Acquired : 25th December 1987
Tracks : Enjoy Yourself / Man At C & A / Hey Little Rich Girl / Do Nothing / Pearl's Cafe / Sock It To 'Em JB / Stereotype / Holiday Fortnight / I Can't Stand It / International Jet Set / Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)
Another perennial on the Christmas / birthday list and another LP from the latter half of 1980.
If Ultravox seemed out of their time in 1987 the age of 2-Tone was back in pre-history. None of its bands were still together ( though contemporaries UB40 were still going strong ) and in a year dominated by back catalogue releases on CD and an absolute dearth of new talent , the ideals of Jerry Dammers and co were a distant memory.
This second LP ( we haven't covered the first because it was Helen's and just a month before this arrived we lent it to Sean who still hasn't returned it ! ) isn't as well-regarded as their spiky, cover-heavy debut. Although both a critical and commercial success at the time it's largely overlooked now. That's partly down to the band members' own reluctance to revisit what was clearly an unhappy time with fissures opening up everywhere particularly between Roddy "Radiation" Byers and Dammers over the band's musical direction. Less than a year later they were no more and haven't fully reunited since. Dammers largely won this round and it's his interest in lounge music styles that dominates the LP which was recorded in painstaking fashion by producer Dave Jordan in contrast to Elvis Costello's minimalist approach ( with the band playing live in the studio ) on the debut. This also allowed for an expanded cast list. Horn players Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell were more or less permanent members by this time but also featured are Dammers's girlfiend Rhoda Dakar ( whose own band The Bodysnatchers were on the rocks ) and Charlotte Caffey, Jane Wiedlin and Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Gos.
How appropriate then to start with a cover of "Enjoy Yourself", a 1940s swing tune written by Carl Sigman and Herb Magdison although Prince Buster's 1960s rendition is the relevant precedent here. Although played with great gusto, Terry Hall immediately subverts the lyric with a witheringly sarcastic introduction followed by an arch vocal on the first verse. Neville
Staples does the second verse straight and the latter part of the song is dominated by the horn players increasingly wayward interventions but the barbs have already made their mark.
"Man At C & A" carries the first songwriting credit for Hall in partnership with Dammers but in fact his monotone tuneless verses ( a weakness which re-surfaced in his subsequent bands ) referencing Cold War tensions over Iran and Afghanistan are the weakest part of the song. Otherwise it's impressive with its loping groove and John Bradbury's discovery ( simultaneously with Warren Cann on the LP discussed previously ) that syn-drums could simulate thunderous explosions. Dammers's ascending organ chords clearly prefigure "Ghost Town".
"Hey Little Rich Girl" is a Byers song and is plainly a product of the same pen as " Rat Race" being pretty similar in both the music and the sourly class-conscious lyric, a not very sympathetic tale of a spoilt girl who moves down to London and ends up in blue movies. Hall's brattish vocal is perfect for this sort of thing and Panter's bass and guest saxophonist Lee Thompson of Madness take the musical honours.
The second single from the LP "Do Nothing " ( coupled in remixed form as a double A-side with an awful version of " Maggies' Farm" thankfully not included here ) follows. It's generously credited to Lynval Golding alone despite a sizeable contribution from Dammers according to Panter's book ,Ska'd For Life. The band tone down the aggression and slow down the tempo with the lilting melody and Dammers's warm organ chords belying the song's warning about passivity in the face of oppression - "policeman come and smack me in the teeth, I don't complain, it's not my function". Staples, Hall and Golding's share the lead vocal and the blend of their voices is both unusual and effective.
"Pearl's Cafe" takes the soft music / biting lyric idea even further with a holiday camp xylophone melody introducing Dammer's tale of encountering a sad, drunken old woman in a cafe and then realising that his girlfriend has no empathy for her at all. Hall's caustic nonchalance is again a perfect fit and makes you weep that he and Dammers still find it impossible to work together. Dakar makes her entrance as a backing singer when the woman is directly quoted and her own flat tones are suitably sour. You can't help but warm to a song with a middle eight that is a chant of "It's all a load of bollocks".
Side One ends with "Sock It To 'Em JB" a cover of an obscure Northern Soul tune about 007 selected by drummer and uber-fan John Bradbury. Originally by Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers it's goodnatured and faithful but inessential. Bradbury would eventually get together his own side band, JB's All Stars to record a few more NS covers which constituted the final releases on Two Tone but like this one were a bit pointless and failed to chart.
Side Two commences with the first named track of the "Stereotype/ International Jet Set" single which had one of the wierdest chart careers ever. The sequence was 50 - 31 - 25 - 6 - 22 - 23 - 53 - 63. There were airplay problems due to the word "pissed" in the chorus and the direct reference to VD which might account for the slow start but the huge fall is inexplicable. Musically it's the most complex track with Spanish guitars and mariachi trumpet c/o Cuthell , a tango rhythm for the verses and a massed male voice hum for the refrain. Edging on to Squeeze's territory it's Dammers's tale of a young man who is what would come to be known as a lager lout and comes to a sticky end. Hall sings it a key outside his comfort zone but his withering contempt comes through loud and clear. The single finished after three verses but here it goes on into "Stereotypes Part 2" an elongated toast by Staples eschewing booze and speed at the pub in favour of music and marijuana at home. In truth it goes on a bit but it's hard to begrudge Staples his turn in the spotlight.
After that you're expecting Byers's "Holiday Fortnight" to be a coruscating blast at the sort of wallies who were making Ottawan's hideous D.I.S.C.O. a huge hit at the time but instead it's an African hi-life instrumental with great horn work from both Cuthell and Rodriguez , supple bass playing from Panter and energetic percussion presumably by Staples.
" I Can't Stand It " is a duet between Hall and Dakar set to a bossa nova rhythm with a Doors-ish keyboard break in the middle eight. That sounds like it shouldn't work but it's brilliant. There's an interesting but I guess unintended meta-concept here as the title of the song is many people's response to Dakar's grating voice and Hall's beyond-deadpan performance seems designed to highlight his partner's less than mellifluous contribution. You do get the feeling that these two don't like each other much and that adds spice to Dammers's song about a couple worn out with each other. Paul Heaton may have been listening. The song ends with a sardonic Waltons "goodnight" exchange and Terry Hall sounds genuinely traumatised by the experience.
"International Jet Set" follows. This version has a full lyric whereas the single was mainly instrumental. The lyric is a set of jaundiced observations from the band's US tour earlier in the year which Dammers didn't enjoy very much ( and, after his comment in an interview that he'd had a better time on a school trip to Russia, didn't do much for their sales either ) plus a humorous interlude about phoning a girlfriend back home and a voiceover from "Captain" Staples that immediately brings to mind Typically Tropical's Barbados. Driven on by Panters's insinuating bass ( which he's rightly proud of ) the general eeerie vibe with fairground organ, wordless high chants, Hall's close-miked vocal and blaring horns makes it the most obvious precursor to "Ghost Town" on the album.
And finally there's a short reprise of "Enjoy Yourself" with just Dammers on his new bontempi and the Go-Go girls leading the vocal. Slowed down to match the cheesy preset rhythms it's probably the most sarcastic track ever recorded and it's interesting to speculate on whether Belinda and co were fully in on the joke.
NB : I once put "Enjoy Yoyurself" on a mixtape for a football journey and it went down so well with my passengers that for the next trip ( to Carlisle, always our favourite ) I recorded the two versions together on a blank cassette then flipped it over and recorded it again so we had immediate access to a repeat. From Keswick where we stopped for a drink to Carlisle we listened to it continuously and at one point we left it playing while someone went for a pee so if you were travelling up the M6 on 11.1.1992 and saw someone bopping on the hard shoulder beside a green Vauxhall Chevette , that was me !
Whether or not the band enjoyed making this LP it is an under-rated gem which richly deserves a re-appraisal.