Usually I’ve done the Rock G.P.A. threads on bands who have long career threads of many albums. The shortest one I’ve done was for Gina X Performance, who had just four albums. Today we’ll take a look at a band with just three albums in a 35 year span! No, it’s not The Blue Nile! It’s Slow Children; the Los Angeles New Wave band who initially got a deal in the UK on the Ensign label and got picked up for distribution here by RCA.
I first heard the band on the 1981 RCA lo-price, New Wave sampler “Blitz.” The song there was “Spring In Fialta” and it was an immediate grabber with its headlong rush of lyrical imagery and a tense urgency that was second to none. Their album came out in America in 1982 in a new edition of ten tracks, not the eleven on the original 1981 UK edition. We’ll consider the UK edition canonical here for this Rock G.P.A. I’ve finally completed digitizing all of the Slow Children canon and let’s get started with the debut album.
The tight guitar riffs and drum fills kicking off “Brazilian Magazines” were an honest way to grab the listener up front and to pull them in to the enervated world of the songs here. Singer and lyricist Pal Shazar packs the tight spaces in the music with an overflowing current of nervy, intelligent lyrics. She tends to articulate her delivery to the beat so the music was heavily steeped in percussive, staccato energy. The chorus featured synths that sounded like warning claxons as Ms. Shazar got plenty of mileage out of the phrase “don’t you dare” delivered in a variety of permutations. The middle eight featured the obscure metaphor of the title phrase [I’m still wondering what it is about Brazilian magazines in particular] inserted into a frantic soliloquy over more warning claxon synths.
The interplay of bass, guitar, and drums that gave “I Got A Good Mind” its pull with the bass drum arriving on the off beats before moving up in tempo over the course of the song’s intro. Guitarist Andrew Chinich was also going to join in on the vocals from time to time by the second tune. Ms. Shazar dropped the deft lyric below to reward me with a smile for paying attention.
“I need a brainstorm to come and clear my head
It’s taken refuge instead” – I Got A Good Mind
The single “Talk About Horses” featured Ms. Shazar’s pleading tone with phrases like “casually urgent” and “drastically pensive” popping out of the song like precocious champagne bubbles. She would have been fun to take an English Lit class in high school with. Yet with as much care as she put into the lyrics here, her phrasing instinctively subordinated the scanning of the lyric to its rhythmic role in the composition. Pronouncing the phrase “mechanical unwind” as “mech-kan-I-cal-un-WIND” and daring to repeat it for a whole bar in the outro.
The fourth song was a new one to my ears since “Malicious” was one of the two songs on the original 1981 version of the album to get trimmed for the US LP of this album. The tasty spy guitar riff in the intro slotted right next to “Secret Agent Man” comfortably enough, but soon the mood lightented to the sort of quirky New Wave that was rarely better than on this album. The dynamism of the playing and arrangements were a well balanced mixture of rock with synth sweetening that would be soon overtaken by bands going total synthpop… and losing a lot in the process. I’ve never heard Jules + The Polar Bears, but since they basically were the band here [along with Chinich also on guitar] and produced the album, maybe I should investigate? I’m more than familiar with Jule’s Shear’s songwriting chops but only from the period following the Polar Bears existence.
Next: …America In My Head