Record Review: Strange Cruise – Strange Cruise DLX RM UK CD [part 2]

strange cruise - rebel blue rocker cover art
EMI | UK | 7″ | 1986 | EMI 5549

Finally hearing “Rebel Blue Rocker,” it’s shocking that someone at EMI picked this song with its brash intro horns as the lead off single from”Strange Cruise.” All the elements of this song just seem to be awkwardly stitched together like some sort of misbegotten Frankenpop. Complete with an ill-suited, metallic, squealing guitar solo. The lyric refrain of “you didn’t hit, you didn’t run, now it’s time for fun,” called back lyrically to the equally bad opening track to the album. Worse, the showbizzy cold crescendo with Steve Strange growling “he’s a rocker, and he’s a reeeeeeebellll” had my jaw dropped in disbelief. The song was crudely constructed from awful parts that absolutely did not cohere in any way.

Just when I was grasping for a loose timber in this stormy sea of ill-conceived pop rock, “Communication [Breaking Down The Walls]” gave me a respite, even though it also had a 6-count drumstick intro that I would have to get used to with this CD. I really enjoyed the sophisticated tenor sax from Gary Barnacle and the synths were soft string patches and rhythmic electric piano instead of the cheesier Hammond patches and horn stabs used earlier. Strange sounded more in his in comfort zone with performance and lyrics this outing, and Wendy Cruise sounded well-integrated with the song here; her support vocals given just the right spotlight. The appealing melody didn’t hurt at all and ultimately, thanks to the great sax, this one could have been from “Beat Boy.” The track was well-balanced with some cool bass runs tucked away in the foundations of the song. Even the squealing guitar solo fit in well here. The only false note here was the fortissimo cold ending. It seemed abrupt and forced; What did this band have against coda fades? Maybe it was all down to a sense of trying too hard to be “real.” Refuting the “synthetic” Visage sound?

The next track was in my face with brash, cloying Motownish brass. The noxious vibe seemed familiar. “This Old Town” was reminding me of something I didn’t like. Wham? Culture Club? NO! After about my 6th run through of this album, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This felt for all the world like a “shallow cut” from David Bowie repulsive “Tonight” album! This could have been right at home on that record! The massed backing vocals and “jaunty” sax really grated. A rare fade at the song’s coda here did little to improve my demeanor.

“Animal Call” featured another 6-count on the sticks. The syncopated bass line and the digital synths presaged Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” from the “Dirty Dancing” OST! I did like the scratcher percussion details though. Strange sounded fairly at home on the song, which counted…for a little, but the chorus just missed the boat. The overly jazzy drum fills on the coda were another misguided touch on an album with no shortage of such hi-jinx. We got served up two-in-a-row 6-counts on “Heart Is A Lonely Hunter!” The extra fruity sax solo in the middle eight sounded like Gary Barnacle showing off on a song that needed more than that. The best we got here was some thunderthumb action from his brother Steve on bass.

EMI singing Strange Cruise thinking them a sure thing due to their cover of “The Beat Goes On”

More obnoxious faux-Motown bounce marred “Love Addiction” at the starting block in spite of some zippy rhythm guitar that I liked. Too bad about the twee keys here. This was another look back at Bowie Adrift At Sea on “Tonight.” This time worse, due to the mind-sapping ululating trills by Wendy Cruise used as the worst hook on the song’s chorus I’ve ever heard! She sounded like a horse whinnying to the beat on this one! Adding to the discomfort was the overly brash trumpet solo by Luke Tunney as was the “big finish” showbiz ending that screamed “1968!”

The most annoying vocal hook of all time, and the Big Vegas Finish to “Love Addiction”

Understated intro synths came out of nowhere for “12 Miles High.” Then the verse structure kicked into action and the tight rhythm section got some rare strong support with the heraldic synth chords that seemed to fit the bill here. The band were in a propulsive groove and Strange was matching them pound for pound. Maybe overstating a little but it was kind of endearing in a song this sharp. I loved the refrain of “We’ll leave the kids alone until they’ve learned to dance.” This was a song that managed to wear the neon colors and heavy shoulder pads of the mid-80s with no little verve. This was Strange unleashing his inner rocker in an environment that actually made some sense to my ears. The only misstep here was the abrupt cold ending at 2:51. A song working this well, should have played out a little longer.

The indifferent ballad “Where Were Their Hearts” was touched with with some of Strange’s worst singing here. He tends to sing really flat and the softer music bed did him no favors. Speaking of softer music bed, if I ever ask to hear the dreaded Fender Rhodes Piano sound please punch my lights out. You have my permission. That this often grotesquely overstated original album had the temerity to end on this boring, indifferent track almost seemed like a loss of faith. In my mind I was imagining a fondant layer cake of ever-increasingly jazzy crescendoes until the album exploded in the CD player. On this CD, however, there were now bonus tracks to contend with.


As if the original had been poor enough, the “Rebel Blue Rocker Rebel Mix” was not aided by the obnoxious added dub effects and length which made a bad thing even worse. Hearing Strange attempt a guttural growl in the coda was still highly discomfiting.

Insouciant flute and fretless bass gave “Silver Screen Queen” a vibe that was unlike anything else here, and the singsong chorus sounded crudely bolted on to the verse structure of this demure ballad. Where the band was playing instrumentally, it attained a breezy, carefree vibe. Reminiscent of the like-minded “She Loved Like Diamond,” but without the vocal overkill courtesy of Tony Hadley on the earlier track. The instrumental portions were almost lovely but the whole thing was slight and one could easily see how it would have gotten relegated to non-LP B-side status on an album as blazingly overstated as this one had been.

If I had seen the LP of this at any time from 1986 to the time when the CD came out, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. But having had the “Rebel Blue Rocker” 12” for almost 30 years, it’s true that the whiff it gave off scared me away from ever spinning it. The notion was always there to get the “Strange Cruise” CD once Cherry Red put this out, but I tend to buy a big batch of my CD want list every four to five years with the birthday money that my in-laws send my way every year [which usually goes to household expenses] and I’ve last done that in 2016, so I might have missed out on the window of opportunity for this CD had not Mr. Schwenko come to my rescue with this timely disc.

That said, the end result is probably something for completists only, and I’m guilty as charged. The last 20 years have seen me finally come around to embrace the “Beat Boy” album after writing it off immediately on release. With that record, the offending tracks were so bad that I think it overshadowed the more agreeable songs on that opus. This album played like its mirror image with at least two strong tracks that I could honestly embrace [“Communication” and “12 Miles High”] with the rest being merely indifferent to shockingly bad material. When a record is reminding me [more than once] of David Bowie’s “Tonight” this is almost as bad as things can get.

Steve Barnacle’s music was almost accomplished. In some places, it definitely was, but often the heavy stitching showed up in the arrangements that had bracingly disparate elements cheek-by-jowl with the sort of MOR pop elements that might have been right at home in the mid-80s but usually never in my Record Cell. Wendy Cruise was usually underutilized here and maybe the album would have been better with her taking a few leads here and there. Instead they leaned on her to buttress the never strong vocals of Steve Strange with some strategic harmonizing that was a gambit that also showed up on the later Visage recordings with Lauren Duvall. As for Steve Strange, we didn’t know how debilitating his drug habits were at this point. That this album even got made at all was probably a feat of some kind.

Ultimately, I can almost make the case that the best of “Beat Boy” could have the worst offenders swapped out for the two tracks I honestly enjoyed here to craft an even better third Visage album. But with Strange’s drug addictions that dogged him for long years past this point, it was perhaps for the best that he waited until he was in a better place to return to his comfort zone with the Phase II of Visage that managed to release a final burst of highly enjoyable accomplishments that I can still point to as the sort of late reformation that went down like a house on fire.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in Core Collection, Mid-80s Malaise, Record Review and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Record Review: Strange Cruise – Strange Cruise DLX RM UK CD [part 2]

  1. RichardAnvil says:

    Just to clarify the ‘6 counts’ you find so irritating were not included on the original vinyl album release, so you weren’t supposed to be able to hear them, Cherry Red just didn’t bother removing them when they did the master tape transfer.
    Referring back to my interview with Steve Barnacle the Rebel Blue Rocker single was released as the first single as a kind of soft launch, to introduce the new band and the new style Steve Strange to the punters, before the big push on the second single ‘The Beat Goes On’ and the album. But even for this soft launch EMI pulled out all the stops and created a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39Kr5HMFAvs and press launch and promo cards from the video shoot. You’ll notice that the photo shoot images and styles change between the 1st single and the LP, so the plan was to have more (but I’ll come to why that didn’t happen later).
    It’s interesting that you mention that one of your favourite tracks on the album is 12 Miles High. The history of this song is that it was written by Steve New and demoed by ‘Rich Kids’, of which Steve was the lead guitarist (its included on the CD Burning Sounds with lots of other demo’s in preparation for their second album which didn’t happen as they split). Steve New was the original guitarist in Strange Cruise and unfortunately had to drop out at the very last minute due to his epilepsy making it too difficult for him to continue. Steve Strange added a writing credit to the Strange Cruise version because that’s what he did (if I listened and compared the lyrics he may have made a very small change in order to get a writing credit, never forgetting how he got burned by not having a writing credit on Fade To Grey.)
    As for the vocals I completely agree but again there is a story behind this. Steve Strange could never be described as a great singer, but when has not being able to sing very well ever stopped anyone from a lucrative pop career, but different producers worked ways around this. Midge Ure did it by getting Steve to sing and record one line at a time. Steve Barnacle did it by recording the vocal line himself and then get Steve to sing along to it. The producer for the Strange Cruise album was the very well known producer Mike Hedges (The Associates, The Cure, Siouxie, etc.) and according to Steve Barnacle once he’d heard Steve Strange sing he approached Barnacle and asked him what was the best way to get a good vocal performance. He advised to give him space, don’t pressure him, let him record when he wants to and importantly give him time to go clubbing as that was where he energized himself. Hedges then went ahead and did the complete opposite, choosing a recording studio in the middle of nowhere, bullying Strange to make multiple takes and pretty much locking him in the studio. Barnacle shared with me that after most of the recording had been done Hedges came back to him and begged for help to improve Strange’s vocal’s and got the reply that he’d ignored his advice when asked the first time so sort it out yourself. This is probably why you get, what I have called in the past, a ‘guide vocal for the tone deaf’ from Wendy. An added fact is Wendy wasn’t the original female vocalist either. I’d have to go back and listen to the interview I had with Steve Barnacle to remind myself of who the first vocalist was but her stage surname was Cruise, hence the Strange Cruise band name. Again it was quite late in the day that she jumped ship so they asked Wendy Wu to fill in, but in order to do so she had to list her name as Wendy Cruise so they wouldn’t have to change the band name.

    Finally its interesting that you mention Steve’s drug habit, as this had a major impact on what happened with this album. At the time of recording it Steve Strange’s drug habit was not public knowledge, even EMI were completely unaware of it. Unfortunately after the release of Rebel Blue Rocker but before the album and second single release an event happened that resulted in Steve Strange having to declare his drug addition, which ended up in the press. The result was that EMI pulled the plug on the whole project, not wanting to be seen to be actively promoting someone who was now a well known drug addict, though as it was ready to go anyway they did still release the album and second single but with pretty much zero publicity or marketing. Added to this following what had happened in the press Steve Strange went into hiding and didn’t come out again for many years, so there was no longer anyone available to promote anyway. So that’s why the single they had hung all their hopes on, ‘The Beat Goes On’, ended up being released under everybody’s radar.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      RichardAnvil – Yeah, I remember the comment you made earlier on the count-ins, but I was more disbelieving that so many of them were left in when remastering the tapes. What were they thinking? The mastering job is better than it could be. The peaks are at 0dB but on the whole the compression was not as bad as it could have been. We should just be thankful that it was not a vinyl rip, as Cherry Red’s quality control there is practically random, from what I read. My Cherry Red titles are generally from actual tapes. I can’t recall any blatant vinyl rips.

      Your data on this album is eye-widening. I could not remember exactly when Strange’s drug problems broke in the press. That it happened right in the middle of the campaign was a worst case scenario. It explains so much why I only heard about “The Beat Goes On” many years later, and why there was only a 7″ single.

      Also Steve New’s involvement here was a fascinating wrinkle. Looking at the LP I can see New was credited (never got the LP) but that was missing on the CD credits. As for Steve making sure he got a share of the action after the “Fade To Grey” incident, it’s understandable. But the CD splits writing credits on all songs except for the Sonny Bono tune between S. Strange/S. Barnacle/S. Harrington. Steve’s birth name as well as stage name. Double dipping?

      Funny you should mention Ure tracking Strange’s Visage vocals one drop in at a time. I think it was an interview with the Swedish band Strasse that they complained about Ure liking that method of recording vocals. Personally, it would drive me up the wall if I were the singer being recorded. I feel an intrinsic performance has integrity and excitement that endless drop-ins never attain. I dislike robotic perfection in a vocal. The fact that Wendy Wu was a last minute replacement for another singer was astonishing. It’s a miracle that the album turned out as good as it did! Poor Mike Hedges! I generally love his production work. So much creativity and boundary pushing and to listen to this mostly lifeless pop under his watch was a shock. But if EMI were as invested as you say they were in the possibilities, I would imagine there was a lot of money floating around. Which explains a lot.

      Please tell me, sir, that one day you will scribe the book on Visage that I would buy in a heartbeat. I never bothered with the Strange book as I felt it would have little about music in it. Just your comments here have me wanting more.

      Like

      • RichardAnvil says:

        I’ve just checked the vinyl for writing credits and it looks like the duplication of S. Strange and S. Harrington is a Cherry Red error as the LP just lists S. Strange.
        I’m afraid that any book I would write on Visage would have huge gaps, especially the early years, as I don’t seem to be able to access anyone who was involved then. I have asked Midge Ure via his manager and Dave Formula twice but they have always either declined or not replied. I’m not sure I have the stamina to interview Rusty Egan as from replies I have had from him to Facebook questions I’ve asked his memory of what happened seems to involve a lot of anger and incrimination, (and factual error). I would love to though :)

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          RichardAnvil – I hear you there! Ure seems a closed book and Egan sports raw wounds. Best to leave it alone, I guess. The politics of it all hang over Visage like a pall but there’s still money on the table. We’re still here, after all.

          Like

          • slur says:

            Not sure what Rusty Egan is so bitter about. Was he not invited to the 2nd Visage party or what’s his problem? Are there any known facts actually?

            Like

    • Vlad says:

      Thank you very much for this very informative piece! Though I’m afraid it’s not quite right with the details – mainly about the collapse of Strange Cruise project. Steve’s drug addiction only became public in early 1989. Maybe Mr Barnacle mixed him up with Boy George, who became the center of a drug scandal in Summer 1986? Or maybe he does remember the previous drug-related scandal regarding Steve – but that was in early 1984, after he got busted for possession of cocaine and it got in the press.

      And there was no “many years of hiding” for Steve – he reappeared on the club scene in early 1989 already and managed several successful clubs up until 1997 or so.

      The reason the project flopped seems to simply be that: a) the time has passed for people like Strange on the pop scene; and b) the new material wasn’t that good and no amount of push could make it a hit. From what I gather about how British showbiz worked by mid 1980s, if the first single didn’t happen the labels were reluctant to heavily invest further – there was simply too much talent or at least colourful personalities to choose from to restrict themselves to break an act that doesn’t happen straight away, they could always annul the contract and sign somebody else. Also SC signed with EMI – a huge company where you had to be a priority act to be promoted properly or have a hit quickly to gain in stature. And I actually wonder how did Strange get signed – the general wisdom even in 1983 seems to have been that the talent behind the project (Ure) has departed and they are a spent force. Maybe it was a charity act “for services to fashion and club trends”…

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Vlad – Thanks for the input. I’ve not followed Strange’s life too closely so I’m no expert. I would agree that your suggestions as to why “Strange Cruise” flopped had everything to do with Strange not fitting into the then-current zeitgeist. And he did not convince as a rocker in the least. To put it mildly! I would have liked to have seen “Strange Cruise” as the basis of maybe a Wendy Wu album instead, but no one would have bought that either.

        Like

      • RichardAnvil says:

        Hi Vlad,
        I’ve found some evidence which clarifies that Steve Strange’s drug addiction was first made public in 1986. In this article about the infamous Telly Tubbie incident https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/eighties-icon-to-shoplifter-a-very-strange-fall-from-grace-5371645.html it mentions at the bottom of paragraph 10 about a court case in 1986 where Steve was caught taking money falsely in order to pay for his drug habit. It was this exact case that Steve Barnacle told me about where Steve Strange’s declared defence was that he was a drug addict.

        And as for my comment that he went into hiding for many years, maybe I shouldn’t have said many years but he did go into hiding abroad for a significant amount of time after the court case and also left the StrangeCruise band with a significant debt to pay back to EMI. From what I’ve found online Steve reappeared on the club scene outside of the UK, starting in Ibiza, and only returned to the UK in the ‘90’s.

        As to whether Strange Cruise would have been a hit if EMI hadn’t dropped them, like you say I really doubt it. If they had pushed The Beat Goes On there could have been the possibility of it being a minor, almost novelty, hit as at least his singing is reasonably OK on it so they may have sold a few more LPs in the process but that’s about it.

        As a Visage/Steve Strange fan I did buy the album in 1986 as I happened to find it by chance in an independent record store not even knowing it had been released. I’d bought the 12” of Rebel Blue Rocker when that came out but didn’t get the 7” The Beat Goes On until many years later when I found it in a back street second hand record store in Brighton. I do enjoy listening to it as it’s part of the story of Visage and it is just a bit of fun, you really can’t take it seriously, so that’s how I approach it.

        Like

  2. Gavin says:

    A fair review I think.
    I was terribly disappointed at the time,being a hardcore Steve fan.The only track I liked was “Love Addiction”,so your comments made me smile.
    I have the original LP and the two singles,but I think I only played the album about twice since release.I always loved the Beat Boy album though and my appreciation of that has only increased.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Well, I strive to be fair but I’m still human. The paradox of Steve Strange still haunts us to this day. There’s no reason why a club doorman should have such pull with us yet here we are. He was a terrible singer and utterly devoted to image. Yet I kept coming back for more. That the last flowering was so good was down to the caliber of those making the records but if there were no Steve Strange, we would not be having this conversation.

      Like

  3. RichardAnvil says:

    Here’s a thought, which do you think is better; The Strange Cruise album or the UVOX album? They were both released in 1986 and both dumped the synths in favour of ‘rock’ and are both pretty much loathed by Visage and Ultravox fans. Must have been something happening in the music biz which pushed both groups in that direction.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      RichardAnvil – Ouch! Quite the conundrum you pose!! By 1986 it was Post-Live Aid; and that event was the nail in the coffin to the remaining dregs of the New Romantic movement. The Rockist Hegemony was back, stronger than ever. The pendulum had duly swung and art would take a back seat to the obvious for many years to come.

      Which album was preferable?? My head hurts. They both feature the Mid-80s Horn Section. I just went through each album, assigning from 0-5 points in half point increments. “U-Vox” ranked 1.388 and “Strange Cruise” ranked 1.5. The latter certainly had one song better than anything on “U-Vox!” But both of them were hateful. But I may rank “U-Vox” lower because of the talent involved, as well. They really should have known better and no one in Ultravox had a heroin habit, I hope!

      Like

      • RichardAnvil says:

        The numbers say it all Mr Monk, despite everything Strange Cruise is actually 0.12 better than top 10 UK album UVOX! You are right though, it was the death knell of the most creative years of chart topping UK ’80’s music. I’ll get back to listening to my Classix Nouveaux box set that’s just arrived in the post :)

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          RichardAnvil – Let me know how that Classic Novuveaux set stacks up. I’ve heard it’s one of the CR vinyl rip specials, but as I don’t have much in the way of the band on CD [only “Guilty” on a “Living In Oblivion” compilation of New Wave] I might investigate. I have the US debut LP and two [?] Canadian copies of “La Verité” but lately my ear has been turned by the side projects on the “Terpsichore/Silly Not To” compilation that sounded really good to me.

          Like

          • RichardAnvil says:

            I’ve never had any of them before so this is going to be a new experience for me. I’m not an expert on being able to tell if its a vinyl rip or not but on my first listen the sound is clean but having heard the Thompson Twins vinyl rip CD’s this has a similar feel so I’m guessing it is a vinyl rip.

            Like

            • postpunkmonk says:

              RichardAnvil – Play the soft intros and fadeouts loudly with headphones on. Carelessly done vinyl transfers might have at least residual surface noise or tiny pops discernible. If they used noise reduction badly there might be distortion artifacts like on mp3s. Since making CDs from vinyl is my hobby, it’s not a deal-breaker for me if I run into a vinyl sourced CD. I just want it to be done very well. But we all want CDs made from actual master tapes.

              Like

          • Vlad says:

            Speaking of CN, Sal Solo lived in Orlando where he directs the church choir :)

            Like

  4. Ade.W says:

    Monk, just as a side order to this, Electricityclub.co.uk have a piece about Rusty Egan and the Blitz club this month. UK viewers can catch the documentary Blitzed on Sky Arts channel this month on March 13th. There is an OST sampler out now and the OST full album on 19th March. might be good.

    Like

  5. I really loved the sound of Visage and was in total shock when I first heard Rebel Blue Rocker and the complete album back in 1986… Perhaps Steve Strange really sounded like Steve Strange on this album but for me (personal opinion!) Strange Cruise is better best forgotten….

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ronald van Veen – Like so many artists I enjoyed, they were energized by the vibe of the Late 70s when the doors blew open after Punk and the possibilities were vast. Once the character of the 80s was formed [thanks to Reagan and Thatcher], those doors were slammed shut and it all became about making money at the behest of accountant and lawyers, who were now in contnrol of the music industry. The precipitious drop in musical quality from almost all quarters was shocking to me at the time. Things were no different for Steve Strange. The widespread use of cocaine, and in his case, heroin, didn’t help matters. We should forget the music but remember the lesson!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to RichardAnvil Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.