Purchased : 5 March 1984
Tracks : Dum Dum Girl / Such A Shame / Renee / It's My Life / Tomorrow Started / The Last Time / Call In The Night Boy / Does Caroline Know / It's You
If you look back to the review of The Party's Over you'll realise why this was the most eagerly anticipated LP in my collection, bought in Leeds on the Saturday morning of the week it came out. They'd also made me wait for it releasing only a single in 1983. This was partly due to a personnel change ; as soon as the tour for the first LP ended they parted company with keyboard player Simon Brenner opting not to permanently replace him. They released a single "My Foolish Friend" in March 1983, ironically a Brenner co-write,. but it stiffed at 58 through lack of airplay (part of the video was actually filmed in Littleborough but I didn't find out about it until after the event). The lead-off single and title track fared a little better in January 1984 in terms of airplay and chart position but still fell short of the Top 40.
Inevitably perhaps I was a little disappointed by this one at the time and it took a while before I learned to love it. I missed Brenner's Gothic mellotron sound , thought the introduction of acoustic percussion was a concession to current pop trends and found Tim Friese-Greene's production a bit too squeaky-clean. I was also a bit disappointed by the lack of a lyric sheet, Mark Hollis not being the clearest enunciator in pop.
Phil Ramocon's piano chords lead straight into the mantra-like chorus of "Dum Dum Girl" the first of three songs co-written by Friese-Greene and it's presumably him responsible for the rather screechy keyboard sound that spoils this mournful song about prostitution.It establishes the new sound of the band, busy percussion from Morris Pert, upfront fretless bass from Paul Webb, a greater variety of keyboard sounds from Friese-Greene and Ian Curnow and a sparing use of guitar from new Pretender Robbie McIntosh and Mark Hollis himself. The chorus also makes good use of one of their secret weapons, Webb's backing vocals. It was the third single release from the LP limping to number 72.
"Such A Shame" was a big hit in mainland Europe reaching number one in Switzerland but as usual faltered over here peaking at 49. It's inspired by Luke Rheinhart's novel The Dice Man where the central character makes important decisions by tying alternatives to numbers on a dice. It begins ominously with a low drone over the percussion and elephant calls in the background and you wonder just what the stakes are. It's richly textured with Webb's probing bass the lead instrument and has a number of increasingly quiet false endings , a little prophecy of the sound of their final albums.
"Renee" is a long slow ballad of despair that returns to the themes of "Mirror Man" and "The Party's Over" from the first album. Renee is an abused and ageing woman observed by Hollis with an extraordinarily careful vocal. Beginning again with percussion , Pert is soon joined by a limpid guitar line from McIntosh and questioning bass from Webb. The drums only come in on the chorus and there's a sad trumpet from Henry Lowther in the middle eight that betrays Hollis's love of Miles Davis.
The first side concludes with the title track , finally a UK hit (their biggest ) on its third release in 1990 by which time they had ceased to operate as a conventional band. Eschewing the slow build up of the previous two tracks we're straight into the song here with Hollis seemingly the wronged party in a relationship but unable to break free. Unlike in The Animals song of the same name , the title is a cry of despair not affirmation backed by those glorious chords in the chorus that make the song so addictive.
Side Two begins with "Tomorrow Started" an impenetrable relationship song but whose despairing tone is all-pervasive from the slow torture of the dragging beat to Hollis's pain-wracked vocal particularly on the line "they never seem to be any use". The line "See my eyes, tell me I'm not lying" is copped from Split Enz's "I Got You" a dark song itself but nowhere near as hopeless as this one.
"The Last Time" is a Hollis co-write with keyboard player Ian Curnow which perhaps explains why there's a major key keyboard refrain for the first time on the LP but it soon gives way to a brooding verse , Webb's bass prowling with suppressed violence. Hollis is playing the victim card again ; when he cries "Bring on the clown" it's clear who he means.
"Call In The Night Boy" is the last song to be co-written by all four original members (and had appeared in a voice and piano only version on the B-side of "My Foolish Friend" ) . Here it's beefed up to become the nearest thing to a rock song the band ever recorded with Webb and Lee Harris combining to produce a pulsating rhythm and McIntosh punctuating proceedings with PiL -like distorted guitar. It's a surprise therefore when the middle eight gives Ramocon a chance to shine with a jazzy piano solo. The lyric can be interpreted two ways but given the aggression in the music I favour that Hollis is telling his girl to go and make her booty call to someone else.
"Does Caroline Know" is the one song I'm still not keen on. I don't like the cloying Beach Boys referene in the title or the sardonic screech of the keyboards. Webb also veers too close to Pino Palladino territory wobbling away for the sake of it. Lyrically Hollis shifts to a me culpa "breaking every pledge I've made" and with a different arrangement I'd love it.
"It's You" the closer is a powerful song again referencing the Beach Boys with the "God only knows " line. The verses bristle , Hollis's vocal quavering with indignation as he contemplates evidence of his girl's infidelity then the chorus explodes with self-deceiving anger as he decides it's all lies and accuses the messenger -"It's you". The Gothic keyboards in the middle eight hark back to the first album then we're left with Hollis endlessly repeating the chorus line "Why let lies about the girl bother you" in increasing desperation as the truth closes in.
I still don't put it on a par with "The Party's Over" but bands need to evolve and this one is pretty close to being a masterpiece itself.