The Blow Monkeys
Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood | 1988
Following the low charting of the initial lead off single, “This Is Your Life” in June of 1988, which only reached number 70 on the UK charts, RCA pulled out what they thought were the big guns with another Stephen Hague produced track that this time was not a House Music track. Something closer to the sort of Pop that The Blow Monkeys had their greatest successes with. In October, the single “It Pays To Belong” was released.
By this time the Blow Monkeys singles were all available on CD format, as they had been over the preceding year. Contemporaneously, I only bought the CD singles and ignored any of the vinyl-only mixes that may have existed in the changing sales environment of the time. This time the CD format was in a metal canister designed to look like currency and colored gold. The single was amazing in its extended version. It was clearly my favorite single of the year and a repudiation of every doubt I’d cast in Stephen Hague’s direction since the mid-80s. Stuck in the morass of Central Florida in 1988, I had no idea at the time that this follow-up single that I was so enamored of had in fact charted even lower… at 76, than their previous single had in the UK. It says a lot that RCA even would release the album after two flop, lead off singles in that kinder, gentler time.
In any case, the next single was not a Blow Monkeys release. Following the white-knuckle fate of “It Pays To Belong,” Dr. Robert recorded a track that he had produced himself in two days and had gotten American House diva Kym Mazelle to sing on with Kevin Saunderson providing the remix. This time Dr. Robert had bashed out an electrifying Garage House single and it was released under his given name as a Robert Howard single with Kym Mazelle top billed along with him. If the idea was to see what could happen without The Blow Monkeys name, then it was a roaring success. The track was released in January of 1989 and rocketed into the UK top ten. “Wait!” was the out of the box that was needed.
So while the first Garage House track the band recorded flopped, and following it up with a very sumptuous Pop single also fell on deaf ears, the quickly recorded “Wait!” was the calling card that RCA needed and in February of 1989, when the single was peaking in the charts, “Whoops! There Goes The Neighbourhood” was released and it may be a coincidence that the lyrics for “Wait” were not included in the CD booklet. Perhaps indicating that the decision to fit the song into the album was a last minute thing and there was not the time or money to re-design the booklet.
The album kicked off with a new, second version of their first House single, “This Is Your Life” and it was a re-recording of the track as produced by Dr. Robert. It’s grittier and more “street” sounding than the earlier Hague production. It’s perhaps telling that only the chorus of this version was the same as the first edition. Obviously, Dr. Robert had a lot to say on this subject and all new verses populated the single this time. Making it a quite a bit more involved than just a simple remix. It’s more stripped down and relentless than the first version; perhaps reflecting the sound that had worked so well for “Wait!” With The Kick Horns playing brass on the album, Howard secured a tasty muted trumpet solo for the song’s coda. Possibly prefiguring a modern Acid Jazz vibe. And Dr. Robert’s falsetto in the chorus was not overegged, as it had been in “You Don’t Own Me.”
The track was issued in April to become the fourth single from the album and the fact that it had been issued eight month earlier to indifference failed to hurt it any as the single peaked at a more successful number thirty two position. It may have come down to Dr. Robert being more aligned to the latest House sounds than Hague was and when he wanted to work in that genre, he immersed himself in it, coming to grips with a Roland 808 and collaborating with the right people, like Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins.
We’ve obliquely referenced “Wait!” earlier in the text, but the single remains the sort of track, that even after 32 years, is the kind of euphoric and vital dance classic that I can never tire of hearing. The relentless Garage beat and minimal synth hook created a spartan foundation on which the song was constructed with the powerhouse soul vocals of Kym Mazelle holding down the emotional center of the song along with Dr. Robert and his piano licks giving it all a seasoning of melody beyond the vocals. The single remains one of the classic duets and it formed a template that would serve The Blow Monkeys well as they continued to color outside of the outlines of the typical Pop band.
The early singles thus far had been produced by Stephen Hague and Dr. Robert, but a substantial portion of the new album would see an unexpected name in the producer’s chair as well… Leon F. Sylvers III! I knew The Sylvers from their Top 40 hits in the 70s [“Hot Line,” “Boogie Fever,” “High School Dance.”] and by the early 80s, Leon was a very successful producer with a brace of hits, primarily by Shalamar, under his belt. In a creative move, he would be producing four of the ten tracks on what was shaping up to be a most eclectic fourth Blow Monkeys album, beginning with the downtempo New Jack Swing of “No Woman Is An Island.”
As the first two tracks were House tracks with largely machines and voice, this was the first time that the full Blow Monkeys manifested on this album, even though Mick Anker was playing bass synth here. And with Sylvers in the production chair, the the modern R+B production was nowhere near as brittle and plastic-sounding as it had been on the band’s previous album under the hand of Michael Baker. The swingbeats actually swung on this track, and the backing vocals were far less dominant that “Grocer’s Daughter” had been.
And it bears mentioning that the songwriting muscles of Dr. Robert were firing on all cylinders by this time. The work as evidenced on this album was a quantum leap beyond the tentative experiments of the previous album and even their previous best on “Animal Magic.” The earlier records had succeeded on a mixture of nerve and bluff, with the hot band carrying much of the burden. Here they were actually serving the songs more readily as they were communicating more directly. There are times that songwriters mature and end up losing that je ne sais quoi that made them worthwhile in the first place. Happily, this does not describe Dr. Robert’s artistic maturation process. From this point on his songwriting skills were at a more accomplished level.
Next: …The Political As Personal
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