[…continued from last post]
The Blow Monkeys are perhaps not the band that many would associate with me or my stated tastes. Post-Punk? Really, I’d only call their debut album as one that would fit that description. And even then, their “Punk Jazz” sound, redolent of the Laughing Clowns, was an outlier to few other bands. Maybe Carmel could also lay claim to that description on their debut as well. Were The Blow Monkeys part of the NWOBJP [New Wave of British Jazz Pop]? Maaaybe.
The band were definitely more Pop than Jazz. But the willingness of the band and its songwriter, Dr. Robert, to mutate wildly and shift their branding at drop of a hat, probably contributed to their decision to pack it up after chasing Pop’s fortune in the mid-late 80s. To go from string-heavy Soul music [albeit with a drum machine heart] as with their first hit, to New Jack Swing, and ultimately Garage House in the space of two years was clearly the maximum paradigm shift that the market could follow. By the time of album five, with a World/Ambient/Balearic synthesis happening almost two years in advance of that market, it was probably the right time for the band to take a rest. They were too far ahead of the game.
I’m just happy that following 18 years [that have passed in the blink of an eye] that Dr. Robert once more heard the calling of how this band could transform the material he was writing when he was ready to regroup. They wisely did it on the condition of making new music consistently, with even more modern albums than from their initial period. And when they played the occasional festival, they had more then memories to trade on. Like OMD, they didn’t want to be relegated strictly to nostalgia. The decision was made that creating new music was the drive to it all. And six albums in fourteen years is productivity far in advance of their peers.
Another factor of the band I appreciate is their disinterest in repeating themselves. They keep the songwriting and playing evolving with an eclectic take on how their albums achieve their respective vibes. Only their first album was of a similar stylistic piece. Cracks in any rigidity were apparent by the time of “Animal Magic.” And by the time of their fourth album, it was obvious that the restless imagination of Dr. Robert was unsuited to milking a sound to death.
True, there was a commonality of influence across their canon. Soul, Pop, Funk, and Jazz would be ceaselessly mixed and recombined in different ways from album to album. Even across a single album itself! And Dr. Robert’s solo career found him by its nature exploring the [dreaded] singer-songwriter canon to see what he could learn from it. By the time that happened, I had no expectations with regard to his music and approached it all with an open mind to see what its relative merits would be.
By my reckoning, such merits were copious. As the final Rock G.P.A. graph below shows.
THE BLOW MONKEYS: Rock G.P.A.
A 3.7916 ranking is substantially higher than I’ve ever given here. This was the rare group that even when I listen to their worst album†; hamstrung as it was by the most diabolical high-80s production possible, I can still marvel at the caliber of the songs themselves and the stylistic syntheses being called forth to form the material with. Such that the tiresome production recedes into the distance and by the end of the album I am shaking my head in wonder.
† – “She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter”
When your worst album is ranked 3/4 you must be doing something right! It’s hard to pick favorites here, but their current album was just an embarrassment of riches. If anything, this album was so good, it should have depressed the rest of the rankings by a half point! But that seemed so unfair. I still can’t imagine how Dr. Robert managed to produce an album that sounded that richly ornate …during a pandemic, and with a budget that probably wouldn’t pay for tea breaks on an Ed Sheeran album! When I hear an album this excellent [it happens 2-3 times a decade] I often marvel at how it might have been a world-straddling success in an earlier time; with hit singles peeled off by the handful making us all bored with The Blow Monkeys.
But how could we be bored with such excellence and diversity? On their own terms, that is more or less what they have done in the last year, whether anyone had been paying attention or not. “Journey To You” had had six of its ten songs issued as singles in the last year. Something that only Visage managed to accomplish with their equally successful album, “Hearts + Knives,” back in 2013-4. These songs didn’t trouble the charts, but they were every inch the stuff of singles and worth of all of the effort. An album as great as “Journey To You” reeked of success even as money has little to do with it.
At this stage of the game, I have every confidence that The Blow Monkeys will keep on pulling rabbits out of their hat. They have conditioned me to expect more than just competence when they convene for an album. And it’s to their benefit that Dr. Robert’s attitude has been stated as so long as the material keeps flowing and changing, they are in it for the long haul. They are not the highest exemplars of Post-Punk in my Record Cell, but at the end of the day, they just might be one of the best bands in there.