Thursday, 19 August 2010

25 No Parlez - Paul Young

Purchased : 22 November 1983

Tracks : Come Back And Stay / Love Will Tear Us Apart / Wherever I Lay My Hat / Ku Ku Kurama / No Parlez / Behind Your Smile / Love Of The Common People / Oh Women / Iron Out The Rough Spots / Broken Man / Tendertrap / Sex

You may have noted a bit of a hiatus between this and the last purchase , the reason being entirely practical i.e the caution of a fresher without huge parental resources seeing how far his grant (remember them ?) would stretch. This was actually bought from a stall selling cassettes in the Union Building at Leeds University for £2.99. It was also my first "percentage purchase" LP in that I knew I wouldn't like all the tracks but wanted at least two of the songs in my collection. One was the cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" ; at the time I was struggling to reconcile Catholic teaching with having a libido so a song which appeared to be about impotence (the lyrics being clearer on Young's version) came as a comforter. The other was the title track which I'd heard on one of Peter Powell's LP chart rundowns.

Which reminds me that this was a monster LP in its time having four separate runs at number one in 1983-4 despite lukewarm reviews. And yet Young's time at the top was very brief; just three years later his singles were struggling to make the Top 30 while Mick Hucknall ran away with the white soul crown. Tom Ewing in his review of "Wherever I Lay My Hat" mentioned how this LP was the most oft-relinquished LP of his time working in a record exchange store in the mid-90s and I can well believe that. While not attracting the same opprobrium as contemporaries like Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw, Paul nevertheless didn't manage to escape being associated with the naff pop prevalent in the mid-eighties.

His cause wasn't helped by the presentation of his solo debut. Having made a cult-y name for himself as the energetic frontman of sweaty soul revue band the Q-Tips he looks distinctly uncomfortable trussed up in an Anthony Price leather suit on the cover. Then there's the production ; Laurie Latham seems determined to distract you from hearing Paul's prime asset , his honeyed Paul Rodgers-like voice - by throwing in every contemporary sound he can think of and elongating some of the tracks to ridiculous lengths. If an album's too exhausting to listen to at one stretch that's another reason to give it away.

The first track is a case in point . "Come Back And Stay" the second big hit from the LP is nearly eight minutes long here. Originally a brief guitar thrash by US garage punk band The Nerves Paul reinvents it as blue-eyed pop soul, acceptable enough in single form but damned annoying when stretched out with hip hop drums, scratching effects, intrusive backing vocals, tubular bells, speeded -up voices and the burbling fretless bass of Pino Palladino fresh from imitating Mick Karn for Gary Numan.

Next up comes "Love Will Tear Us Apart" at a relatively acceptable five minutes. Having learned to love the original in the intervening years I'm now embarrassed about ever thinking this was the superior version. Young uncoils a very tightly -wound song and flattens it into an arid slab of stadium rock with clod-hopping synth drums and a galloping bassline that prefigures the awful King. Young himself sounds hammy rather than emotional. It finishes with some very-dated Fade To Grey spoken vocals from Dagmar Krause. It's awful, let's quickly move on.

Next we have six minutes of his breakthrough hit "Wherever I Lay My Hat" . Undeniably Young did a good job in replacing the chauvinistic bravado of Marvin Gaye's rather throwaway original with a regretful mea culpa and was duly rewarded with his only number one single but this version means we have to put up with that gurgling bassline for twice as long.

"Ku Ku Kurama" is the first original on the LP written by his guitarist Steve Bolton (otherwise severely under-employed on this LP). The phrase is apparently meaningless and so is the song. Young surrenders this one completely to Latham who buries him in tricks and a severe over-helping of his chavvy backing singers the Fabulously Wealthy Tarts who do mock - Oriental "Me I know nothing" responses over a plodding beat.

It's then a relief that "No Parlez" stills hold good. Originally an obscure song by prog rocker Anthony Moore about marital breakdown, Young turns it into a gothic tour de force. The production is still too much with completely unnecessary scratching effects but the song is compelling enough to transcend its setting. The chorus is a relentless massed chant of "You hate your children to rise, still you put the hammer in the hands of the children" with Young ad libbing over the top to great effect. For once , a few splurges in the middle eight apart, Palladino sounds in thrall to the song, his twists and turns complimenting the mental tortures of the protagonist.

Immediate disappointment follows with "Behind Your Smile" a Young co-write with former Q-Tips organist Ian Kewley. A tuneless misogynistic song delivered over ceaseless electronic percussion chatter, the only enjoyable bit is a brief Hammond solo towards the end.

Side Two carries on where we left off with an extended version of Young's lukewarm take on Nicky Thomas's "Love Of The Common People". It's the most faithful of the covers but doesn't really suit his voice, Young gabbling his way through the lyric though mercifully not attempting a Jamaican accent. After two timewasting minutes of Linn drum and vocal effects ,the song proper bumbles along on top of faux-ethnic glockenspiels - the sound favoured by uncelebrated contemporaries, the Thompson Twins.

The misery continues with "Oh Women" another song by Nerves mainman Jack Lee. It only lasts three and a half minutes but that's more than enough. The lyrics are utterly vacuous , Palladino and the Tarts are at their most intrusive and it has some of the ugliest keyboard sounds of the decade. The sudden ending is a great relief.

Then we have seven and a half minutes of "Iron Out The Rough Spots" an obscure Booker T and the MGs song. With those glockenspiels to the fore again this sounds like The Thompson Twins do Lee Dorsey complete with occasional Rock Lobster keyboard squeals. And typing that makes me realise that that's who the Tarts are aspiring to be with their "kooky" interjections. Needless to say they fall well short of the mark.

Some relief now appears with "Broken Man" a Young/Kewley composition brought over from the Q-Tips. Here, Young and Latham invoke the spirit of another British singer from a decade earlier, Colin Blunstone, dismissing band and tarts for a synthetic string setting. Young takes the opportunity to soar vocally (and distract from the clumsy words) but he hasn't Blunstone's litheness. Nevertheless it's a welcome interlude.

Another Kewley/Young composition follows with "Tender Trap" by far their best song. It musters a nice sense of urgency greatly helped by Palladino's apparent absence and more or less keeps the Tarts under control. Two plaintive trombone interventions by Rico Rodriguez put a quality stamp on the track and belatedly show what a genuinely sympathetic musician could have added to Young's music. It's just a pity the track is marred by the horrible drum sound.

The album's late rally ends abruptly with six and a half minutes of the execrable "Sex" (the last and least of Jack Lee's contributions). It encapsulates everything that's wrong with the LP as a whole - a non-song (vaguely reminiscent of Heaven 17's "Play To Win" ) with trite lyrics, produced to within an inch of its life with a new sound or production trick with nearly every bar. I can honestly say it's one of the worst pieces of music in my collection. And Young should be ashamed of himself for recording a line like "You'd better give me what I want cause that's what I've been waiting for ".

I suppose three good tracks for £2.99 isn't bad value but it did introduce some seriously bad music to my collection.

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