Friday, 27 April 2012
76 Flaunt The Imperfection - China Crisis
Purchased : 1 January 1988
Tracks : The Highest High / Strength Of Character / You Did Cut Me / Black Man Ray / Wall Of God / Gift Of Freedom / King In A Catholic Style / Bigger The Punch I'm Feeling / The World Spins, I'm Part Of It / Blue Sea
I can't now recall why I was paying another visit to Manchester over the Christmas period but this LP was the result of it. We're now into 1988 a year which saw my record collection starting to grow at a pace which didn't really let up for a decade. Increased affluence obviously played a part and two new sources of supply emerged although another which has featured prominently in this story up to now came to an end in this year.
"Flaunt The Imperfection" was China Crisis's third album released in 1985 and represents the commercial peak of their career ( although they are still going ) , the only one of their albums to breach the Top Ten and produce two Top 20 singles. Much of the increased attention given to this album was down to their choice of producer , Steely Dan's Walter Becker. Even in 1985 it was still surprising that a band that arose from Liverpool's post-punk independent scene would choose to work with someone whose band , for all their satirical intent , were often cited as the epitome of that mid-70s muso torpor that punk was supposed to supplant . Of course China Crisis were never the most radical of bands ( my indie-loving friends refused to be interested in them ) with their mid-paced tempos and breezy melodies so the link up was less incongruous than it first appeared. Becker was listed on the sleeve as a band member on synthesisers and percussion but it is doubtful he saw this as anything more than a tribute to his contribution for he never toured with the band ( they found it difficult to reproduce these songs on stage ) and made no contribution to the next album in any capacity. One other thing to note is that Gary Johnson their bassist was now listed as a co-writer on all tracks.
The album starts with "The Highest High" , the fourth single release which failed to chart in October 1985. It's a tribute to their home town of Kirkby, their In My Life if you like. There are references to their alma mater St Kevin's and famous son John Conteh although the line "Phil, the captain of the cause" is incongrouous as it presumably refers to contemporary Liverpool captain Phil Neal who wasn't born anywhere near the Mersey. The track begins with a dainty Oriental keyboard melody before Johnson's bass starts buzzing around the verse. Gary Daly's vocal which see-saws into falsetto and back, owes something to Curt Smith on Tears For Fears's Change . It's a bright opener but there's a certain forced air about the jaunty chorus.
"Strength Of Character " is more typical of the LP as a whole with Becker's bright and brash production rubbing against the melancholic melodies. The song seems to be self-motivational - "Live a newer lifestyle and travel everywhere" - but Daly could hardly sound more doleful at the prospect. The fuller sound on this LP is exemplified by the lengthy sax break in the middle ( there are three credited saxophone players ) and session singer Ginny Clee is a good foil for Daly on the chorus.
"You Did Cut Me" delivers more of the same with Roddy Lorimer's mournful flugelhorn giving the song a gravitas that the rather trite rhymes don't really deserve. Pink Floyd sideman Tim Renwick introduces the guitar solo to their music in the middle eight. It was the third single from the LP but fell short of the Top 40 despite Virgin's attractive doublepack offer ( which I've also got ).
Next up is "Black Man Ray" the first single and one of their biggest hits. The subject of some tiresome "is it racist ?" speculation elsewhere on the net it is apparently about the avant-garde artist, photographer and libertarian Man Ray. Though he was a white Jew his paintings, such as The Misunderstood and A Night At St Jean-de-luz , often used black as the background colour hence , I'm guessing, the title. Most of the song seems to be warning against religious fundamentalism so it's possible that Man Ray's libertarian views were what attracted the tribute. Musically it's the track that has most in common with their previous work with Becker's influence least apparent on its synth-pop sound.
"Wall Of God" is the longest track and densely textured . Seemingly about drug addiction it's synth-based but Johnson and drummer Kevin Wilkinson give it a real rhythmic kick until everything slows down for the reflective chorus. Nick Magnus is credited with the synth solo ( sounding something like a steel guitar ) in the coda and Clee makes her presence felt again.
Side Two begins with a song that's even better. Eddie Lundon takes the lead vocal on "Gift Of Freedom" and his clearer , less-mannered delivery is a good fit for a straightforward celebration of liberty although characteristically there's doubt in the chorus line - "And will this whole damn world fall down before we learn to share what we've found". Musically it's the perfect match between the two aesthetics with an irresistible scratchy guitar hook ( Lundon again ) and jazzy brass interludes from the session guys.
"King In A Catholic Style" the other big hit on the LP is the sort of spiky , funk-flecked ditty they made before that fell short of the charts ( eg. "Hanna Hanna") but Becker's sheen emphasising the omnipresent synth hook and Tim Renwick's AOR guitar solo ensured that this one got through. The lyric could be about Kennedy but the band always chose to keep their politics pretty oblique.
From this point on the album does lose a little edge, the remaining three tracks being eminently listenable but relatively bland ."Bigger The Punch I'm Feeling" is well-dressed with its lush synth textures and Renwick's little flourishes but the vaguely accusatory lyric is clumsy - how can a punch be sharp ? - and the chorus is weak. "The World Spins, I'm Part Of It " matches a lyric of slightly confused contentment with a bright synth hook and Wilkinson's punchy drumming. "Blue Sea" the closer has Lundon on vocals again and anticipates Enya, setting vague nautical metaphors against rather obvious but still effective synth washes.
It is an impressively coherent album and probably their best although I don't pretend to great familiarity with the subsequent three as their commercial fortunes nosedived.