[…continued from last post]
The album shifted on its axis tremendously when “side two” got underway with “[Celebrate] The Day After You.” The album’s third single was tremendous. The Blow Monkeys had covered Curtis Mayfield’s epic “Superfly” as a B-side to “Don’t Be Scared of Me’ and with “[Celebrate] The Day After You,” Dr. Robert sought out Mayfield himself to sing the track as a high-powered duet. Best of all, he penned a righteous upbraiding in Thatcher’s direction that also managed to be a world class slice of Discofunk that was fully fit to have Mayfield singing on it.
The impeccable groove chugged along with a smart blend of machines and old school musical elements. If you’re going to have Mayfield singing on your song, real strings were a must! Unfortunately for The Blow Monkeys, the BBC banned the single when the election was called which [spoiler alert] saw Thatcher remaining in power for three more years. That still didn’t stop them from issuing a 10″ with the cheeky Thatcher-goes-Warhol cover as seen above. I still desperately need one of these in my Record Cell to keep the four other copies I have of this single in various formats company.
Next up was the ahead-of-its-time stone cold groove of “Checking Out.” It was a dazzling confection of programmed beatbox and synth bass with tasty licks of rhythm guitar and more swaths of strings keeping the proto-Italo-House piano company. The loose, Jazzy arrangement favored an improvisational vibe that made great use of the femme backing vocals for a rhythmic hook. Neville Henry’s sax solo in the coda was spirited and the lyric still managed to cast shade on Maggie. I wouldn’t have minded hearing a ten minute 12″ mix of this one.
Then hazy, unresolved string synths set an unsettling, cinematic scene as the hip hop beats of “Don’t Give it Up” ensued to take us to a place that we’d never been to before [or since]. The slamming, repetitive beat and synthetic [and real] horns provided a minimal basis for the campy, free-association that Dr. Robert and other voice actors [including Paula Yates] added over the top of the groove. It was like a mixture of hip hop and a Carry On film in dub! The first verse [technically speaking, the only singing on the track were the backing vocals] was so jarring that it could have gone anywhere…and certainly did.
Having been softened up by “Don’t Give It Up,” the coup-de-grace of the album was delivered with “Cash.” The intro featured Dr. Robert crooning over some dobro chording before more hip hop beats appeared to seamlessly carry on the vibe of “Don’t Give It Up” to drop it into an actual song this time. “Cash” was a weirdly hybrid psychedelic, hip-hop hoedown that was another example of the second half of this album going to really exotic places after the uninspiring first half.
Sampled strings were sawing away on a single chord throughout much of the song while the real string section was busy channeling the strings from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to give this song a peculiarity that was second to none. Dr. Robert was channeling Elvis on the chorus of “come on, little baby, let’s make a little cash.” Meanwhile Mick Anker was adding fretless bass underneath it all. The strummed acoustic guitar and harmonica chug all added up to a song what was utterly unique. And six minutes later [which felt like four] it had made its departure long before I was done with it.
Then the album ended on a note similar to the one on “Animal Magic.” “Beautiful Child” was a perfect T-Rex ballad in the “Cosmic Dancer” mold. Giving us just piano and lush, mannered strings as Dr. Robert extolled his paramour. Adding the only queer-friendly lyric of this album as he searched for the embodiment of the song;s title.
This album was a paradox. The first half was a coherent but ultimately tepid follow through from the more vivid “Animal Magic.” With modern, cookie-cutter R+B replacing the more traditional Soul music leanings of the previous album. On first listen, the vibe on “Grocer’s Daughter” was lifeless and it barely seemed like the product of a band. Then the second half arrived and swept my ears away with a no-holds-barred gumbo of disparate elements that I’d not heard combined either before or since. While the album failed to inspire until its mid-point, from that moment onward, I always become highly engaged with “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter.” I always tend to discount the album when considering their canon until the point where it easily wins me over.
The band seemed to be stretching out in a direction that they were not entirely sure of, but it speaks volumes that “Checking Out” was also included on their precedent setting fifth album in 1990. That record was also a year or two ahead of the World/Fusion/Chill/Dance pack with a selection of material that had little precedent in 1990 but would soon come to represent the tenor of that part of the 90s that had nothing to do with Grunge or Techno.
Ultimately, “She Was only A Grocer’s Daughter” was what was once a typical third album by a rapidly mutating British act that sounded like little to do with either of their first two albums. Slot it next to the first three by Spandau Ballet or ABC and the threads of continuity get similarly stretched to their limits. But it had an even bigger British hit on it even as it was the swansong for the band’s dalliance with America. All of their other albums would not get a US release, but the band had one more card up their sleeve in regards to America, and we’ll get to that song tomorrow since everyone in the world except me has heard it before.
Next: …Owning Me, Owning You