1988 came and went with only a single from The Blow Monkeys, but “This Is Your Life” was a watershed moment for the band, and not only would it herald the embrace of House Music by the band, it would also show the group assimilating the new dance style with far more artistic success than the other British acts who were also rushing to get a slice of this pie. More often than not, dribbling musical blueberry filling all over themselves and staining their integrity in the process.
I may have written dozens of paragraphs on how the trend to release House Music mixes in the 80s was what actually drove me to discount whole swaths of British Pop in the second half of the decade. Well, here’s another one. What I really could not stand in the late 80s were Pop bands that wrapped their music in House clothing no matter how inappropriate it was for their artistic thrust. The reductive House ethos sounded more repetitive and machinelike and the fact that it was everywhere at once, painted it as the new whipping boy for me, as was Disco in the late 70s. Whenever a style gets that omnipresent, it takes great care to make me put up with it, after a certain point of market saturation.
Fortunately, The Blow Monkeys brought a great deal more to the table emotionally and intellectually than 90% of most House Music. Moreover, the band were so convinced of the import of this song that it was released far in advance of their fourth album in a Stephen Hague production at the time where if Stephen Hague was commissioned to produce a song, it had already been assumed that the tune in question would be a large hit. Hague delivered success.
The sleek production began with a swell of synth strings to stoke anticipation before we heard Dr. Robert give us a whoop! Then the sax of Neville Henry swanned smoothly into the mix as the Garage beat provided the relentless foundation for the bass of Mick Anker and strategic licks of Dr. Robert’s piano and guitar. The descending piano + strings melodic hook leading into the chorus was a heart-tugger to embellish the pithy lyrics that Dr. Robert invested this song with.
The sax and rhythm guitar workout on the middle eight was smoking hot and the single was a rare case of a euphoric dance track that still managed to deliver a potent political lyric with its bitter refrain of “you never had what you won’t miss.” Sadly, the single only managed to get as high as number 70 in the charts. Lumping it in with the bulk of their singles which tended to hover around the lower third of the UK Top 100.
Though the band had a breakthrough with “Digging Your Scene” and managed a top five placement with “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way,” the band by no means had a lock on the charts. If anything, their penchant for hard-hitting left wing lyrics probably cost them radio play. As part of the Red Wedge collective of Anti-Tory bands in the mid 80s, The Blow Monkeys walked it like they talked it. They managed to have a commercial foothold single on their albums, but usually just one. Following up was tricky. But the failure of even the mighty Stephen Hague to deliver a hit with “This Is Your Life” would not be an impediment to the band’s resolve, as we will find out next.
Next: …This Is Still Your Life