The Blow Monkeys
Limping For A Generation 1984
The first Blow Monkeys album arrived over two years following that debut indie single. Changes had occurred in the band with original drummer Angus Hines being replaced with Tony Kiley by the time that RCA offered a contract. Little shakeups like these are part and parcel of many a band signing. Kiley had more than enough of the Jazz chops to deliver on Dr. Roberts’s vision of the band carrying on in the direction that Laughing Clowns had, earlier in Australia. I’ve not heard more than the band’s 1980 song “Holy Joe” off of their self-titled EP but the vibe was definitely there.
In the NWOBJP [New Wave of British Jazz Pop] environment of the era, I can’t say it was a misstep. Some of the best British bands of the mid-80s would be drawing from those sorts of Jazz/Punk traditions. Given that the charts were full of bands like Culture Club and Wham, also drawing from Soul music was hardly avant garde, but the darkness of the band’s hybrid vision ultimately gave them a coloring with far more chiaroscuro than the primary-colors of the pop charts could ever deliver. The Blow Monkeys were probably closer to Carmel in temperament than any other bands I could compare them to. Albeit with an unabashed pop element that would see them having a much bigger chart footprint.
The album began with a drum break not a million miles away from the one in Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” but its placement right up front was edgier than the bubblegum star of the 60s. Then swelling stings and the sax of Neville Henry carried the expansive, cinematic melody to the forefront. meanwhile, Mick Anker invested the tune with a tarpit bass line that grabbed and didn’t let go.
“He’s Shedding Skin” was already a statement of intent from the band before Dr. Robert made his vocal debut with his fey crooning drenched in over the top vibrato that took his delivery deep into the redline zone of camp. After that it was the sign that not everyone in 1984 was going to be pawning their grandmother to rent a Fairlight. Everything about this record suggested that the richness of Tony Visconti’s T-Rex productions was the aim of this crew, and nabbing The Jam/Style Council’s producer Peter Wilson showed that they would find the means to achieve it. The luscious [real] strings scoring this song underlined their intent.
The instrumental middle eight intro where the horns and strings vied with the guitars of Dr. Robert to build an emotional crescendo before the verse took the song down a minor key path before circling back to the light for the showstopper climax of the song had one more chorus that went into double time as the strings ultimately swelled to a series of fortissimo stabbing hooks that were musical dynamite! The audacity of fading on that figure had me hooked from the first song.
Then the [fourth] single “Wildflower” wrapped its seductive charm around the listener with strings and acoustic guitar laying a foundation for Dr. Robert’s “do-do-doo-doo-dooo”vocal hook in the intro. The warm, rich sound was worlds away from most of the music that was competing on the 1984 charts. The double-tracked vocal in the complex middle eight added the right frissons to the ultimately winsome ear candy of the perfect, three minute pop song.
Then the [third] single came next and was there a warmer and more languid nuclear annihilation song than “Atomic Lullabye?” In a year when Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” was the standard bearer of high pressure nuclear anxiety, The Blow Monkeys showed how to approach the theme from the completely opposite direction with this dreamy number that more than lived up to its paradoxical title. The three things that were particularly striking about this single were the fey vocals of Dr. Robert, his nimble guitar, and the smoky, creamy [screamy?] sax that flowed through this one courtesy of Mr. Henry. I loved how the middle eight of the song went into double time [again] as it hurtled toward the explosive climax of the song. Only to once again swirl back into that reflective groove to carry the listener aloft in the aftermath of desolation.
“Side One” of the album ended with the first RCA single, and [unlikely] calling card for the album, the prickly “Go Public.” The florid delivery of Dr. Robert did the restless song no favors; leaving Mick Anker’s fretless bass line as the draw in the queasy, unsettling mix. It’s hard to believe that RCA would have pulled the trigger on “Go Public” as the band’s RCA debut given the other three singles on offer later were far more attractive to the ear. In contrast, “Go Public” offered only dark, manic energy that was in retrospect closer to the “Punk Jazz” mark that was the band’s aim.
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