28 March 2009

"Shells" by Placebo

Veil of years
Veil of tears
Cut it down
Cut it down
By popular request we bring you the second album of a group so obscure discogs does not even have their correct info. Nowhere else are you likely to find the second album by the original Placebo, so Crash The Driver found a vinyl copy and I've restored it as much as possible.

Where England's Trance was exciting and made one hope for more, Shells is definitely safer and less interesting. Much of the fault for this must be laid at the steps of the dull production, which obscures rather than highlights the intricate guitar work and interlocking riffs. For example, "Jezebel Steel" is very much like a track on the debut, but comes across weaker. What a great misfortune!

Michelle Wild doesn't have the most expressive voice, but it has a tone that could have been quite lovely if treated better. And it's mixed so as to make most of the vocals impossible to hear.

Still, the band does make some attempt to spread their wings. "The Visionary" has some nice chord changes and odd pitch-shifted male vocals.

Despite any limitations, we provide this rarity for your listening pleasure! We are sure you'll find something here to enjoy.

Here's the CD cover, quite an improvement on the odd LP sleeve:

-- Second Chameleon


01 Big Apple (4:09)
02 Samurai Team (5:24)
03 Jezebel Steel (4:22)
04 The Visionary (4:51)
05 In Shisha (5:59)
06 Horizons (5:35)
07 The Base (4:39)
08 Blue Babies (4:08)
UK LP Aura Records [AUL 725] 1983
UK CD See for Miles [SEECD 489] 1998

Michelle Wild: voice
Gary Wild: guitar, synthesizer
Phil Armstrong: synthesizer, guitar, piano
Jimmy Giro: bass
Steve Wheatley: drums
Willie Duggan: electric mandolin

Recorded at Oasis and Linx Studios
Engineered by Jon Craig
Produced by Gary Wild

24 March 2009

I'm In Love With A German Film Star by The Passions

Post Punk had a mad crush on all things German. German art. German novels. German music. John Lydon regularly name checked Can. Ultravox! nicked their exclamation mark from Neu! And OMD's Paul Humphreys was so besotted with Kraftwerk that he slept with one of their albums under his pillow. With its gleaming new cities, its multi-lane roadways and high-speed rail links, and its cool, technical proficiency, Germany seemed to embody the spirit of modernity, even as it was haunted by the ghost of its tragic past. This strange fascination with the Teutonic provided The Passions with their sole hit, a sensuous tale of cinematic longing called, "I'm In Love With A German Film Star."

The band was formed in the Latimer Road area of London in 1977. Like many bands, they went through some line up changes, before settling on the core duo of Barbara Gogan (guitar & vocals) and Clive Temperley (guitar), backed by David Agar on bass and Richard Williams on drums. Despite a high-profile support slot on The Cure's Seventeen Seconds tour, The Passions first lp, Michael & Miranda failed to disturb the charts. Chris Parry summarily dismissed them from the Fiction label, but Fiction's parent company, Polydor, had more faith, and booked them into the studio with in-house producer Pete Wilson. Best known for his work with Comsat Angels, Wilson took Temperley's echoplex guitar and triple-tracked it in stereo, spreading its expansive swell of sound across six channels of the studio's mixing desk. William's kick drum, meanwhile, was used to trigger a vocoder, giving the track a ghostly, dub-like boom in the bottom end. Against this wide-screen backdrop, Gogan's voice yearned for some minor celebrity once glimpsed at a bar, sitting in a corner, trying to look too posed for the cameras and the girls. "It really moved me, it really moved me," Gogan sings in her cool, dispassionate manner. But who exactly was this mystery man who moved her so? Klaus Kinski? Rutger Hauer?

Well, none of these. And not even a film star, actually, but a roadie for The Clash who rather looked like he might be a German film star. Even so, the song was an immediate sensation. The NME made it single of the week and it was second only to Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" for total airplays on British Radio. Unfortunately, Polydor had pressed too few copies, and the single stalled at number 25 on the charts. By the time the record company had rectified the mistake, demand for the single had peaked. To make matters worse, Pete Wilson, whose inventive production had added a distinctly European glamour to "I'm In Love," was unavailable for the album that followed. The production duties were left to the capable if unspectacular talents of Nigel Gray, resulting in a capable if unspectacular album, Thirty Thousand Feet Over China.

Gathered here are the three singles from The Passions' moment in the sun, 1980-81: "The Swimmer" b/w "War Song," "I'm In Love With A German Film Star" b/w "(Don't Talk To Me) I'm Shy," and "Skin Deep" b/w "I Radiate." As a bonus, we are including "Some Fun," the b-side to the 1981 re-release of "The Swimmer."

-- Crash The Driver


"The Swimmer"

01 The Swimmer
02 War Song
UK 7" Polydor [POSP 184] 1980

"I'm In Love With A German Film Star"

03 I'm In Love With A German Film Star
04 (Don't Talk To Me) I'm Shy
UK 7" Polydor [POSP 222] 1981

"Skin Deep"

05 Skin Deep
06 I Radiate
UK 7" Polydor [POSP 256] 1981

"The Swimmer" Re-Release

07 Some Fun
UK 7" Polydor [POSP 325] 1981

18 March 2009

Heart Of Darkness by Positive Noise

Brave New Scotland. That was the name given to the host of bands that emerged in the wake of the punk explosion of the late seventies, bands such as The Skids, Altered Images, The Fire Engines, or perhaps most famously, those on the roster of the Post Card label, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, and Joseph K. In fact, it was from an Orange Juice album that Simon Reynolds lifted the title of his influential history of Post Punk, Rip It Up and Start Again. The Scottish bands, perhaps more than any others, seemed most sensible to the potential of punk, and most willing to abuse it, to turn it inside out and, well, start again.

Positive Noise are the forgotten sons of this legendary host of Scottish groups looking to reimagine pop music in the early eighties. Led by Ross Middleton (vocals/guitar) with brothers Fraser Middleton (bass) and Graham Middleton (keyboards) and Les Gaff (drums), they came out of the same fertile Glasgow music scene that gave the world Post Card Records. But where Orange Juice wedded jangly, Byrds-inspired pop with grooves borrowed from Chic, Positive Noise seemed closer in spirit to some of the Manchester bands on the Factory Records label, with stentorian vocals declaimed over splintered guitars and thunderous drums. This was heavy music, which had it been more dubby might have sounded rather like Joy Division, or if more funky, like A Certain Ratio. But, in truth, Positive Noise were more squarely in the pop mold than either of their Mancunian counterparts, with strong bass lines and memorable choruses. Ross Middleton chants rather than sings, intoning his words with a manic passion, and the album as a whole seems to heave itself from song to song as if it were Sisyphus pushing a great rock up the side of a mountain. It just never gives up. Keith Levene of PIL guests on the opening track, and Gary Barnacle, the celebrated horn player who played with just about every act of note in the eighties, adds some terrific brass touches to two tracks.

Ross Middleton left Positive Noise following the release of Heart Of Darkness, joining up with Gary Barnacle and scoring some dance hits as Leisure Process. Positive Noise soldiered on, with Russell Blackstock taking on the vocal duties for the radio-friendly follow up, Change Of Heart, a respectable entry in the white boy funk canon, but one that one pales in comparison to the sheer vitality of Heart of Darkness. No more blood and soil!

--Crash The Driver


Positive Noise - Heart Of Darkness

01 Darkness Visible
02 Hypnosis
03 No More Blood And Soil
04 . . . And Yet Again
05 Down There
06 Treachery!
07 Warlords
08 Love Is A Many-Splintered Thing
09 Refugees
10 Ghosts

France LP Statik [Stat LP1] 1981

16 March 2009

"Jungle Line" by Low Noise

Throughout 1979 and 1980 Thomas Dolby had gained experience touring with a number of bands doing sound, had recorded with Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club and even recorded his own single, "Urges"/"Leipzig", with the help of Andy Partridge. Following on a spell with the short-lived Fallout Club, he decided, at the start of 1981, to put together his own band.

First up was his friend and bassist Matt Seligman, who had played alongside Dolby in both the Fallout Club and Camera Club. (What's up with all these clubs anyway?) Dolby went along to a gig at the Hope & Anchor to see his pal play with Robyn Hitchcock and noticed drummer J.J. as part of the band.

J.J., otherwise known as John Johnson, had been a member of The Electric Chairs and released a couple of well-received singles with The Mystere Five (for whom he also sang and produced). He'd recently come off the recording sessions for the second Flying Lizards album.

These three went into the studio and recorded some tracks Dolby had been sketching out on Portastudio. The a-side was to be a cover version of a compellingly strange track by Dolby's hero Joni Mitchell. All Burundi rhythms and imagistic lyrics, "Jungle Line" bore up well to an electro treatment. Together with the b-side, "Urban Tribal", it was featured in the live performance and subsequent video Live Wireless we posted recently.

Despite the fact that Dolby saw this as a recurring project and despite its positive reception (Betty Page gave it single of the week in Melody Maker), Low Noise was to never see another outing. The single is a sought-after item. For some reason I have two copies, so we are able to bring you a rather excellent rip using the best maintained version.

-- Second Chameleon


Low Noise - Jungle Line

01 Jungle Line
02 Urban Tribal
03 Jungle Line (instrumental)
7"/12" France: Happy Birthday [UR 5] August 1981

Both versions feature all three tracks and have the same catalogue number. Odd, that.

11 March 2009

New Toy by Lene Lovich

Many New Wave bands struggled to make the transition from twitchy pop eccentrics to serious recording artists in the early eighties. The skinny ties, scratchy guitars, loopy organs, and amphetamine-driven vocals seemed increasingly irrelevant compared to the seriousness of purpose evinced by the Post-Punks. Next to the unflinching emotional honesty of a band like Joy Division, The Cars or The Go-Gos seemed to belong to some Saturday morning cartoon on television.

Lene Lovich's first album, Stateless (1978), was virtually a template for the New Wave sound. Its stripped down, sixties garage band vibe served as the perfect backdrop for Lovich's strikingly dramatic vocals. "Lucky Number" and her cover version of "I Think We're Alone Now" were break out hits, just edgy enough to appear fresh and new, but not so edgy as to put off radio programmers. The album's follow up, Flex (1979), attempted to repeat the formula, but with less commercial success, leaving Lovich in artistic limbo as the eighties opened.

Enter Thomas Dolby, who shared Lovich's taste for all things off beat, and admired her distinctive vocal style. For 1981's "New Toy," he crafted an expansive, almost cinematic soundscape to showcase Lovich's voice, the twangy guitars of her earlier efforts giving way to a heady mix of synthesizers, chiming pianos, and taunting male backing vocals. The lyrics alternately celebrated the pleasures of conspicuous consumption ("I got to have your car / I got to have your stereo / I got to have it all"), and painted them as a kind of nightmare, a cycle of need that seems as inescapable and relentless as the song's chorus. It was not only Lovich's finest moment, but one that perfectly caught the contradictions of life in the market economy, where everyone and everything is something to be bought and sold, and a new toy is the best we can hope for.

The ep was filled out with five other tracks, all fine displays of Lovich's eccentric talents, but none quite capturing the spirit of the age as does this one collaboration with the mad scientist himself.

-- Crash The Driver


Lene Lovich - New Toy

01 New Toy
02 Savages
03 Special Star
04 Never Never Land
05 Cats Away
06 Details

Canada 12" EP Stiff, Epic [5E 37452] 1981

08 March 2009

Live Wireless by Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby was always the odd man out. Odd in the sense of unusual or not fitting in, but also odd in the sense of not making a pair. Singular. Like the so-called New Romantic groups of the period, his vision of the future was inflected by a sense of the past. But where Visage, Ultravox, and Spandau Ballet espoused a moody grandeur that evoked what Bowie called the "European canon," Dolby was decidedly the English eccentric, pottering about in his shed, stringing up an aerial for his homemade crystal set. More Heath Robinson than Richard Wagner.

Dolby put the mad scientist persona to good use in "She Blinded Me With Science," an international hit in 1982, going to Number Five on the Billboard Hot 100, and soon becoming an MTV favourite. But the antic goings on of Dr Magnus Pyke and his nubile assistant, Miss Sakamoto, could not entirely obscure the hint of anxiety concerning the rise of a world given over to machines and their operators. The Golden Age Of Wireless, Dolby's debut album from the year previous, mixed slick, up-beat synthpop with deeply nostalgic tales of childhood lost, songs about fuel gauges, garden gates, and fading radio signals. It was a distinctly personal album in an era of masks and mask wearing, a quietly introspective album in an era of glitter and gold. And it was brilliant, from start to finish. Even when they repackaged it to include "She Blinded Me With Science," the novelty hit couldn't diminish the impact of these carefully crafted, emotionally precise musical miniatures.

Dolby toured The Golden Age of Wireless in 1983, and made what was then an audacious decision to release a live video tape rather than a live album. Entitled Live Wireless, this overlooked curio features Dolby as a projectionist working in an aging movie palace, projecting the performance film we are watching. All very postmodern for its time, and the soundtrack, ripped here, stands up particularly well, with several selections from both the debut album, two otherwise unrecorded tracks ("Puppet Theatre," and "Samson and Delilah"), and a guest appearance from Lene Lovich on "New Toy." Singular. And perfect.

-- Crash The Driver


Thomas Dolby - Live Wireless

01 Intro
02 Europa And The Pirate Twins
03 Windpower
04 One Of Our Submarines
05 Radio Silence
06 New Toy
07 Urban Tribal
08 Flying North
09 Jungle Line
10 Puppet Theatre
11 Samson and Delilah
12 She Blinded Me With Science
13 Airwaves

UK Video Cassette EMI Video [2042] 1983

04 March 2009

Folk Of The 80's by Men Without Hats

With many of the bands of the eighties, it's difficult to separate their post-punk promise from their later commercial success. For some people, the Simple Minds will always be remembered for "Don't You Forget About Me," OMD for "If You Leave." Appearing on the soundtracks to popular films, and becoming perennial fixtures on oldies radio stations and at eighties club nights the world over, these songs sometimes seem to be almost synonymous with the bands themselves, eclipsing the artistic achievements of their earlier, more experimental efforts.

For Montreal-based synthpop group Men Without Hats, the albatross they could never quite get from their necks was "The Safety Dance," an insanely catchy confection of sequenced bass lines, playground melodies, and obtuse lyrics, vaguely warning about the dangers of nuclear war. The song spent four weeks at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also a major hit in the UK and many parts of Europe. But before the dwarfs danced and the peasant girl twirled, the band released a 10" ep of lo-fi electronica, four songs taking their cues more from Iggy and Bowie's Berlin period than from the singles charts of the time.

Folk Of The 80's referred to lead singer Ivan's sense that synthesizer music would become the new folk music of the period, expressing the everyday hopes and desires of the common people. It was recorded in the summer of 1980 at Studio A in Montreal, and released on the band's own H.A.T.S. label. It was subsequently picked up by Stiff Records and a further 16,000 records were pressed for the US market in the twelve-inch format. Apart from a rerecording of "Antarctica," however, these songs did not appear on the band's debut album of 1982, Rhythm Of Youth, nor on any of the band's many greatest hits collections that have appeared since. Even the seemingly endless cd-r collections of minimal synth rarities have failed to pick up on this forgotten gem, perhaps because their compilers haven't thought to look beyond "The Safety Dance." This is too bad. These songs deserve a place in any list of minimal synth classics, merging a perfect pop sensibility with a singularly skewed view of the modern(e) world.

Here then are Ivan Doroschuk (vocals), his brother Stefan (bass), and Jeremie Arrobas (drums & electronics), from the original 10" vinyl. Tell me if "Security" isn't the best song Depeche Mode never wrote.

--Crash The Driver


Men Without Hats - Folk Of The 80's

01 Modern(e) Dancing
02 Utter Space
03 Antarctica
04 Security (Everybody Feels Better With)

Canada 10" EP H.A.T.S. [HATS-001] 1980