The Monochrome Set: The Independent Singles Collection – UK – CD – 
- He’s Frank
- Eine Symphonie Des Grauens
- Lester Leaps In
- The Monochrome Set
- Mr. Bizarro
- He’s Frank [Slight Return]
- Silicon Carne
- The Mating Game
- Cast A Long Shadow
- The Bridge
- Jet Set Junta
- Love Goes Down The Drain
- Killing Dave
- House Of God [live]
- Sweet Death
- Forever Young
- Hurting You
- Little Noises
- I Love Lambeth
- Kissy Kissy
- All Over
- Closing Time
This review has been a looooooong time coming. The Monochrome Set have been active variously, for 42 years, barring some stretches where they group were tabled for a time. I first heard the band in ’82’-’83 [whole careers into their run] on the “Dindisc 1980” compilation album. But apart from seeing the band perform “Jacob’s Ladder” live on The Tube a few years later, I’d only heard that and the two tracks [“405 Lines,” “Apocalypso”] on the Dindisc comp. They have always been a “group I needed to look into” while also being rather thin on the ground here in darkest America. They were a late-in-life obsession for my friend Ron Kane, but remained on my “to do” list until my old friend chasinvictoria took it upon himself to send me this finely compiled compilation, recently.
Their earliest waxings were on Rough Trade for a year before getting plucked from indie stardom when Carol Wilson’s Dindisc Records came calling. From that point onward there was certainly label interest but rarely solid sales, so that saw them see-sawing between various larger dalliances only to find a platform on the indie label circuit every other period. That meant that there were many singles that were indie releases that never saw the light of day on major labels like Dindisc or Blanco Y Negro.
The biggest chunk of the band’s releases were down to indie icon Cherry Red; who would always give the band a port in the storm. So it made perfect sense that Cherry Red in 2008 compiled this action packed disc of almost every indie single A/B side the band had issued up to then. Truth in labeling laws compel me to state that for the record, the 2nd B-side to the astonishing “Jet Set Junta” single of 1983 [“Noise (Eine Kleine Symphonie)”] is missing from this set. All ten indie singles that fell through the cracks between their album career are here. Ranging from humble Punk era 7″ singles all the way to ultramodern [yet curiously abandoned] CD-5 singles that didn’t play with a stylus… but instead a laser. Let’s dig in… tomorrow, as we’ve run out of time today.
Next: …Singles Getting Heady
Monochrome Set are one of those bands that no one talks about, but that deserve more attention. They’re also evidence that poor Adam lost his Ants not once, but twice: before Malcolm McLaren lured the second Ants lineup away from Adam to form Bow Wow Wow, members of the first Ants lineup (and/or the proto-Ants band B-Sides) bailed to form Monochrome Set.
Anyway, this compilation is fairly solid, but as an intro to the band it’s clogged up with too many b-sides and obscurities to sell them to a newcomer. I’d dive into “Colour Transmission” – a two-fer with their first two LPs on it (Strange Boutique and Love Zombies) – or their career peak third album, Eligible Bachelors, which appends the first fourteen tracks from your Independent Singles disc (Plus some BBC material) as bonus tracks. Great droll funny lyrics throughout.
Monochrome Set were set to play Chicago in late 2020, and I was excited to see them play, but as we know that didn’t happen.
JT – Actually, The Monochrome Set are still slated to play Reggie’s on Oct. 17th of this year! A cursory glance at their web page [thank goodness for bands who still have archaic web pages!] reveals a much busier US tour schedule as compared to their UK itinerary. Shocking.
As for the Once and Future Ants, let it not be said that Adam doesn’t know how to find talent. He managed to fall upward pretty effectively. I’m still trying to decide if The Monochrome Set’s “Fallout” has any DNA to the B-Sides tune we eventually heard years later. The liner notes in this CD point to erratic behavior [called a “breakdown” from a 2008 perspective] on Adam’s part as to why the B-sides and singer split apart.
Eligible Bachelors is one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ll Scry Instead is brilliant Pop. The Midas Touch is 60s cinematic overload in the form of a slowed down Shanty Song. The Mating Game is twisted Pop with a faux Surf guitar opening. But it’s The Jet Set Juanta that will always be the band’s signature song for me.
One of the things that I have always held dear about The Monochrome Set is that they never compromised their sound, their output when they did have “major” label backing. The Lost Weekend is an accomplished album. Throughout all their lineup changes and the return of members like Lester Square over the years, they have maintained a sound that is singularly their own.
I love the track Fun For All The Family but you’d be hard pressed to find a bad track here. The Jet Set Junta is an absolute classic and one of the hallmarks of indie music.
Echorich – The single version of “The Mating Game” [allegedly the Peel Session recording] has been stuck in my head all day now. These songs are proving quite hard to shake. Thankfully, I don’t want to! I actually find it kind of thrilling listening got a band over the course of 15 years that apparently never calcified into a particular thing, but one who was immediately recognizable through the caliber of their writing. The sound of no sound at all.
Eligible Bachelors is their highlight by far but this collection is a solid intro to the band’s output. Personally, the best intro for new listeners would be the Compendium compilation https://www.discogs.com/The-Monochrome-Set-Compendium-75-95-A-History-1979-95/master/781311
Of course the band has had a third renaissance with a string of highly praised albums so until a true career spanning compilation comes along this will have to suffice.
RobC – I was deeply intrigued with the last decade of the band’s work; as yet unheard. Since the first two periods of activity as heard on this disc avoided all taint of calcification, I am actually thrilled at the notion of what their third phase must sound like. And unlike so many of my favorite bands, The Monochrome Set have no use for that “one album every five to eight years” trope! They have managed to release six albums in the last seven calendar years!! As if it were still 1978-1981!!
Nobody does that anymore!
Like the Monk, I had only occasionally listened to TMS prior to getting a collection for cheap — in my case it was Tomorrow Will Be Too Long, the 1995 rebranding of Colour Transmissions put out on Caroline to cash in on the band’s then-reformation. From the very first track (I love bands that write songs named after the band!), I was hooked and had to have more.
While I agree that Eligible Bachelors may be their best album, they do continue to knock out very solid entries even into the current day. I recently picked up their box set of the band’s 90s albums and was very pleased with the consistency of their work, and of course I have seen them in both the UK and US in recent years (hoping against hope they won’t have to cancel the forthcoming US/Canada tour this coming fall — I’ve a date with them in Vancouver!).
In particular the exceptional lyric-writing of Ganesh (Bid) Shoshandri thrills me in a way that only early Elvis Costello and They Might Be Giants can match, but all incarnations of the band are also very clever at nicking riffs, mixing genres, and crafting light-hearted pop that can get dark in its themes, like the Housemartins/Beautiful South used to do.
It’s a wonderful feeling to circle back to a band from the late 70s/early 80s that you never had time to dig into at the time and find them to still be both a) around and functional and b) very good and remaining true to themselves and their art.
For me, the signature song from this band is “He’s Frank.” There are many of their songs I adore (like the previously-mentioned “Jet Set Junta”) but “He’s Frank” is one of those rare songs that make me want to pick up a guitar, learn it, and hire a band just to be able to share this song with the discerning ones who may not have picked up on this groove yet.
Finally, I concur with RobC that the compilation he points to is probably the most complete picture of the band, though they have put out a fair number of albums since the 90s — including the current newest album, 2019’s concept album (?!) Fabula Mendax, based (very loosely) on alleged manuscripts from a friend of Joan d’Arc. Bid used to have a side project for his more intellectual stuff – Scarlet’s Well, which I haven’t dug into at all yet – but the new album and SW are on my list to get to listen to in prep for (crosses fingers) the future world of going to concerts again.
Another solid overview, especially for Peel fans, is the Volume Contrast Brilliance Vol 1 comp. The still in print 3-CD deluxe edition of Eligible Bachelors compiles virtually everything covering their golden period (non album tracks, Peel Sessions, etc) including a long out of print live album.
I need to check out the newer albums but it’s great they’re still out there doing there own thing – a reminder of when music was a magical place where new discoveries were there to be found.
RobC – Still in print? Cherry Red lists it as “sold out” and it’s med-hi 2 figures on Discogs right now.
chasinvictoria – “Light-hearted pop than can get dark in its themes.” Bingo! Try pitch black! That 90s box is still quite affordable and I need to think about acting before it’s too late on that one. What a difference in buying a box that I don’t already have in some form!