Rock G.P.A.: Altered Images [part 4]

altered images 1983
Altered Images – 1983 model L-R: Johnny McElhone, Tony McDaid, Glare Grogan, Stephen Lironi

[…continued from last post]

Their first album peaked at number 26 in the UK LP charts, but it stayed on the charts for 21 weeks. “Pinky Blue,” in comparison, got as high as number 12 but was off the chart in just 10 weeks. A holding pattern regarding sales with both LPs moving over 60,000 for silver disc status with the BPI. Altered Images were winding down 1982 two men short and their campaign of singles from “Pinky Blue” starting strong at UK numbers 7 and 11, but dropping to 35 for their title track single, a re-think was on the books. Clare Grogan took a trip to clear her head and when she got back, management had found a single musician to replace both Jim McInven and Tich Anderson as Stephen Lironi was at home on drums, and guitars. So the group was a quartet.

In terms of production the decision to move on from Martin Rushent yielded a surprising response in that the band sought to split production between Mike Chapman and Tony Visconti. Being fans of Bowie, T-Rex, and Blondie it was seen as a natural decision. But on the same album would be a very different sort of vibe that would perhaps challenge listeners and fans. The Chapman work reached our ears as the first single, “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” was another number 7 UK hit for the band. How did the rest fare?

Altered Images

Bite 1983


Altered Images - bring me closer cover artWhile the pre-release single still sported a David Band cover painting [strangely, of blues singer Big Joe Turner…?] the next single to reach our eyes and ears kicked off the “Bite” album. “Bring Me Closer” announced the “new look” Clare Grogan striking a sophisticated pose in a sophisticated song. It was a full-on glossy, Production Disco throwback to the ’78 era with [impeccable] Visconti-scored strings and percussion buttressing the dancefloor rhythms and wah-wah guitar to make Barry White jealous.

It was a bracing new gambit for Teen Goths-Gone-Ginchpop band. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the dramatic shift in tone, presentation, and style didn’t knock me for a wallop the first time I heard it after buying the 12″ single in the Peaches import bins. And I don’t mean that in a good way. It was and still is, troubling to hear a phalanx of seven backing vocalists all but blowing tiny Clare out of the water on her own song. By the time that saxophonist Andy Hamilto0n [fresh from Duran Duran’s “RIO”] started wailing in the coda one could be excused for thinking that the band were getting lost in their own record.

But after a suitable adaptation period, one could also claim that the band were much more present even in this widescreen production. The Linn Drums and banks of keys from the last album were set aside here. This might be a very Professional record but it was in no way mechanical. Once could actually hear Tony McDaid’s bass guitar in the mix! And most encouragingly of all, the creamy smooth refrain to the song was the line “…something that you do to me, fills me with unease…!” Sung in the dreamiest way possible. Yes, this was still Altered Imaged underneath all of the surface gloss. Though time has been kind to the record, it’s still a jarring release to my ears and only a partial success beneath the busy production. The UK record buying public agreed, and the second single from the album managed to barely dent the Top 30 at number 29.

After the pressure of the first track, hearing Mike Chapman’s kinder, gentler “Another Lost Look” was almost as if a song from the “Pinky Blue” sessions had managed to escape from the often oppressive production stance that Martin Rushent had imposed upon it to spend the day at the park instead. The only Blondie song it could be said to even remotely recall was maybe “Pretty Baby,” but were Blondie ever this winsome?

altered images love to stay coer artThe next track was single number three, and “Love To Stay” was a very different Mike Chapman production with its dignified drumbox beating cha-cha beat like a steel heart compared to the prevailing Linn Drum brutality of the day. Clare’s dreamy vocals could go on for days and in this case, the notion of putting the 12″ dance mix on the album  instead of the succinct 3:23 single edit gets a pass from me since the single was really an edit of the 12″ single that took the track to a stately 5:40. The creamy rhythm guitar and the trumpet and xylophones [uncredited but probably the acme of L.A. session monsters] created a luscious vibe that I wanted to hear more of, so the soloing that extended the dance mix here was a gift in the best possible taste.

Tony Visconti was back in position to end side one of the album with “Now That You’re Here.” It began strangely with a tribal drum figure joined on the fifth bar by a juddering synthesizer sequencer, with melodramatic strings and piano eventually joining the mix. Even 39 years later, I can’t really say I’ve ever heard anything else quite as, uh, singular as this arrangement. The chorus featured yet more massed backing vocals achieving a weird stab at MOR Pop from within a very eccentric song. It was definitely trying… hard, to make its own kind of music and sing it’s own kind of song. Thus far, Chapman was winning the tug of war over this album.

Next: …Change Of Heart of Glass

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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