Strange Cruise: Strange Cruise DLX RM – UK – CD 
- Hit + Run
- The Beat Goes On
- Rebel Blue Rocker
- Communication [breaking down the walls]
- This Old Town
- Animal Call
- Heart is A Lonely Hunter
- Love Addiction
- 12 Miles High
- Where Were Their Hearts
- Rebel Blue Rocker [Rebel Mix]
- Silver Screen Queen
Will wonders ever cease? A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that yes, I still only have the two singles from Strange Cruise; the divisive post-Visage band that Steve Strange briefly fronted in an attempt to cut the cord to the New Romantic movement that spawned him. The actual album was a different story. It was never easy to get where I was. I have never seen the LP and the 2014 CD was only available from UK dealers on Discogs.com every time I looked. And lately, I had been looking a lot.
Then, from out of the blue, the CD [new in the shrink wrap] arrived unannounced in my mailbox last week! It seemed that commenter Schwenko managed to buy two copies of this title by accident and he sent one out to me …because he’s a major dude!
Well, that got my attention. So now it was finally time to hear the album that caused me to furrow my brow when I first heard about it. Reviews at the time were not kind. I managed to buy a “Rebel Blue Rocker” 12″ somewhere along the way in the early 90s at a record show, but I had not played it, like so much of my vinyl. You know me. I’ll wait decades until I have all of the releases, then digitize it, clean it up and make a homegrown REVO CD of the kind that sometimes get made for real; sometimes not. I did manage to buy the much more scarce “The Beat Goes On” UK 7″ from a US dealer of choice a year or two ago and I had digitized that disc in a fit of wanting to hear what was in the big box of records I occasionally buy. What I heard did not inspire. How would the full album play out? The fact that Wendy Cruise [née Wu] of The Photos was also here was…intriguing.
“Hit + Run” began with a sound completely alien to all of the Visage albums that preceded this one. One heard the sound of drumsticks making a 6-count [!] and we immediately knew that this record had been made Post-Live Aid. Rock was back, baby! Did ‘ya miss me? Where’s the Hookers and Blow®? All that pasty, effete New Romantic stuff was out the window. Pretty much. Instead we got gated drums by Pete Barnacle, with muscular bass by his brother Steve [who was a veteran of the previous Visage lineup and who wrote the music here] as well as sax player to the stars Gary [Barnacle] joining the boisterous horn section. Trombones were courtesy of Pete [“Landscape”] Thoms [him again…<insert stinger>] and the trumpets from Luke Tunney.
All of it was definitely of its time. Strange’s lyrics exhorting “hit it…shoot it…aim it…go for it!!’ were the antithesis of his previously introverted image. The massed vocals on the chorus were completely jarring to any ear attuned to the vibe that Strange had until now put out on his records. None of it sounded the least bit convincing in his hands. It was all too enthusiastic and was as upbeat as an Up With People® concert. When it ended on a cold brass crescendo with ten seconds of drum fills, I had to think “this is so wrong on so many levels.”
Next came the one song here that I was familiar with. “The Beat Goes On” was a favorite Sonny + Cher song as a child for me. I put it down to the bass guitar. This version had an even jazzier walking bass line with fruity sax, and gratuitous DX7 horn stabs even though there was plenty of actual brass already in evidence. Steve and Wendy sang the tune as a duet, just like the progenitors. Except that Steve managed to sound not unlike Cher taking the lead with with Wendy having a love affair with her vibrato. The faux Hammond organ fills here actually hurt. The one aspect of this that I actually liked was the big fat slab of white noise synth percussion that dropped in to say “hi” every bar. Did I say that sax was fruity? The muted trumpet solos were pure vintage 1968 and sounding very much at sea in this melange that wrapped up a one bar flourish right out of a 60s sitcom theme. You know the kind I mean. They might have dropped in “shave and a haircut” instead and at that point I would not have batted an eyelash.
Next: …Where Do We Go From Here?
So as you know ‘the sound of drumsticks making a 6-count’ do not appear on the original vinyl. This was how I knew that rather than do the usual cheap vinyl transfer Cherry Red actually went to the master tapes and transferred the unedited original recording.
Having interviewed Steve Barnacle last year I got the full back story of Strange Cruise which would make a great TV movie script. I won’t say too much at this stage, I’ll wait for your full review but one day I will type out the whole interview Steve gave on Strange Cruise. I will state a few more things now that relate to what you’ve written so far. The two Steve’s did a demo of ‘The Beat Goes On’ that got played at a music event. A guy from EMI heard it and felt it would be a huge hit and wanted to sign them there and then. They still had a Polydor contract for 3 more Visage albums so EMI actually bought them out of the contract so certain were they of a huge hit! The version of ‘The Beat Goes On’ on the album/single isn’t the one that was recorded during the original album sessions. EMI weren’t happy with that version so had them re-record it with another producer as this was the track they were pinning their hopes on.
RichardAnvil – I couldn’t help but notice that “The Beat Goes On” was produced by Steve Forward instead of Mike Hedges, who helmed everything else.i assumed the opposite. That the label “didn’t hear a single” and sent then back to the studio with a sure-fire cover song! Not the opposite. Fascinating, Captain.