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Old 09-30-2021, 07:05 PM   #2 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Originally posted in The Playlist of Life, April 30 2013

Flaunt the Imperfection - China Crisis - 1985 (Virgin)


Nationality: English
Genre: Synthpop/New-Wave
Familiarity: The hit singles only

A band whose singles I know but whose albums I have heard not one of. I have to say though, pretty much everything that I have heard from them to date I have enjoyed; whether that will turn out to be that the singles were all just their best output and the albums largely uninteresting I don't know, but you can't really judge any artist by their singles. Sometimes the songs released are not that typical of the band's usual output, and are chosen as being the most commercial and therefore the ones most likely to make an impact in the charts, thereby raising the profile of the artist, while other, often more experimental or interesting or just atypical tracks are left on the albums, to be heard only by those who are sufficiently interested to buy them.

It never really struck me to go buy one of China Crisis's albums, and even now I'm maybe not expecting all that much. Seems like their last recorded output was almost twenty years ago now*, so are they still around? Well, yes they are, but since the late nineties they seem to have concentrated on live work only, with pretty much the two founder members forming the mainstay of the band, while others - both previous and new members - have come and gone in a fairly fluid state of affairs. Looks like their last concert was a sell-out last year though, and not in a bad way, so I wouldn't count them out just yet. Who knows? Maybe they'll come back with a new album soon.

But for now, this is what we have to judge them by. One of their more successful efforts, it cracked the top twenty in the album charts and also yielded them three singles, though only two were successful. Of those, though, one hit the top twenty and one just inside that; their biggest hit single was "Wishful Thinking" from the prior album Working With Fire and Steel. This starts off with an almost oriental melody as "The Highest High" gets us underway, an uptempo pop song with some nice keyboards and the by-now familiar voice of Gary Daly sounding to my mind very like Francis Dunnery from It Bites. There's a nice pleasant whistling sound set up by the synth, with soft, laidback drumming and rippling piano, a slick little bass line and it's a good opener. It's typical of a lot of the, shall we say, inoffensive pop of the eighties, not meaning to be scathing here or anything. It just doesn't punch you as some of the music from that era did; there are no heavy political messages, just some guys having a good time making music. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

"Strength of Character" starts on some high guitar and flowing piano and synth, much slower and relaxed than the opener, though there's a sort of faster percussion set up within the song. It reminds me of Paul Muggleton's best work with Judie Tzuke in the late seventies and early eighties. Super little bit of sax work from Steve Gregory, then one of the less successful singles from this album is up next, with a nice funky guitar and bassline: I always liked "You Did Cut Me" and it bops along nicely, again with some great sax from Gregory, smooth keys from Daly, and a nice arrangement of brass giving the song something of a soul vibe. Great restrained little guitar solo from Eddie Lundon too. The song has a lovely little hook which really should have seen it go further in the charts than it did. That statement can't be levelled though at "Black Man Ray" which was the biggest hit from this album, and China Crisis's second-highest chart placement.

Built on a new-wave, almost Yazoo-style bass line and some perky piano, it's a cool little ballad that trips along on the gentle vocal of Gary Daly, again with a great hook in it, and a wonderful little, again oriental almost, keyboard riff that really forms the chorus without any words. Lundon also gets in a really slick little guitar solo, but it kind of fades out a little too weakly for my tastes, taking us into "Wall of God", which opens with an almost orchestral synth introduction then pumps the tempo back up to the level of the opener, a very upbeat little song again driven on a great bass line with some flowing keys and percussion that ticks along without getting overbearing. Very new-wave style keyboard solo, somewhat reminiscent of Depeche Mode or Fiction Factory, then Lundon rips off another fine guitar solo, and the oriental type piano returns. Gary Daly's vocal throughout rides above everything, the focus of your attention, his voice a little high and lilting in that almost-feminine sound many new wave vocalists of the time seemed to have.

This one ends much better, although it too fades, on a great combined guitar and keyboard solo, and we're into "Gift of Freedom" which opens with staccato, jerking synth then jumps into a mid-paced rhythm with solid keys and sharp guitar. It picks up pace soon after opening though and becomes a pretty upbeat song with a really nice vocal line. There is something more approaching a message in this song as Daly croons "Will this whole damn world/ Fall down?/ Before we learn to share/ What we've found?" Again, nice use of the brass section here, then the final hit single keeps the tempo high, in fact upping it considerably as "King in a Catholic Style" runs on what sound like pan pipes on speed, but is obviously synthesiser, hollow almost African drumming which is then joined by a superb little bass and an almost hurried vocal from Daly. Nice rippling piano on the chorus, and the drumming is now more natural and skipping along nicely. Lundon shows here what he can do on the guitar, delivering one of the best solos on the album so far. The song is though driven on the uptempo keyboard line, everything coming right back down then for the slower but yet poppy "Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling", which has I feel something of a Level 42 taste to it.

Nice jazzy guitar in this, and though I hate that handclap drumming it works well here and doesn't annoy me. Some lovely keyboard work from Daly in addition to his fine vocal, and more smooth contributions from the brass section, particularly Steve Gregory. Great backing vocals on this too. It ends on another slick little guitar piece from Eddie Lundon, taking us into "The World Spins, I'm Part of It", with an almost Genesisesque keyboard line which then metamorphoses into an uptempo, boppy song with the odd trace of calypso in there somewhere. Another star turn for the guys on the trumpets, sax and 'bones, it also has some squeaky keyboard from Daly which kind of resembles a harmonica sound with a pitch bend or something on it. Not my favourite track I must admit, but not bad. The album then closes on "Blue Sea", a soft atmospheric synth with attendant sax and sparkling piano, very laidback and relaxed, though to be fair I wouldn't call this a ballad. Strange in a way, that none of the ten tracks on this album other than "Black Man Ray" could be classed as a ballad. I would have expected more. Nevertheless, this is a gentle and tranquil way to end the album, and overall I must say I'm rather impressed.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Highest High
2. Strength of Character
3. You Did Cut Me
4. Black Man Ray
5. Wall of God
6. Gift of Freedom
7. King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)
8. Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling
9. The World Spins, I'm Part of It
10. Blue Sea

So would I become a fan of China Crisis? I wouldn't go that far, but I'd certainly listen to some more of their output. There's nothing here that disappoints me or turns me off, and in general I'm pretty satisfied with what I've heard. No massive revelations, no sudden impulse to log on and purchase all of their material, and no huge desire that they should release anything new. But I can see why they were so popular back in the eighties; in fact, given their somewhat limited success in the charts I wonder they weren't better known and liked. Maybe they just didn't stand out from the crowd enough to mark them as really special. In fairness I'd probably agree with that. Good music, good band, but in the end perhaps lacking that certain x-factor that would make them a great band, and a must-listen.
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Last edited by Trollheart; 10-01-2021 at 12:06 PM.
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