I’m trying to remember exactly when and where I first heard The Vapors. I can distinctly remember seeing the video for “Turning Japanese” on the syndicated music video clip show “Rockworld.” But had I heard it on the radio prior? Hmmm. I can’t really say. I think it made the FM Rock airwaves…possibly. [Maybe Mr. Ware can help me out here…?] I do recall that as soon as we heard this jaunty slice of crisp pop that we made “New Clear Days” the album of the week to buy with our “lunch money.”
The album started with the big hit single right up front, which was different from the usual US label gambit of placing the breakout single at side two, track one. How many times have you heard “Turning Japanese” in the last 41 years? I can only say that the song is too crisply arranged and performed to generate any contempt of even that level of familiarity I still love the detuned synth hooks after the middle eight and the joyous guitar solo [complete with crisp rim hits from drummer Howard Smith ticking like a time bomb] as the song neared its [ahem…] climax. And the cold ending was New Wave personified. It’s no wonder why the song made #3 in England, but the #36 it made in the American Top 40 was higher than I knew of at the time, as I was off of pop radio. As David Fenton says, “better a one-hit wonder than a no-hit wonder!”
It was good sequencing hearing “Sixty Second Interval” immediately afterward. The subtlety and chilled out tempo allowed the tasty bass soloing of Steve Smith to grab some spotlight in the gentle atmospheric tune.”Waiting For The Weekend” boasted nicely arranged backing vocal “oooohs” but the sentiment here was a little tired for 1980. This was the one track here that I was indifferent to back then and it’s still one of the lesser tracks 41 years later.
“Spring Collection” was one of those songs that always seems fresh when you hear it. Maybe that’s down to it having quite a varied collection of component parts that were thrown into the pot and an arrangement that resisted easy resolution. Really, only the chorus had that anthemic pop sensibility up front.
Side one ended with the pensive and beautiful “Letter From Hiro” that really stretched out for an expansive 6:15 without feeling it at all. The influence of The Jam really leaned on Fenton’s vocal in the first verse where he bitterly repeated the word “nothing” six times in a row for emphasis and really sounded like Paul Weller there. It bears mentioning that John Weller [Paul’s dad and manager] also managed The Vapors and the crossover between the groups continued as far as them opening up for the “Setting Sons” tour in 1979 as well as trading off producers amongst teach other. Vic Coppersmith-Heaven produced “New Clear Days,” apart from the early single [“Prisoners”] added to the US edition as otherwise produced by Peter Wilson.
Side two didn’t have the big hit but it had the intended follow up, which inexplicably stiffed at #44. That was a shame because “News At Ten” was a pithy look at the distance between the generations; each stuck in their own ruts and uncommunicative. While the lyrics delivered an impasse, the chiming guitars and taut rhythms of the song spoke of tightly coiled energy pushing outward. Once more, Fenton really bit the lyric in the middle eight; sounding very much like Weller in his delivery.
But you don’t wanna sit tight, you don’t wanna play it cool
You don’t want a whole life like the first day of school
And I wanna fight wars, and I wanna die young
So, don’t keep saying “Like father, like son!”
I can’t hear you (Still, I can’t hear you)
You make no sense to meNews At Ten
If it wasn’t apparent from his rooster-red spiked mullet, David Fenton was a dyed-in-the-wool Bowiephile, even though this music was far more redolent of The Jam rather than the Thin White Duke… with the exception of the giveaway harmonized drums in “Somehow” which were ripped screaming from the “Low” album. The evasive pop tune really only congealed on the poppy chorus with the rest of the song being the outlier to chillier Post-Punk climes than typically present on this New Wave album.
The band’s debut single was the more stripped down affair of “Prisoners,” as produced by Peter Wilson. Since the tracks “America” and “Cold War” were stripped from the running of the UK edition of the album for the American market, United Artists America opted to include this catchy single in their place. The crisp little number was perceptibly less lush sounding than the other ten tracks, perhaps pointing to the conceit of recording a debut single cheaply at DJM Studios, which was primarily a demo studio. It can certainly be heard in the drums, if nothing else. That said, the band certainly had the goods to make for a noticeable debut single while holding back “Turning Japanese” as their potential calling card a bit later. The BVs were nicely harmonized together and the break in the middle eight stuck like glue.
The urgent “Trains” was ideally placed in the penultimate position for the album on side two. The relentless drums got some great interplay from the piano subtly syncopating with the bass line. There was a light smattering of keys and synths on the album, and I wondered who played them, but the credits were silent on the matter. As snappy as things were for “Trains,” the tempo was kicked even higher for the concluding “Bunkers.” The rhythm guitar adopted a modified reggae skank line for this one and the bass was afforded the space for a strong hook. I can sometimes hear the influence of Bruce Thomas when paying attention to the bass on this album. And can that ever be a bad thing?
This album was a real winner back in the day and it has aged rather well. The US edition as reviewed here plays out at a tight 37 minutes. Amazingly enough, I’ve only ever owned US copies of this album, with the LP, the 90s “Anthology” CD and finally, the “Vaporized” omnibus edition, with “Magnets” also added to the program. I saw the 2000 Captain Oi CDs of their two albums [with the requisite bonus tracks] just once, back in the day when my priorities were something else that day. And astoundingly, only when researching for this post did I learn of the two songs on the UK edition [“America,” “Cold War”] that were removed for the American market. Gee… I wonder why? Not for nothing did the band adopt the US spelling of their name, which I always wondered about. It seemed like the eye was always on that prize from the beginning.
In the typical fashion, the running order of the US/UK editions of “New Clear Days differ wildly from each other. Not only are songs removed/replaced on the US edition, but the entire running order of the two albums were completely changed.
|“New Clear Days” UK Edition||“New Clear Days” US Edition|
|1. Spring Collection|
2. Turning Japanese
3. Cold War
7. News At Ten
9. Sixty Second Interval
10. Waiting For The Weekend
11. Letter From Hiro
|1. Turning Japanese|
2. Sixty Second Interval
3. Waiting For The Weekend
4. Spring Collection
5. Letter From Hiro
6. News At Ten
I’m very curious to hear the missing tracks, but I see that all of this and more are available on iTunes, so I think that one day soon, a Vapors compilation taking in the missing two tracks from “New Clear Days” as well as the different A/B sides. And I also see that a BBC transcription album from 1981 is also available on iTunes as well with a half hour of tracks from a 1981 show at the Paris Theatre. So this will likely be a packed CD worth of material. And as if that wasn’t enough, on this Friday, the 16th of April, 2021 there will be a new remix of the title track to their “Together” album of 2020 out at all the usual points of entry. The band remixed the track with producer Steve Levine and are said to have put an injection of brass into the song this time.
So it may be a little premature, but it looks like I might have to split the “Case Of The Vapors” rarities collection across two discs. Kind of irritating when it’s just barely over the 80 minute mark, but that’s what it looks like at a quick glance. At the very least, I’m happy to know that my copy of “Magnets” was not adulterated in the slightest for American consumption and will work just fine for me from here on out. It’s just a little surprising to discover 41 years ex post facto that “New Clear Days” had been so vigorously altered for the American market. Once I get those two tracks I’ll have to make a playlist and listen tot he UK running order to see how it compares to what I’ve known for half a lifetime.