Record Review: The Monochrome Set – The Independent Singles Collection UK CD [part 3]

monochrome set the mating game cover art

I have to admit it. When I hear the incredible single “The Mating Game” it’s very difficult to shake the sensation that I am hearing the origin point of The Smiths right then and there. The archness in Bid’s featherlight delivery of the seems to strongly anticipate the more lumpen crooning of Morrissey in tone rather exactly. That the astonishingly witty lyrics here were as vivid as anything that The Smiths committed to wax and Lester Square’s chiming guitars weren’t a million miles away from the Johnny Marr standard [to be] were pretty convincing evidence. What was that Bowie quote? Something about “second to market” winning out?

The B-side played like something else entirely. The Duane Eddy intro led into a showbizzy Elvis ballad pastiche of yet more incredible lyrics from Bid. The first few times I listened to “J.D.H.A.N.E.Y.” I had not yet twigged that Mr. Haney was not a potential obscure drummer from the dusty pages of history, but in fact, the band’s own. Having departed the group in 1982, to write for Gourmet Magazine in The States [his autobio was published by Random House in 2008], he was given this somewhat mocking kiss off [complete with smooch sound effects] that veered from homage to disparagement in an inventive way that put more small-minded band-member kiss-off songs [let’s say… “Drop Dead/Celebration” by Siouxsie + The Banshees] smartly in the shade. That the band’s next two albums still had Haney writing involvement after his departure was even more astonishing.

monochrome set cast a long shadow cover art

I am absolutely enraptured with the magnificent “Cast A Long Shadow” single. Opening with a riff indebted to the “Last Train To Clarksville” it quickly established itself as a song of unparalleled hybrid vigor as it added garage-like Vox Continental organ, mixed low into the track while Bid sang the hilarious western pastiche lyrics in his very best singing cowboy croon. Again, I’m hearing Morrissey about to happen here, and yet the Vindictive One could never bring himself to enjoy himself as obviously as Bid was. The Morricone middle eight soon gave way to the electric organ getting a change to solo in the spotlight; revealing the band’s obvious love for mid-60s pre-hippie rock and pop.

The B-side was as different as night and day as “The Bridge” was a plummy recitation of a spoken work piece by Bid enlivened by pennywhistles, what sounded like a bodhran, some organ drones, and flutes. None of this was particularly memorable, which is perhaps why the creative decision to alter the pitch of the playback randomly gave the whole thing a slightly queasy air.

the monochrome set the jet set junta cover artThe next single was like nothing I’ve ever heard, though the alliterative conceit of naming a song “The Jet Set Junta” falls apart outside of the UK, where the Spanish junta is pronounced as a soft “j.” But never mind my pedantry; alliteration is only one of this single’s dizzying array of rewards. Next comes onomatopoeia [clearly an underused songwriting trope], to be followed by luscious, swinging, surf guitar breaks clearly indebted to The Champs “Tequila.” But the song’s pièce de résistance were clearly its lyrics of pitch black humor of the darkest stripe. Read…then listen.

“Tick, tock, go the death watch beetles in él presidente’s swill
Pop, pop, goes the Clicquot magnum at the reading of the will
Hiss, hiss, goes the snakeskin wallet stuffed with cruzeiro bills

Here we come, the jet set junta
Here we come, the jet set junta

Vroom, vroom, goes the armoured Cadillac through Montevideo
Rat-a-tat goes the sub-machine gun to restore the status quo
Snip, snip, go the tailor’s scissors on the suit in Savile Row

Here we come, the jet set junta
Here we come, the jet set junta

Thud, thud, goes the rubber truncheon on the Indian peon’s heel
Buzz, buzz, go the brass electrodes as the flesh begins to peel
Rattle, rattle, goes the bullet round and round the roulette wheel

Here we come, the jet set junta
Here we come, the jet set junta
Here we come” – “The Jet Set Junta”

Astonishing. To think that Scott Walker’s “The Electrician” was only four years earlier and by 1982 a lyric as grisly as “Buzz buzz go the brass electrodes as the flesh begins to peel” was used for black humor effect. Actually, the whole lyric make me feel uneasy considering the dark place America’s at right now. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not in awe of such singular songwriting. I have to admit that I had to look up what a Cliquot magnum was…and I’m all the richer for it regarding this amazing song.

Next: …Surviving The 90s

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to Record Review: The Monochrome Set – The Independent Singles Collection UK CD [part 3]

  1. Brian says:

    Bid’s pronunciation of junta has driven my wife crazy for decades. Gotta be considered among the band’s best songs. A little off topic, but can I just say their albums the last decade have been amazing? You could have a hell of a compilation just from those years. Better than the ‘90s material, in my humble opinion.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – Well, that the Brits for you. Admittedly, the alliteration would fail miserably if it was “correctly” pronounced. I’m not surprised that the new material holds up. I hear no timidity from this band on the disc I have.

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  2. Scott Klapman says:

    It’s obviously greatly simplified for me to consider The Monochrome Set, Orange Juice and Television Personalities to be the genesis of all things UK indie – in a Smiths sort of way – yet I do.

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    • Echorich says:

      I’m more than willing to entertain that line of thought. It has many very compelling examples to put forward!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Scott Klapman – On the Tapete Records web page for the band, accolades from Morrissey and Marr are cited, so maybe it’s not just me hearing the influence. Admittedly, I’m no Smiths maven; but there was a certain amount of the band that one could simply not avoid at the time. And I hear Morrissey’s tone in Bid, even though it was used in radically different ways by each band. Even when he is expressing very dark emotional states and ideas, Bid sounds almost euphoric to me. Morrissey had a similar vocal tone, but his lyrics were often vindictive attacks from someone who came across as victimized. Such as I’ve heard a handful of [admittedly great] Smiths songs in cover version form.

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  3. You are spot-on, O Monk, in your comparison of Bid’s singing to a happy sort of Morrissey, only with a bit wider array of (high quality) influences. There’s a touch of Bid’s Indian heritage that runs through many of the early singles that you spotted in “The Bridge” but a lot of musical ingredients, cleverly utilised and then topped with fiendishly enjoyable lyrics, “Jet Set” being one of the most original examples.

    I’m delighted that you’re enjoying this on the same level I did when I (re) discovered this lovely band!

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