Wednesday, 30 May 2012
80 The Best Of A Flock Of Seagulls
Purchased : March 1988
Tracks : I Ran / Space Age Love Song / Telecommunication / The More You Live The More You Love / Nightmares / Wishing / Talking / Transfer Affection / Who's That Girl / D.N.A.
This is the first single artist compilation to feature here and the first album bought on cassette for some time. It was bought for £2.99 from a cassette sale at Save Records on Rochdale Market probably on the way to one of the last few matches of a dire season.
As I don't have any of the four albums that preceded it and supply all 10 tracks ( nor the one issued under the group name in 1989 that only featured Mike Score ) we can for once take a look at the group's career as a whole although the track selection doesn't help in that respect with only track each from their latter two LPs.
The band were never critical favourites ( that's putting it mildly ) and antagonism towards them increased exponentially when they had major US success as part of the so-called Second British Invasion in 1982. For a time that rather endeared them to me but by 1984 I'd lost interest after a string of uninspiring singles and bought this mainly for "Wishing" , by far their biggest UK hit from November 1982.
The band were from Liverpool and were formed by hairdresser Mike Score ( vocals and keyboards ) in 1979 . He was joined by his brother Ali on drums and fellow hairdresser Frank Maudsley on bass. After the original guitarist was replaced by talented youngster Paul Reynolds they attracted the attention of Bill Nelson who produced their first two singles in 1981 and released them on his own Cocteau Records. The band then signed with Jive and though their first release "Modern Love Is Automatic " ( sadly not included here ) flopped the second single "I Ran" just missed out on the UK Top 40 then surpassed all expectations by reaching number 9 in the USA. The UK caught up with the success of "Wishing" a few months later. Mike Score also unveiled what is still, thirty years on, pop's most ludicrous hairstyle. Thereafter their decline was fairly swift in both markets - assisted by their place alongside Squeeze and The Motors as the least photogenic of bands - and Reynolds quit with exhaustion after the third LP. The remaining trio dissolved after one more album in 1986 reuniting only briefly in 2003 at VH1's behest. Mike Score now permanently resident in Florida has released records and toured as A Flock Of Seagulls without any participation from the other members.
It's " I Ran" that kicks off proceedings here, their signature song and one that illustrates their sound pretty well . M Score's synth washes and lyrical preoccupation with sci-fi themes made them obvious if rather late candidates for the futurist tag but Reynolds was a true post-punk guitarist and his prominence on a lot of their material takes it closer to U2 or Siouxsie and The Banshees than their New Romantic fellow travellers. Lyrically "I Ran" seems to be about meeting a girl and then promptly being abducted by aliens. It's dominated by Reynold's riff which no doubt helped sell it to the Americans and the coda is vaguely similar to that in Hong Kong Garden. Though it is a strong pop single the limiting factors in the band's make-up are in place here ; M Score is no great shakes as a singer and his portly balding brother is a pedestrian drummer even when assisted by machines.
It's followed (as it was on their debut LP and their single release schedule) by "Space Age Love Song" which is little more than a Clinton Cards message set to a U2 riff. Replace Score's monotonous drone with a little girl voice and it could be Altered Images. Score adds a litle colour on keyboards towards the end but it's pretty vacuous all the same. Nevertheless it's well-produced and hit the Top 40 on both sides of the pond.
We then have a third track from the debut LP in "Telecommunication" though it was originally their second single for Cocteau in 1981 and has a harsher more metallic sound as you would expect from Bill Nelson's involvement. It's a strangely compelling mix of influences with Score impersonating John Foxx in both his dehumanised vocal and techno-fetishistic lyric, an intro that recalls Hawkwind's Silver Machine, the main part of the song clearly in debt to Joy Division's Isolation and Reynolds providing intermittent melodic relief with his Edge-like guitar breaks.
Then it's forward to 1984 with the uninspiring "The More You Live The More You Love" single, their last and second biggest Top 40 hit in the UK and last US chart entry. It was also where my interest in the band ended. It's just dull; the keyboards are mixed down to make the band sound even more like U2, the melody is bland, the rhythm section plods and the chocolate box sentiments of the lyric are just laughable.
The first side concludes with "Nightmares" a strange choice for second single from their sophomore LP which peaked at 53 in the UK and did nothing (if released) in the U.S. M Score abandons the synth for clipped rhythm guitar and the result is a rather plodding slab of Goth-lite like Bauhaus without the Bowie impersonations but with a cheeky nod to These Boots Are Made For Walking in the first verse . Reynold's guitar interjections threaten to turn into the Banshees' Spellbound while the lyric about childhood trauma might have been influenced by Tears For Fears' recent commercial breakthrough. There are no hooks whatsoever so it's not surprising it fell short.
Side two starts with an extended version of "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You )" which displays all the commercial nous that its follow-up lacked. A stark metallic beat leads straight into the glorious OMD keyboard hook that dominates the song, Reynold's guitar for once playing second fiddle. The lyric about a lovesick man who's somehow neglected to take a photograph of the object of his attentions is nothing special but that hook and the crunching backbeat carry all before it. The extended coda doesn't really add much of interest but allows a wallow in their finest moment.
It's followed by a re-recorded version of their debut single "( It's Not Me ) Talking" about an alien encounter which went on their second album and failed again as a single. That's not too surprising as it's the least melodic track on the album, again recalling John Foxx at his most robotic. It doesn't sound like A Score is on the track with a rigid primitive drum machine hammering away. The chorus is just a drone of the title.
"Transfer Affection" , a minor hit in the summer of 1983, is another outing for the band's more wistful, romantic side. It benefits from more prominent backing vocals from Maudsley and Reynolds to boost the song's melodic impact. A chattering percussion track also helps fill out the sound. They don't quite compensate for the lack of any real chorus but it's pleasant enough.
"Who's That Girl ( She's Got It )" was the surprise of the album for me. I heard it once or twice when released in the autumn of 1985 ( when it peaked at 66 , their last encounter with any chart) but didn't pay it much attention. Two and a half years later it sounded astonishingly fresh and exciting. With Reynolds having quit the band the remaining trio went for a Hi-NRG synth-based sound similar to fellow Liverpudlians Dead Or Alive. This celebration of a hot girl rattles along at pace with a frantic synthetic xylophone riff and girlie backing vocals. Even M Score's vocals sound brighter and more confident. By the time it was released the band had all but dissolved; maybe too soon on this showing.
The album concludes with the one track I'd never heard before, "D.N.A." a track from the debut LP which doubtless owes its inclusion to the fact that it earned them a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental of 1982. It's mainly Reynolds's show with some melodic riffing over a drum machine and Jean Michel Jarre synth washes. At two and a half minutes it's quite short and you'd have to conclude there wasn't much competition that year.
So there we have it. A Flock Of Seagulls weren't a great band and were perhaps a bit lucky to achieve the success they had but they weren't as untalented as critical opinion might suggest. That doomed kid on the couch in Pulp Fiction could have been called something worse.