Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 4]

The Japanese sleeve swapped grotesquerie for glamour

[…continued from last post]

Acoustic guitars and strings fueled “Professor Supercool’s” rent boy melodrama. For a guy who was married at the time, there was a lot of queer energy running through the early Blow Monkeys material. Robert Howard attributes this to time spent in Leigh Bowery’s Taboo Club at the time and an affinity to the gay music scene. Dr. Roberts’ camp crooning sure wasn’t evidence of any hang-ups in that regard. If anything, he laid it on with a trowel on this album. His triumphant vibrato lead in to the melodramatic middle eight certainly took no prisoners.

blow monkeys - the man from russia cover artThe album’s second single, and a long time favorite was next. “The Man From Russia” was the only song here that was co-written with bassist Mick Anker, and it was an early triumph for the band that helped to give them a foothold to build their case on. Dr. Robert has stated that it was an early live favorite from the band’s early days and it’s easy to hear why. The song was a showstopper of dark camp that the good Doctor gave his most florid delivery. The cover had a clue by way of the fully tattooed man depicted. Back in the simpler times of 1984, the only such “man from Russia” who looked like that was undoubtedly a criminal. Tattoos were far from being mainstream then and the Russian Mob used them to mark their men. The lyrical scenario suggested a homoerotic relationship between one such man and a younger one who remained possibly naive about the whole scenario.

The melody and production here was warm and acoustic with no synthesizers. The only synthetic moment came during the middle eight with Neville Henry’s chorused saxes playing an Eastern European melody while drummer Tony Kiley switched from his acoustic kit to Simmons drums in a move that made the bridge all the more jarring. The two verse/two chorus construction of the tune was bare-boned and simple but the performance lingers long in the mind.

“I just lost my soul in the snow

And I just lost my pain in this rain, yeah

Was I too young for that boy to come

The man from Russia

Whoa-whoa, yeaa-aaaa-aaaah”

“The Man From Russia”

Then the dark heart of the album arrived with the full-on acoustic Jazz Noir of the title track, “Limping For A Generation.” Tony Kiley’s drums kept to the brushes while Anker played a double bass here. The instrumental middle eight picked up the lurching tempo to swing time pace with Anker giving the bass notes everything he had as Dr. Robert scatted his way to the breakdown and fade. Perfectly setting the mood for the slow-paced, and hypnotic theatricality of “Waiting For Mr. Moonlight” which followed.

Then the album climaxed with a burst of energy in “Trashtown Incident.” Following a backwards crescendo introduction, the motorik drums of Kiley kept up a relentless pace as Dr. Robert played a very unexpected sitar to connect with the saxes and drones. The Indian psychedelia was definitely a one-off in the band’s wide-ranging canon and the manner in which the song climaxed with the forward recording of the same intro that had kicked the song off; making it a perfect loop.


The original cover of Cubistic photos of the band in an art gallery was the far more appropriate cover for this challenging album of “Punk Jazz.” There were undercurrents of pop melodies here and Dr. Robert loved to deliver these songs with a trowel full of garish camp energy, but these concerns were secondary to the shadowy, confrontational vibe that wasn’t ready for the Top 40 by a long shot. In fact, it left most of the band’s New Wave Of British Jazz pop contemporaries sounding as light as candy floss in comparison. Only Scunthorpe’s Carmel sounded capable of taking on The Blow Monkeys in a back alley knife fight at a draw.

And the production of Pete Wilson gave it all a timeless, analog sound with only scant piano and no synthesizers being the only keyboards here. Even Dr. Robert’s guitars were mere shading next to the dominant saxes, real strings, and rhythm section that defined the band’s sound at this point in time. But in spite of RCA’s confidence, there were no hits on the ground this time out. The album and four singles that made up the “Limping For A Generation” campaign had failed to catch ears, so there would probably be a trimming of the artistic sails to better triangulate chart wise the next time out.

Next: …Making The Scene

About postpunkmonk

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