Endearing is a great choice of words. Just listening to that album one can tell he is a genuine and deeply feeling person who is fully engaged with the world. What more can we ask of our artists?

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  5. Echorich says:

    All of this love and these wonderful words for my Musical Hero are very, very heartwarming. Pete is everyman and everyman’s musical town cryer! Through ups and way downs, Pete has always managed to come through. He is a writer of truth, whether it be subjects of social, political or the personal. He’s worn his heart on his sleeve for so long, it is permanently stained with his blood.
    In the early years, he reflected the amphetamine fueled side of Liverpool’s Punk/Post Punk Scene. Later his subject matter became more personal, more conscious of the world around him. He has never been an artist afraid to speak his mind, no matter what the outcome.

    From Better Scream to Seven Minutes To Midnight, Story Of The Blues to the woefully underrated Hope (I Wish You’d Believe Me), Come Back to Sinful and the Perfect Pop of If I Love You, Pete soundtracked my 80s. In the Spring of 87, Pete was in NYC to work on remixes for the Sinful album and the Rock + Roll Angels conspired to give me the opportunity to meet and befriend my musical hero. Those 10 days or so are some of the most memorable and drunken days and nights of my 20s. From discussing politics with Pete and Alan Vega in the lounge of the Gramercy Park Hotel, to sharing a bottle of Grand Marnier with some New Jersey Mafia wiseguys at 5am in the VIP Room of The Limelight, to limo rides to get pancakes in Soho, life could not have been better.

    In 1990, Pete played the role of ghostwriter and composer for the song Imperfect List, featuring his comrade in arms Josie Jones. It was recorded with Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and lays waste to 64 things and people that Wylie had no time for.
    13 years would pass on from Sinful before he found a sympathetic ear in an old comrade, producer David Balfe and scored a record deal with Sony. But just as the album was due to be released, a regime change at the label did not go his way, leaving the fantastic Songs Of Strength And Heartbreak to be left to fend for itself in the musical wilderness. The lead track from the album, Heart As Big As Liverpool, pays tribute to his hometown and by extension has become the official tribute song for the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster. It is still played regularly at Liverpool FC matches. Wylie has been tireless in his fight for compensation for the victims of the disaster.
    In the new millennium, Pete had a lot of starts and stops, found a voice on the internet, and kept making music. Pete Sounds was a project that seemed ever changing and only held back from an outlet to get it produced. When, in 2017, Pete announced it’s release on his own Sound and Visions label, I couldn’t wait and purchased it as soon as I could figure out how. I purchased a package that included a Pete Sound T-shirt that I wore to London on 2017 Xmas trip and was stopped at Gatwick by two people who wondered where or how I got a Pete Wylie T-shirt. I wore it out at a bar in Notting Hill and was again pounced on people who wanted to talk about Pete and how great Wah! was. All this made me very satisfied and proud of my Hero.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – There are some t-shirts that have a powerful reach! My Rezillos tees get a lot of comment even after nearly 20 years. Just this weekend the stunning Maid Of Orleans OMD shirt netted me two public compliments! But that remarkable “Pete Sounds” glitter gold t-shirt is still in Wylie’s webstore and no doubt well worth the £22 for those who have not yet bought in!

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  6. Ade.W says:

    Ah! Sinful, yes , I haven’t played it for years but you have jogged my memory so I must go and rescue it from the loft. I bought the album ‘A word to the wise guy’ when it came out, it came with a 12″ single ‘yuh learn’ and a lyric booklet. it’s a nice thing. The 12″ ‘story of the blues’ and ‘Come back’ are easy to find crate digging. I seem to remember he did something with fellow scousers ‘The Farm’

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ade.W – It was a groovy dance version (of the period) of “Sinful” that didn’t trouble the charts. I have the “Tribal Mix” 12″ of “Sinful” and the name of the mix makes me laugh since it would mean a very specific dance sound 5-7 years later!

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      • Echorich says:

        Actually the remake of Sinful! with The Farm in 1990 got to around #25 in the UK charts. It was a matter of being “on trend” at the time, but the collaboration with The Farm would have a long reach.

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  7. David Simpson says:

    Puns were mentioned above. There was an instrumental version of Wah! single Hope. It was called L’Espwah, a pun on espoir, which is French for hope. A lovely thing…. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7-_ZDOhK4sw

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