The Blow Monkeys
Animal Magic 1986
1985 came and the only release by The Blow Monkeys in the September of mid-decade was the single “Forbidden Fruit.” It was a move to smoother, less spiky music with the Jazz factor greatly diminished, although the sonic palette was still resolutely acoustic. The single appeared in a number of formats. A three track extended 12″ as well as an expansive five track 2×12″ in the UK.
The former contained two non-LP B-sides, “My America” and “The Optimist.” The latter also contained a remix of “Sweet Murder” as remixed by toaster Eek-A-Mouse. This was a preview of another track on the upcoming new album, which would not manifest until the next year. Then what sounded like an older track from the first album period, the pull-no-punches dub-touched groove of “Kill The Pig [Pix Mix]” was the D-side track. The song was exactly as militant as its title sounded; indicating that The Blow Monkeys would be far from the typical mealy-mouthed, apolitical pop of the horrifying mid-80s.
Surprisingly, the single also figured as a release in North America after the first album and its singles were passed over for release here. Incredibly, it was as a six track EP, showing that RCA had big hopes for the band. “The Optimist” was swapped out with “Wildflower” from the previous album and one more song from “Limping For A Generation” also found its way onto side two of the EP with “Atomic Lullaby” getting some love.
It was that year that I seem to recall having seen the “Forbidden Fruit” video on MTV but it didn’t click with me for some reason. probably as I was still primarily a synth-head this may have been my biases doing me no favors. It remained until the second single, “Digging Your Scene” appeared on MTV and galvanized my attention with its boldly crass showbiz camp video that the band would register on my musical radar. And everyone else as well as the single was a top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Against all odds, people were hearing “Digging You Scene” and liking it.
The single was a curious mix of the early 70s and the mid 80s as RCA goosed what they saw as a potential hit by having the acoustic drum track replaced with a digital drum machine to perhaps better fit in on the radio of the time. For that reason, the song sticks out of its niche as the lead off track of the Animal Magic: album. The strings of the first album were still in place with arrangements by producer Peter Wilson, but the big shift on the program was the large cast of backing vocalists.
They sweetened the pot for “Digging Your Scene” but I couldn’t have overlooked the song’s lyrical payload, which strongly suggested that it was about AIDS and the queer backlash of the time. But the power of a melody can’t be overlooked, and in spite of the dark [potentially controversial] lyrics the song was a breakout hit. The hit single was the band’s calling card and a welcome presence on the radio, but the rest of the album offered plenty of their soul mojo while sounding more appropriately like music from the second album in their canon. The two tracks here salted with drum machine replacing the live drums, really made those cuts the outlier to the third Blow Monkeys album; but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
If anything, “Animal Magic” was a song that was a throwback to the more contrary debut album. The tempo shifts of the title track were a heavy feature of “Limping For A Generation,” though the dusky soul vibe of the arrangement marked it as more transitional. Again, the BVs sweetened the deal even as the complexity of the arrangement let the band have their cake and eat it too.
The other track featuring drum machine was “Wicked Ways,” which was the third single. Following a snaky guitar line from Dr. Robert, he BVs were right up front with the ladies belting the chorus right up front as Dr. Robert entered the song afterward. The bittersweet lyric painted a picture of a marriage on the skids and though the “sakes of the children” mentioned in the lyric was a tad melodramatic, Dr. Robert’s first marriage was nearing its end around that time, so it was grounded in reality. The production on that track was shared by Adam Mosley and Dr. Robert. Like the earlier single, it had one foot in the 80s with the drum machine and another in the 70s with the funk bounce of the [uncredited] clavinet.
Having dispensed with the second and third singles up front, they next delivered a deep-cut, deep dish sonic pizza topped with more ingredients than most of us would care to mix in the undeniably zesty “Sweet Murder.” When it opened with Reggae artist Eek-A-Mouse in dub right on the one, the next thing to reach our ears was an impressive wall of brass from the arranger’s pen of producer Peter Wilson; showing that he was more than just a “strings guy.”
Then brash waves of wah-wah guitar, courtesy of Dr. Robert rolled out to assault our ideas of good taste. I swear that in retrospect, I hadn’t heard wah-wah guitar since around 1976, and I was shocked to hear it after what seemed like decades of its exile in the aftermath of Punk. But the mixture worked like a fiend for me. This was a classic track that really stretched out to show that The Blow Monkeys were a force that could do anything they wanted to. The heavily percussive Go-Go sound was one of the most compelling uses of it by a white, British Pop band I’ve heard. Amazingly, this was a commercial 12″ single in America in a rare show of taste for the States. This over six minute tour de force could last for ten if it were up to me.
Next: …The Aeroplane Soars