Record Review: Gleaming Spires “Walk On Well Lighted Streets” US DLX RM CD

gleaming spires week - tuesday
gleaming spires full band
L-R: Jimbo Goodwin, David Kendrick, Bob Haag, Les Bohem

By 1982, the band had gotten a foothold on KROQ-FM with the hit “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls,” and when gaps in the hectic Sparks schedule occurred, recorded their second album. As the first was intended as demos, with just Bohem and Kendrick with producer Stephen Hague, this time out they took it to the limits of a full band. Bob Haag from Bates Motel and Sparks was in on lead guitar, and keyboards were under the aegis of Jimbo Goodwin, who was the second keyboardist in Sparks. So this self contained unit had a dual existence; playing and recording with Sparks and playing and recording as Gleaming Spires during Sparks downtime.

gleaming spires - walk on well lighted streets cover art
Omnivore Recordings | US | CD | 2021 | OV-445

Gleaming Spires: Walk On Well Lighted Streets DLX RM – US – CD [2021]

  1. Mining
  2. You’re Right
  3. Big Surprise
  4. Walk On Well Lighted Streets
  5. Fun Type
  6. A Christian Girl’s Problem
  7. Happy Boy
  8. At Together
  9. The Making Love Project
  10. Yes I Can
  11. Funk For Children
  12. Does Your Mother Know?
  13. Christine
  14. Brain Button
  15. Funk For Children (Part II)
  16. Brain Button (Part II)
  17. It’s Kinda Like The Movies
  18. Are You Ready For The Sex Girls? (Full Band Version)
  19. All Night Party

While the second album was still a Posh Boy production, the distribution was through the larger indie PVC, so this one was also released in the Great White North. Their Sparks connection meant that France was also interested in releasing the records. The band got the jump on other bands by being the first to have a Mark Kostabi cover painting, as the band saw it in a gallery window and just had to have the rights to “Bed Of Nails” for the cover art! I’ll admit that it spoke volumes about the band’s themes.

It was readily apparent that the stakes had changed considerably from the time of the first album two years earlier. The full power of the band was immediately apparent from the album opener, “Mining.” David Kendrick powered the song with a rolling, shuffling drum pattern that put aside any notions of rhythm boxes as it propelled the song with a series of expert fills. The song had tension between the twangy tone of guitarist Bob Haag and guest artist Paul Cutler; who was further along the noise spectrum from Haag. As exhilarating as the expansive music was, the underlying lyrical metaphor was one of struggle.

Struggle didn’t even begin to cover the vibe of “You’re Right,” where the raw and painful emotions were matched by convivial music. The lyric set up a powerful metaphor of diffidence where the protagonist related a lifetime of doubts and inadequacy with a mirror, once again, figuring in the imagery.

I grew up watching myself in my own special mirror

I close my eyes and I’m standing in front of it still

I never had what it takes to become something bigger

Nervously watching for some little thing to go wrong

Something always goes wrong

“You’re Right”

“Big Surprise” managed to possibly surpass “You’re Right” with a fantastic lyric tackling a forensic examination of depression in the most upbeat, and even jaunty manner possible. More than any others, this band showed unusual willingness to cover the most painful territory possible in their songs. In such a way that even early Tears For Fears sounded like amateurs. Thankfully, they managed to provide a balm via the often cheery music.

The title track was where the Funk came to Gleaming Spires. For a change of pace, the lacerating self-doubt was put aside to examine mere paranoia, via an oblique commentary on actual civic signs designed to ease crime. The cavalier saxophone was courtesy of Jimbo Goodwin, but its presence only served to ironically underline the very real paranoia on display.

“Fun Type” was a song that I had recalled, once I heard it again. In 1981, Trouser Press had an added flexidisc for subscribers and this one was issued in the November 1982 issue of the magazine, which also had a great Sparks feature as well. The song was an outlier to nowhere as it was the only one of their songs that sounded like the more typical Posh Boy hardcore. At least in terms of its speedy tempo. Lyrically, this was more of a character study then the typical self-examination of Gleaming Spires. The oscillating two-note riff of the song recalled “Friday On My Mind” and once more Paul Cutler added his guitar to the mix. The shredding riff cold ending was pretty exhilarating.

Trouser Press | US | flexisdisc | 1982 | FLEX#I11

Next came an infectious blast of left-field inspiration that clearly showed that the band were capable of another volley onto the airwaves from their unusual vantage point. At least in spirit. “A Christian Girl’s Problem” had a loaded title concept, ripped screaming from a 1940’s teen advice pamphlet. So it was both witty and provocative.

What it also had, in spades, was what seemed to be an endless series of hooks crammed into the song following the deceptively downbeat intro. What a potent package this was for being a song that was larger than the sum of its parts. And all of its parts were most impressive. How was this one not a hit of even greater than “Sex Girls” proportions? Once heard, it sticks in the cranium all day long.

The other track on the Trouser Press flexi was the amazing “Happy Boy.” It was a compelling mix of an anthemic verse/chorus structure undercut by a haunting, minor key refrain. And through it all a whiplash beat set the anxious pace for it all.

By this point on the album, we realized that Les Bohem really put his heart on the lis in performing these songs. He might have changed his vocal style as it suited the song, but the intensity of it, and the commitment to communicate the depth of the feeling never ebbed. This really came home to roost on the climactic song “At Together,” which was a rare co-write between Bohem and producer Stephen Hague, who had no other writing credits on the two Spires album he produced. This song was performed with a relentless, operatic intensity as its exorcism of pain was realized in a classical rondo arrangement that never released its tension as it kept tightening the noose. It was a thrilling, if incredibly intense song that hinted at a Philip Glass influence that was surprising, but welcome.

After that peak of intensity, it was time for a relative lark, and “The Making Love Project” took an overly analytic lyrical point of view and married it to a backing track that had “science fair” written all over it. The typically heartbreaking lyric got a pass from the vibe of the arrangement. The closing “Yes I Can” was an almost goofy paean to who else but Sammy Davis, Jr. with all of the catch phrases and name dropping that Sammy just lived 24-7. Still, they managed to get a few pokes at Sammy’s seamy side into the tune; oblivious to its exaggerated bonhomie.

BONUS TRACKS

The next six tracks were the “Party EP” of 1984. “Funk For Children” was taking up the Funk baton of “Walk On Well Lighted Streets” and juxtaposing it with a chorus of children for maximum cognitive dissonance. The band cited The Gap Band’s hit “Early In The Morning” as an inspiration but the cheap thrills of hearing children performing emphatic grunts [“hunh!”] over toy instrument percussion perhaps belied the cynicism of the lyric. Nevertheless, I’ve been waking up with this song playing in the cranial Walkman® lately.

gleaming spires party EP cover art
The Vodka Label | US | EP | 1984 | VDK 5002

Next we had a pair of cover tunes. Both of them were examples of the power of this band just as a playing unit. The ABBA® deep cut “Does Your Mother Know” always suck with me as the not time the guys in ABBA® got to take lead for once. The result in Spires’ hands was a potent cocktail of euphoric Power Pop energy given a touch of New Wave moxie. And they managed to make it their own with the added aside “she knows” at the end of the chorus followed by the handclap hook. The cold guitar chord ending of the song had just enough reverb bleed to achieve a perfect climax. This flat out cooks. I’ve been listening to this song on a loop lately and it’s now the go-to version of the tune. Sorry, ABBA®.

Likewise, “Christine” has also stuck with me for a while now. I had to look it up but it’s a cover of an old song by The Equals, Eddy Grant’s old group from England in the late 60s. Les’ vocal had incredible charm as he related the rakish lyric of a guy pining for his girl’s best friend. With only her beast of a boyfriend keeping him on the straight and narrow.

Then came an original that showed how strange a space their heads were in. Or maybe the street person who accosted them and said that they couldn’t talk to him unless they pressed the button to turn his head on. The result was like a Zappa-goes-Funk track that had Mr. Bohem adopting what can only be called a Jagger-esque delivery [complete with “bay-behs”] to vocalize this extremely odd track. And then the rest of the EP was given to the band’s only extended remixes, “Funk For Children Part II” and “Brain Button Part II.” Sort of like the flipsides to James Brown 45s.

The former managed to just work at a little over six minutes. The middle section was an instrumental break before the track went into dubspace. But the same attention given to “Brain Button” crossed a line with me into excess. The 4:58 short version was pushing it by almost two minutes by my reckoning.

bad manners poster

The disc was rounded off with a trio of tunes from film soundtracks. First up was a film I had not heard of called “Bad Manners” [a.k.a. “Growing Pains”] where the song “It’s Kinda Like The Movies” was an odd one out with the song having been written by Ron Mael with Ron playing keys and Sparks producing their backing band, who sang the number. Well, the band’s original idea to have Sparks produce them finally came to pass at least here. And it sounded really good; sort of like a synthetic Beach Boys number with a rolling melody and definite layer of melancholy just beneath the glossy surface tailor made for Gleaming Spires. Strangely enough Sparks had several songs written for the movie but this song has now become the only track that’s ever seen commercial release.

Scotti Brothers Records | US | LP | 1984 | BFZ 39599

Finally, The band’s contribution to the “Revenge Of The Nerds” OST capped off this era of the band. The full band version of “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls” was given a nice gloss by Stephen Hague and it was potentially a version of the song that was ever so subtly goosed for potential airplay. It sat right in that sweet spot that The Cars rode to the top of the charts. The tempo felt just ever so slightly slightly faster and Les more clearly enunciated the song so that it sounded like he was singing “they are women without any faults” instead of “they are women without any thoughts” as I felt he was singing in 1981. The backing vocals were really well polished and featured new countermelodies to listen for. Best of all, they still used the odd sheep foley effects in the background of the middle eight. The closing “All Night Party” was a Greg Penny production and had a slight, minimal feel and lyrics that suggested that it was recorded specifically for the film and its plot. Though the massed vocals in the middle eight were quite nice.


The second Spires album approached the listener from a very different angle than the first one, due primarily to the full band creating a bigger sound. The band’s artistic POV didn’t shift much, but the greater coloration of the production managed to help their challenging lyrics go down more smoothly. If the first album was New Wave, this one was New Music. It was 1983, and the marketplace of ideas was moving forward, for better or for worse. By then, music of this stripe was beginning to get airplay on American radio and there were possibilities for bands like Gleaming Spires to slip through cracks in the industry’s walls that had not been available earlier.

Stephen Hague’s production was less quirky and more streamlined. In a year or two he would be cracking the US Top 40 with his productions and getting bands like OMD their first US hits. He had the right stuff here, but the promotion for this record was nonexistent to me at the time. PVC may have had greater reach than Posh Boy, but at least I had been aware of the debut album. I never knew about “Walk On Well Lighted Streets” until I started researching the band several years ago! And that’s a shame that’s been corrected by this fulsome reissue.

post-punk monk buy button

The band was now really a band and their playing as a unit with Sparks revealed their strengths in numbers here. Glorious songs like “Mining,” “A Christian Girl’s Problems,” and “At Together” revealed a group that that could seemingly do anything. The band’s trait of serving the song meant that their eclecticism really took off on this album. A barn burner like “Fun Type” almost blindsided me with its intensity. Following the thread now, I wondered where their muse would lead them on the third album?

Next: …Gleaming Spires Stay Frosty!

About postpunkmonk

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