Thursday, 28 October 2010
34 Two By Two - Blue Zoo
Purchased : 4th August 1984
Tracks : Cry Boy Cry / John's Lost / Far Cry / Count On Me / Love Moves In Strange Ways / Forgive And Forget / I'm Your Man /Open Up / Can't Hold Me Down / Something Familiar
This was bought from WH Smith's in Rochdale on the way to a pre-season friendly.
This was a "percentage" purchase as I already had two of the singles and was a bit suspicious that the band were superficial bandwagon jumpers but I wanted the song "Forgive And Forget" (their last, albeit minor, hit) and hoped there might be a couple of other decent songs for my £2.99.
The band were formed in 1980 as Modern Jazz and released one single under that name before re-branding themselves. They had a number 13 hit single in autumn 1982 with "Cry Boy Cry" but suffered two flops before releasing this album which quickly sank without trace. One more unsuccessful single followed before they disbanded in 1985. Singer Andy "O" Overall was a former hairdresser but is now a mycologist. Guitarist Tim Parry became a successful record producer and A & R man.
The album kicks off with their only real hit "Cry Boy Cry" which at least in the chorus addresses the same theme of childhood trauma as Tears For Fears' contemporary material. The lyrics to the verses however are a prime example of the worst sort of nebulous modernism -"flick switch to off, close the vacuum" -to which the lesser lights of New Romanticism were very prone. Over a bed of synthetic percussion Parry lays down some funky licks while Mike Ansell impersonates Duran's John Taylor on bass and Matthew Flowers adds some colour on keyboards. The band's real trump card though was Overall whose elastic voice deserved better songs . His weakness is a tendency to over-enunciate which recalls Tim Booth and indeed, were the guitars mixed a bit higher, quite a lot of this album could be mistaken for James. The production is bright and shiny courtesy of future Talk Talk man Tim Friese-Greene; Mark Hollis actually cited this song as a reason for wanting to work with him.
"John's Lost" sets off with purpose and a punchy keyboard riff but soon gets derailed by the hamfisted cod-existentialism of the lyrics - "What I feel is just a package of disgrace, a useless bag of loneliness a mindless empty place". Overall delivers it with great conviction but when he sings "He told me I was playing someone I was not" it sounds all too honest. The "Hey Ya" chorus prefigures a big hit two decades later but sounds a bit weak.
"Far Cry" hits a rockier groove with Parry , clearly the best musician on show here, laying down some Keith Levine-esque guitar over Ansell's prodding bassline. Again the lyrics are the weak point an unconnected string of slogans that sound like they were added at the last minute. Bonus points to Parry for the Duane Eddy guitar in the middle eight.
"Count On Me " starts promisingly enough with a descending bass line and benefits from a more straightforward lyric with Overall promising commitment to his lover. On the down side it's a fairly nondescript piece of generic funk pop with a tuneless chorus.
Then comes a surprise with Friese-Greene's radical re-working of their 1981 single "Love Moves In Strange Ways". Originally a droney John Foxx -like ballad (which had interesting connotations if you lived near Manchester) Friese-Greene strips out most of the synths and Ansell, who is replaced on this track by Danny Thompson on double bass. Parry switches to acoustic guitar and drummer Mike Sparrow adds acoustic percussion. The latter sounds very similar to Talk Talk's Does Caroline Know from the following year which of course had the same producer. Tim Parry has a hand in writing every song but this is a solo composition and it's by far the best song on the LP. Overall's vocal is a little mannered but that's a minor quibble on a sad tale of relationship breakdown with a heart-stopping six-note keyboard line moving the story along. The last verse climaxes with the simple but stunning line "Why are you leaving me ?" a great but largely unknown moment in Pop.
Side Two opens with "Forgive And Forget" , another Parry composition. It begins with a descending piano motif introducing a prodding bassline and funk guitar before a bass drum thwack cues in Overall's wailed refrain, the best melody on the album. Parry's urgent guitar (very reminiscent of Haircut 100's Favourite Shirts ) drives the song along while Overall yelps about betrayal. After the second chorus the beat stops for a dramatic middle eight with big Lexicon Of Love piano chords before a frantic drum roll kicks off the song again. It deserved better than its number 60 placing.
Things unfortunately then take a turn for the worst with an awful , overproduced re-recording of their minor hit "I'm Your Man" originally produced by Paul Hardiman. Originally a noisy piece of funk-pop which went straight into the song this version has a weedy synth intro. It's also slower and mixes down the brash syn-drums which matched the sexual bravado of the lyric and Overall's delivery and were the best thing about the original.
"Open Up" isn't much better , a Fun Boy Three - like chant where Overall drily intones a string of psychiatric cliches over some Tin Drum oriental keyboard sounds. Even when guest vocalist Mariam Stockley joins in it fails to go anywhere and the false ending is therefore just annoying.
"Can't Slow Me Down" takes things up a notch, musically at least, with a moody keyboard line over more competent funk playing from Ansell and Parry. Unfortunately the lyric succumbs to the early 80s disease of trying to be a youth anthem (see also Toyah, Hazel O Connor, Adam Ant) - "They try and put you in your place, stand up meet them face to face" - and as usual sounds patronising and bogus.
"Something Familiar" the closer, actually does sound familiar now as the music bears a strong resemblance to John Farnham's later You're The Voice especially Sparrow's clattering drum patterns. Apart from that the track does betray some prog rock influences ; both the lyric about hearing voices and Overall going into a manic screech towards the end call to mind Solsbury Hill.
So I was just about satisfied with the LP and its best tracks still hold up today. Blue Zoo were a bit unlucky when you consider the contemporary success of the far inferior Kajagoogoo. If they'd been on EMI rather than Magnet and Overall had been sleeping with Paul Gambaccini they might have had a greater slice of the action but it wasn't to be.