Thursday, 11 October 2012
91 Faith - H2O
Purchased : July 1988
Tracks : Success / Dream To Sleep / Who'll Stop The Rain / Just Outside Of Heaven / Leonard / Action / Sundays Are Blue / All That Glitters / Another Face / It's In You
This was also purchased from Rochdale's Save Records possibly on the same day as the previous LP. It was for sale at £0.99 and looked a bit shopsoiled on the outside though it played fine.
By the time I bought it the album was four years old and the group had disbanded. H2O were originally formed by singer Ian Donaldson in 1978 and gradually made a name for themselves in Scotland to the point they were signed by RCA in 1982. The following year they got a lucky break by securing the support slot on the tour of temporary teen sensations Kajagoogoo. They were well received - not that it was hard to upstage the inexperienced headliners - and their single "Dream To Sleep" made the Top 20 after heavy support from Peter Powell. The follow-up also made the Top 40 ( just ) but they didn't have an LP ready to capitalise on this success. A third single flopped in the autumn and this wasn't released until May 1984. Their momentum had evaporated ( their former tourmates were already a footnote ) and this stiffed amid terrible reviews - Record Mirror gave it to their hatchetman Robin Smith for a one star review ( even though he'd liked the hits ). After a fresh single "You Take My Breath Away" tanked ( though I bought it ) in early 1985, they disbanded. Two years later Donaldson and keyboard player Russ Alcock decided to give it another go with a new line up and single "Blue Diamond" which I remember them performing on TV though I couldn't tell you which show. That failed, dooming the LP of the same name and after one more single they shut up shop for good.
With two songs I already liked I couldn't be dissatisfied with this purchase even if all the other tracks were rubbish and hearing the opener "Success" suggested that could well be the case. This vague ( and highly ironic ) warning about the effects of wealth and celebrity sounds big and brash but Donaldson - whose voice sounds like an equal parts melding of Kevin Rowland and Glen Gregory - seems to be singing a different tune on every line and Alcock tries out nearly every setting on his synth. It's a half-baked squally mess of a song not helped by the squeaky clean production of Tony Cox and Dave Bascombe , best known for their work with husband-sponsored pop tart Natasha whose career was even briefer.
There's instant relief to hand with "Dream To Sleep" the soundtrack to my A-Levels in June 83 and still pretty good although it never gets any radio play. Based around Alcock's distinctive bucking keyboard riff it strings together a number of not very specific but romantic images ( plus a rather cloying reference to Young Americans ) before the appropriately neurasthenic chorus where Alcock's Vocodored backing vocals recall Buggles 's I Love You ( Miss Robot) . Colin Gavison's sax break stops things becoming too soporific.
"Who'll Stop The Rain" was a single just ahead of the album but failed to chart despite a fair amount of airplay. Unlike the majority of the songs which credit all six members it was written by just Donaldson and Alcock and perhaps hangs together as a song a bit better as a result. The lyrics seem to be about companionship in hard times and the verses are attractively framed by Alcock's string synths but the chorus , dominated by Pete Kearton's postpunk guitar and sounding very like Blue Zoo, seems like it's been bolted on from a different song.
"Just Outside Of Heaven" was their only other hit creeping up to number 38 in August 1983 despite a lack of airplay - I listened to the radio a lot in that long summer break before university and it never got played except on the chart rundowns. In truth it's a rather average synth-pop ditty with vague echoes of Tears For Fears's Suffer Little Children let down by a weak chorus despite the help of expert session singers Sylvia Mason-James and sisters Dee and Shirley Lewis who are only present on this one track.
The side closes with "Leonard" another Donaldson / Alcock composition and already familiar to me as the B-side of "Take My Breath Away". Completely unrepresentative of the rest of the album it's a sinister synth creeper reminiscent of early Depeche Mode or Duran Duran's The Chauffeur. Leonard appears to be a dissident writer on the run whose ultimate fate is signified by the corny but effective footsteps and clanging door at the end of the track. Donaldson's croon isn't really suited to this sort of material but it's a decent attempt.
That's Side One over and to be honest the second side isn't worthy of too much more attention. The opener "Action" borrows more than the title from The Sweet's 1975 hit with a similar intention to bludgeon the listener into accepting a weak song. They also use canned cheering in a similar way to Teenage Rampage. It's a graceless didactic pounder with Bow Wow Wow drumming and no tune at all.
"Sundays Are Blue" starts out moderately interesting with a pleasant verse vaguely reminiscent of Spandau's Gold over the rhythm track of Toto Coelo's I Eat Cannibals but gets lost in a sudden switch to a Northern Soul stomp for the chorus. When the second verse namechecks Billie Holliday - why did so many Eighties wannabes feel the need to do this ? - the game is up.
"All That Glitters ( Rusts In Time) " was the third single that effectively scuppered them and it's not hard to see why. Perhaps inspired by the 1983 General Election result it's about political disillusion but hardly matches up to Won't Get Fooled Again. The whiny guitar on the verses sounds like Spandau Ballet's She Loved Like Diamond ( itself not a roaring success ) and Donaldson's delivery isn't unlike Tony Hadley's foghorn. This leads on to another non-event chorus , a persistent weakness throughout the album. I like the use of the sax to play a riff rather than solo but it's not enough to save the song.
"Another Face" is probably the lowpoint of the album , sounding like several fragmentary song ideas have been stitched together to produce a plodding, meaningless stew ( the Tin Drum oriental keyboards are particularly irritating ). It approaches the depths of King whose success was for me the nadir of British pop in the eighties.
That just leaves "It's In You" which again benefits from having only the two writers. It's a decent stab at breezy mid-80s pop ( somewhere between Propaganda's Duel and Go West's Call Me ) with a sadly ironic message about achieving your potential and might have given them another hit if chosen as a single.
Instead this LP led them straight to the bargain bins, a band who had their moments but didn't have the songs to stick around.