The electronic scene of the late seventies and early eighties was led by a new kind of man. Sure there were some notable synth bands, The Human League, OMD, Depeche Mode, but the quiet man, labouring alone with his battery of monophonic synths and drum machines, was somehow closer to the alienated spirit of the age. Gary Numan, John Foxx, Thomas Dolby, Fad Gadget, these were the names that captured the popular imagination of the day.
Thomas Leer looked set to join the upper echelons of electro auteurs following the success of his debut single, "Private Plane." Recorded in his bedsit apartment, he had to nearly whisper the vocals so as not to wake his girlfriend sleeping in the next room. But the NME named it single of the week, and soon Cherry Red, the much respected indie label, offered him a deal. "4 Movements" and "Contradictions" saw him leaving behind the proto-industrial experiments of his earlier collaborations with Robert Rental, in favour of an angular, funk-inspired sound that seemed to mix a love of Sly and the Family Stone with a more poppy take on Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca. It was a brave experiment, especially given the primitive nature of the drum machines with which he was trying to approximate funk grooves, but they failed to translate into serious sales. As 1982 wound down, Thomas Leer seemed to have lost his way.
Then, suddenly, he reappeared two years later, having reinvented himself as a computer-savvy, sampler-wielding sophisticate, more Trevor Horn than Richard H. Kirk. Major label Arista was so taken with Leer's new worldly traveller image that they bank-rolled a series of glossy twelve inch singles to be released on a reactivated version of the Oblique label, which had last seen service for "Private Plane." Recorded with the latest in synthesizer technology, the Fairlight CMI digital sampling keyboard, these three singles offered a master class in mid-eighties pop elegance, the equal in many respects to the finest efforts of ABC, Propaganda, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The future must have seemed bright indeed for the former Thomas Wishart, but Arista appears to have lost confidence in Leer by the time these singles were compiled into an album. The Scale Of Ten was slipped into record stores without much fanfare in 1985, and then, just as quickly, disappeared.
Collected here are the singles that Leer released between his major releases from these two periods, Contradictions and The Scale of Ten. They not only offer a glimpse of his musical development in these, his missing years, but represent some of his most signficant achievements as a solo artist.
"All About You," his last release for Cherry Red, is the real standout, a plaintive synth ballad that is as understated as it is unforgettable. But the three singles from the reactivated Oblique label are no less striking, full of inventive arrangements, strong melodies and exquisite productions. The extended versions are especially notable, forgoing the more obvious tricks of the remix trade in favour of intriguing dub experiments and rhythmic work outs. As a bonus, we are including "Who's Fooling Who," a song released only as a flexi-disc that acccompanied a Dutch music magazine in 1983. Though not as polished as the other songs here, it offers something of a missing link between his Cherry Red and Arista incarnations.
After many years out of the music biz, Leer is back now, and recording again. Check out his web site here.
-- Crash The Driver
"All About You"
01 All About You
02 Saving Grace
UK 12" Cherry Red [12 Cherry 52] 1983
03 International (Global Mix)
04 Easy Way
UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 121] 1984
05 Heart Beat (Extended Mix)
06 Control Yourself
UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 122] 1985
07 No. 1 (Extended Version)
08 Trust Me
09 Chasing The Dragon
UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 123] 1985
"Who's Fooling Who"
10 Who's Fooling Who
Netherlands Flexi Vinyl Magazine 1983