[…continued from last post]
The debut single as released on Bill Nelson’s Cocteau Records label was always a winner! The crisp 808 “drumming” with impressive long reverb on selected beats. The pulse gated synth lines stitching the melody through the heartbreak of the lyric. The dignified resolve that Steve Wright brought to his vocals. The B-side “This Illness” was even more strongly in the Bill Nelson camp with his distinctive eBow soloing cutting a lithe line through the crystalline construct of the music bed. And Ian on marimbas once again for the lush, placid coda punctuated by deep sighs.
Next came two songs in their previously unheard Bill Nelson productions. “Photography” had much more distinct and staccato drum programming on this version, while Wright’s vocal was hitting much the same marks as on the Polydor version. “Comfortable Life” had the same drumcentric arrangement and aggressive, theatrical vocal from Wright, but the track under the watch of Bill Nelson was over twice as long with a 5:34 running time!
The band’s fifth single was an anomaly; produced by Bernie Clarke of Aztec Camera when Hugh Jones was unavailable. The band in the liner notes lament this fact since the commercial breakthrough did not happen under Clarke’s aegis. To be fair the production is flat and less dynamic than either the guiding hands of Nelson or Jones. I don’t care for the vocal production. It all has a plastic sheen to the vocals. And whoever suggested that the stentorian Wright interject a James Brown styled emphatic grunt into the proceedings needed their ears boxed. I know it was 1984 and FGTH was all over that by then, but they had Trevor Horn to put such hijinx across. It sounds wrong-footed to these ears. Steve Wright was far too poised a vocalist for that. His roots were with the Yorkshire Actors Company, as if his phrasing and diaphragm power didn’t make that absolutely clear.
The B-side, “Three’s Company,” was the flattest song here. The awkward transition to the chorus sported a touch of T-Rex boogie with a chaser of Mott The Hoople piano that seemed to have very little to do with the normal currency of this Art Pop band. The 12″ mix of “House Of Thorns” was injected with synth funk riffs phoned in from another song entirely. The cavernous mix was ill-served by the production and mix. It’s too bad that Hugh Jones was unavailable to produce this song as well. It had some promise among the gaffes.
Fortunately, “Solitary Lovers” in a 12″ mix [the 7″ is missing from the CD] showed how Hugh Jones was enlisted to “completely dismantle and reassemble” the song, which also dated from the “House Of Thorns” sessions. And whatever it cost, it was worth is, since Jones brought the understated elegance the band could effortlessly traffic in to the fore and gave the listener the smooth ride that was the band’s metier.
The prominent beat with pulsating bass synth was offset with elegant piano and string patches that gave us a song that came close to the lush standard defined by ABC★★★ on their debut album. The soaring, effortless melody was a perfect match with Wright’s voice. The appearance of guitars in the middle eight gave it just enough grit and dissonance to heighten the luscious sweep and motorik pulse of the rest of the song. It’s a pity that the band were to split up soon after this sumptuous single.
The mixes of “No More Proud” were the B-sides to the “Solitary Lovers 12″ ” and they were a radical shift in vibe. The flanged bass and chorused brass adopted an almost Latin Funk sound with mud-thick syncopation that lurched forth with beatbox backbeats. The Dub Mix was a legitimate attempt on the sort of track that was all but crying out for it. The isolated baritone sax from Ian Nelson was an otherwise inaudible treat.
The final track on this compilation was the 12″ B-side “Sally Free and Easy,” a radical minimal arrangement of the folk song “Sally Free And Easy.” The looped and breathy vocal fragments were a nod to Laurie Anderson, but perfectly framed the delicacy of the song; punctuated by the most surgical of bass drum hits at exactly the right moments. With almost no accompaniment, the spotlight was on Wright’s placid vocal that time out.
Next: …Raiding The Lost Ark
Great stuff again PPM! I rushed out to buy the fantastic ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ single, it picked up quite a lot of play in the evenings on Radio 1 in the UK. Steve messaged me yesterday to say…
‘Bill plays marimbas on This Illness… I know this to be true cos Ian wasn’t in the band when Winter/Illness were recorded. Ian joined later after seeing us live.’
I didn’t know that!
Pauline – Yeah. I would have assumed that Bill/Ian would have happened at the same time for the band. But I would have been wrong.