Record Review: Figures On A Beach – “Standing On Ceremony” US DLX RM CD [part 2]

Figures On A Beach 1987
Figures On A Beach managed to live up to my expectations as well as surprise me

[…continued from last post]

The Art Rock of “A Pagan Gift” followed the astonishing “Elvis’ House.” Proving that this band were more that met my eye. The track was still dance floor friendly, as befit one of the two bands on DJ/producer Ivan Ivan’s I-Squared label, but the drum machine made room for plenty of Rock melodrama. Moving in a position similar to that of Icehouse on the Venn Diagram of Rock®. I liked the intense middle eight where vocalist Kaczynski spat out a fast tempo rap and the song answered the question of whether Art Rock and Acid could coexist.

The mood lightened for the upbeat and effervescent “Paris” where a playful sequencer line led the song thorough its paces. Only to parlay a drastic tonal shift when the brooding “State of Emergency” followed. The complex rhythm loop let us know we were not in Kansas anymore. Especially when punctuated with gunshot foley affects. This burning number with elegant sustained guitar in the middle eight, managed to reference the South African apartheid era strongly for an American band. In fact, I can’t recall ever hearing one write such a song!

And they’re dancing in Soweto

They’re dancing in Cape Town

They’re dancing in Johannesburg

I hope they tear that sucker down

“State Of Emergency”

“Delirium” was the most Post-Pink influenced track yet, with a dour, bass forward sound showing the Cure or Banshees influence. But the band surprised by coupling the crepuscular verse structure with a dramatically brighter and shinier chorus. Then all bets were off for the concluding “The Big Top,” which opened with a potentially show-stopping [and not in the best sense of the word] 24 seconds of circus calliope. This was maybe the track that was the outlier to album number two as the vocals were strangely EQ’d and featured a heavy application of reverb; giving the jaunty track the whiff of Rockabilly.

The CD here was further enriched with all four of the cuts from the “No Stars” 12″ single. The Club Remix was made slicker and more frictionless by piling on the drum programming and streamlining the mix to include only the chorus of the song. That the vocals were pulled down in the mix almost led one to think of this as a dub mix. The net result of all of this effort was to remove large amounts of the song’s original charm for perhaps a misguided aim at the club floor.

The actual Dub Mix played like a shorter edit of the Club Remix until the middle where the vocals began getting dubbed out in the classic style, but the overall mix was a dense as ever. The Remix recast the song with a harder beat and a stripped down mix that substituted power for the missing Pop. And the non-LP B-side was a delight! “Eternal Repetition” may have been slightly undercooked, and thus perfect B-side material, but I loved the ingredients in the recipe! The melodic ideas were still strong and vibrant and the climax of the tune was glorious.

Finally hearing the major label debut of Figures On A Beach was surprising to me. I had been primed by all I’d heard before to expect early Duran Duran-styled Rock Disco thrills and to be sure, they were in evidence here. If anything, this band had greater chops than the Fab Five®, and vocalist Anthony Kaczynski avoided the many pitfalls of Simon LeBon by singing in his range, while reminding me of Australian vocalists like David Sterry of Real Life, or Mr. Hutchence of you-know-who.

What I was unprepared for were the equally numerous journeys into Art Rock territory liberally included here. Some of these songs carried strong suggestions of places where [to cite Hutchence again] his less commercial side project Max Q would head in two years time! Given that the only band Ivan Ivan released on his label besides FOAB was the light as air Book Of Love, I’d been primed to expect strong, if lightweight, dance oriented material. I was blindsided by the darker hues here that I have to say Ivan Ivan ran with capably as producer.

I’d initially been dismissive of FOAB due to the fact that anyone aiming for an Early Duran Duran type of sound in 1987 was a few years behind the curve and that was to my detriment. The Trouser Press review of this album liked it yet dissed it for the notion of offering the cream of 1983 in 1987. Cream is cream no matter how its served, and I’m one to lap it up greedily. However I can get it. But the fact was that this band was more ambitious than that. Half of this material was pushing far beyond places where I’d comfortably slotted the band into. Now I’m more than intrigued by the band’s follow up album which hopefully won’t take me seven years to hear.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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