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Old 08-06-2012, 02:58 PM   #1461 (permalink)
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Oh good god! There's no avoiding it anymore. I knew it was coming (we all did) when Trollheart approved this section for me, but even so, do I have to, boss? I do? Dammit, okay. I suppose it's only fair, as this has to be the cheesiest, most cringeworthy, puke-a-tronic song ever written in the history of music. Well, I certainly think so anyway. The gushing sentiment, the overindulgent sense of possession and pride, the slavish devotion, all fronted with the most aggravating smile --- a smirk, really --- that says this is going to make him millions. It so annoys, revolts and repulses me that it really is hard to even contemplate featuring it, but hey, a job's a job and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

The lady in red (Chris de Burgh) 1986


Here at the Playlist we have a lot to hate Mr. de Burgh about, as already expounded on in some length by the Boss in his review of “Crusader” (keep taking the pills, boss, that's it), but the man's insincerity and insecurity are two things that really get to us. This is a guy who has had a slew of hit records, is a huge star and yet he can't take a little criticism from a newspaper, feeling he has to write back, in extremely begrudging fashion and with ill grace and temper, and call the reviewer names? Does that sound like a man who's well-balanced? But the main thing is his insincerity. Let's not forget that only two years before he wrote this love song to his wife, he was happily having an affair with his children's babysitter while his wife was in hospital! The fact that both she and his daughter forgave him for the affair just makes it worse, and shows how manipulative a man he is, casting all the bad light he could (interesting that the album this came from was called “Into the light”!) back on the nineteen-year-old, calling her a temptress and laying all the blame on her. Right, Chris: it's always the woman's fault, isn't it? Who forced you to have sex with her, hmm?

But in that light it's then doubly, even triply offensive that he should then crawl back to his wife via perhaps the most insipid and insincere love song ever written, more again that she should accept it, and the final straw that not only should it get to number one, but that it should end up defining de Burgh, becoming his signature tune, with the vast majority of the world forgetting or not knowing about his earlier excellent works, like “Spanish train”, “Eastern wind” and, oh yes, “Crusader”.

If I had to choose just one thing that really ground my gears almost to dust about this song though, it would be something already mentioned by Troll in his review (well, the preamble to his review --- alright, his diatribe!) to the "Crusader" album, the writer's simpering explanation of the idea behind the song to the host of the Irish talk show, “The Late Late Show”. He claimed that he had written the song because (rough quote) “You know that feeling you have, when you're staring at this gorgeous woman all night, and wondering who she is and how you could get to meet her, and then suddenly you realise, she's your wife?” Yeah, right. Hands up any of you guys who have ever experienced that situation! Why not try living in the real world, for once, Chris?

Anyway, I'll say no more about this as I'm getting progressively angrier about it. But just one thing before I go: to hear a proper love song written about someone's wife and how they changed the singer's life, check out Bon Jovi's “You had me from hello” on the album “Bounce”. It's got more simple sincerity in its short run than this pile of garbage could ever hope to if it ran for ten minutes --- perish the thought!
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Old 08-06-2012, 03:01 PM   #1462 (permalink)
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Time to put a little soul in your lives! Here's the ineffable Stevie Wonder...
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Old 08-07-2012, 11:59 AM   #1463 (permalink)
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Great song from one of the most overlooked electro/pop bands of the eighties, this is OMD, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, with “Enola Gay”.
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Old 08-07-2012, 12:14 PM   #1464 (permalink)
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Maria McKee --- Maria McKee --- 1989 (Geffen)


Sometimes you just buy an album on spec, you know? On instinct, or on recommendation. I think this was the latter, with a bit of the other two thrown in: I feel that I read about this in my publication of choice as a twenty-something, “Kerrang!”, and they had praised it highly. This was prior to her hit with “Show me Heaven”, which would the following year propel her to international stardom, but forever paint her as a one-hit wonder, this despite being already known for her helming of the rock band Lone Justice and having written Fergal Sharkey's chart-topping hit, “A good heart”.

But this album was pretty much ignored, reaching a measley 120 on the US Billboard chart, and failing to chart any singles released. Is that because it's a crappy record? Quite the reverse: as a solo debut this is nothing short of stunning, but in an era obsessed with quick-fire, repeating formulas for success, thoughtful, insightful music like this became criminally overlooked, and it wasn't until “Show me Heaven” made it that people would stop saying “Maria who?”

The album opens on hard acoustic guitar in a sort of folky/rock bopper, and certainly one of the longer song titles I've come across. “I've forgotten what it was in you (that put the need in me)” is filled out by breezy organ and piano, but it's the soulful, aching voice of McKee herself that takes charge and demands attention, like a cross between a country songstress and a rock chick, retaining the best of both. It's a powerful, bitter, almost wistfully angry song that really gets things going well, and some well-placed fiddle from Steve Wickham really adds to the country sound, then the mood slows down for “To miss someone”, with a sort of James Taylor feel to it, a downbeat song of realisation as Maria confides ”I'm petrified of running/ Out of things to do” and admits ”Guess I'm not so independent after all.”

Lovely piano lines here, backed by solid organ and some gentle guitar, and you really get a feeling for Maria's songwriting when you see how she speaks to the everyman (and woman) in songs like “Am I the only one (who's ever felt this way)?” --- you can really idenitify with her lost loves and her failures, see that she's not some big star writing about other people's experiences, but a human being who has been hurt, loved and lost, and who often feels as confused, betrayed and dismayed as you and I do. This is a big, open country mid-pacer, with great fiddle, mandolin and guitar driving the song, in an upbeat melody though the subject is certainly not happy.

She teams up with the famous Robbie Robertson for one of the standouts, the lovely, slow, gentle “Nobody's child”, which rides mostly on the mournful organ sound laid down by Bruce Brody, with a great little guitar solo in the middle and of course Maria's wistful, almost tearful voice rising above it all. “Panic Beach”, up next, is an angrier song, lyrically very in Springsteen territory, on acoustic guitar and piano. This song is a real vehicle for the versatility of Maria McKee's vocals, and she reaches some notes that quite surprise you, as Brody's organ drones along in the background, adding a sense of gravitas and weight to the song. The sense of desperation, trying to survive, comes though strongly as she describes her landlord in lines like ”If a tear comes to his eye/ He may let a month go by/ Before he takes my key” and ”I'll do my time/ Then say goodbye/ To Panic Beach.”

Rocking out to the full then, another long title, “Can't pull the wool down (over the little lamb's eyes)” kicks the tempo right back up as the mistakes referred to, and cried over in the first few tracks are thrown aside and a fierce determination not to be fooled again takes their place. Another great organ performance by Brody and some powerful backing vocals, and Maria screaming her anger and frustration and promise to open her eyes in future makes this song, yeah, another standout. There are a few, believe me.

It's good to see that McKee writes, or co-writes every track on the album, bar the closer, and can she write a good song! We go all gospel for “More love than a heart can hold”, with Brody excelling himself on the ivories, and a vocal chorus to wring tears from a stone, Maria singing like a diva possessed who has seen the light, her voice seeming to reach to the very heavens themselves, climbing on the strength of her love and devotion, then her anger returns for “This property is condemned”. Carried on sharp acoustic and electric guitar backed up by Hammond organ, it's nevertheless a stripped-down sound which again allows Maria to shine on vocals, her rage and frustration reaching dangerous levels, her band knowing just when to back her and when to fall back and leave her to fly solo.

“Breathe” is a dark, moody grinder of a love song, if you can imagine such a thing. Slow, heartbeat drumming and rising keyboards with a few pin-sharp flourishes on the guitar shape this song, flute and mandolin coming in to add their own touches, with some really nice double-tracked backing vocals helping maintain the atmosphere and mood of the song. We close on what I consider to be the standout, not just because it's a simple piano ballad, but because it approaches the whole idea of love and dating in a somewhat unique way.

Featuring Maria herself on the piano, “Has he got a friend for me” is the only song on the album she does not have a hand in writing, penned as it is for her by Richard Thompson. It's the painfully simple question of a girl who is not pretty or socially active, and wants to know if her more glamourous friend has someone she can date. Something in the vein of Janis Ian's “At seventeen”, it's quite heartbreaking as she breathes ”If he knows someone who's graceful and wise /Doesn't mind a girl who is clumsy and shy/ I don't mind going with someone that I've never seen...” A beautiful yet painful end to a wonderful album.

I personally hated it when Maria hit fame with “Show me Heaven”, as rather than then reissuing her album and getting it more notice, the label ignored it completely and she ended up basically living on that as her only claim to fame. She obviously hated it, as she refused for years to play the song live, and who could blame her? But if you like well-written, well-thought-out and, well, real music, you could do a lot worse than take a listen to this album. Just don't hold that single against her, okay?

TRACKLISTING

1. I've forgotten what it was in you (that put the need in me)
2. To miss someone
3. Am I the only one (who's ever felt this way)?
4. Nobody's child
5. Panic Beach
6. Can't pull the wool down (over the little lamb's eyes)
7. More love than a heart can hold
8. This property is condemned
9. Breathe
10. Has he got a friend for me?
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Old 08-08-2012, 09:20 AM   #1465 (permalink)
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Did nothing over this side of the world (or that) but was very big for Split Enz in their native New Zealand. This is a great little song called “Message to my girl”.
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Old 08-08-2012, 07:25 PM   #1466 (permalink)
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I came perhaps a little late to Springsteen's music. It wasn't until he released “Born in the USA” that I took notice, but once I did I was hooked, and I went and bought all his albums, starting with the more accessible and known classics such as “Darkness on the edge of town”, “The river” and of course “Born to run”, then going after what I thought of as the lesser albums, the likes of “The wild, the innocent and the E Street shuffle”, and “Greetings from Asbury Park”. Although the last two made less of an impression on me than the first ones I bought, I still grew to like them and I even got his acoustic downbeat classic “Nebraska”, and thoroughly enjoyed that too. So it went, on past “Born in the USA” through to “Tunnel of love” (which a lot of Springsteen purists hate but I loved) and to the simultaneous release of “Lucky town” and “Human touch”, and I never had anything to complain about, never one of those albums bought that I regretted doing so, or even questioned why/that I had.

Until this one.

This was the album that changed Springsteen for me. It was my “Abacab”, my “Xanadu”, my “Brother where you bound”. It was totally outside anything I had expected or come to expect from the Boss, and it just bored the hell out of me, made me so disappointed and for the first time ever I questioned the idea of just running out and buying the new Springsteen album.

Was I mistaken? Was I naïve? I have only listened to the album the once, so no doubt I didn't give it a fair chance. Has time --- seventeen year since I heard it --- changed my opinion about this album? This of course is always the question we ask in this section, and to date the albums I've reviewed (or even, re-reviewed) here have generally stood up to my initial impression, and there are few if any I've listened to with older ears that have convinced me I made a mistake originally. Will this album buck the trend?

The ghost of Tom Joad --- Bruce Springsteen --- 1995 (Columbia)


It's not that I hadn't heard a low-key Springsteen album, after all. “Nebraska” is generally, throughout almost all of its run, as downbeat and dour as you can get. But I enjoyed that album, could see it for what it was, and treat it different to electric-based opuses like “The river” and “Darkness”, so why did I dislike (hate is too strong a word) this album so much? Was it because I wasn't expecting such an offering from the Boss? When I bought “Nebraska”, I knew what I was getting. It wasn't like I expected one of the more upbeat, commercial albums I had listened to up to then. But this was bought when it came out, so I, doing no research but simply seeing a new Springsteen on the horizon, jumped at it the way I used to when there was a new Marillion or Asia or Genesis in the offing.

Leaping before I looked? Quite possibly. It certainly took the wind out of my sails, I can tell you. But now that I've had a chance to think about it, and treat the album as perhaps it should be treated and not as I did treat it, will it open up like a under-developed flower? Or wilt like a weed in the sun?

From the first notes it's pretty obvious this is an acoustic, or mostly acoustic album, with a blast on a lonely harmonica and a softly-strummed acoustic guitar, slow, ticking percussion and even Springsteen's vocal low and muttering on the title track. Obvious comparisons to “Nebraska” can be drawn, but there's a more folky/country aspect to this album, with steel guitar, accordion, violin and of course harmonica added into the mix to create a distinctly un-rock album, and a big step back from his last, the abovementioned two-albums-released-at-once, “Lucky town/Human touch”. Tom Joad, I found out much later, is the main character in Steinbeck's famous novel “The grapes of wrath”, and from what I know about that novel (though I have to admit I haven't read it) this album reflects its spirit, in dark, doomy and dusty themes, feeling trapped and caught in a dead-end, the death of hope and a dark and bleak future stretching ahead like a dirt road to nowhere.

“Straight time” has more of the guitar heard on albums like “Lucky town”, on tracks like “The big muddy”, but it's a short song which then leads into a balladic “Highway 29”, which to me is more in the vein of “Highway patrolman” from “Nebraska”, with some nice understated, almost distant keyboards from E Street bandmate, the late Danny Federici, then things get more upbeat and rocky with “Youngstown”, but everything comes right back down to earth with “Sinola cowboys”, with another nod back to the aforementioned “Highway patrolman”, boasting some really nice mandolin and haunting keyboards. So similar as to seem almost identical, it's kind of hard to separate that and the ensuing “The line”, another slow, sour, bleak song, and without question you can hear the influence of “Nebraska”, recorded thirteen years previously, on most of the tracks on this album. “Balboa Park” has a little more of a folk feel to it, but I definitely still get the impression that too many of the tracks on this album sound like the ones that have preceded them, and there's little really in the way of variety. Hell, even “Nebraska” had “Open all night”!

There's a touch of the droning keyboard sound used on “My hometown” in “Dry lightning”, and it's at least a little different to the previous tracks, with Springsteen's voice stronger and more forceful than it has been, mostly, up to now, and “The new timer” keeps up this idea, with strong echoes of the title track from “Nebraska”, hard acoustic guitar and a tough, uncompromising vocal from the Boss, and a similar tale of unwarranted, pointless and directionless violence --- ”Someone killin'/ Just to kill” --- and like the songs on this album, and indeed those on the 1982 opus, it's concerned with bleak subjects: murder, fear, unemployment, poverty; the feeling of being trapped, trying to get out and find a better life. Hope holds hands with despair on this recording, but it's the latter which seems to triumph and lead the dance.

Some nice harmonica from Bruce on “Across the border”, another of the stronger songs, with accordion echoes from “Sandy” from his first album, which is nice, and also some strongly blueglass style fiddle from Soozie Tyrell, and a backing chorus worthy of Waters on “Radio KAOS”. Things run back in the direction of folk with “Galveston Bay”, and it ends on the folky acoustic short, “My best was never good enough”, which I have to admit kind of sums up this album for me.

“Nebraska” was a well put-together album that mostly followed a theme of dispossession, loss, regret and helplessness, and though those qualities are here too, I just feel that rather than make “Nebraska Mark II” Springsteen would have been better going for something different. Okay then, when I heard this the first time I wasn't really aware of, or ready to allow for, its many nuances and how different an album it was at the time to most of Springsteen's catalogue --- I wanted “Born in the USA” or even “Tunnel of love” --- but listening back to it now, it still does little for me. It remains an album that, although it has to be applauded for its honesty and its divergence away from Bruce's mainstream (and more popular: evidence the fact this was his first album to fail to break the top five, breaking a twenty-year run there for him) music, still has little to offer me and is an album I will in all likelihood be a very long time in playing again, if ever.

On admittedly only my second listen to this album, looking at it with the eyes of experience I can now say that I appreciate what Springsteen was trying to do, but it's really too close to “Nebraska” for comfort, and that's an album that really should be left in a class all of its own. Here, I think the Boss tried perhaps to improve on perfection, and that ghost may indeed still haunt him today. As for me, I think I've laid it to rest.

TRACKLISTING

1. The ghost of Tom Joad
2. Straight time
3. Highway 29
4. Youngstown
5. Sinola cowboys
6. Balboa Park
7. Dry lightning
8. The new timer
9. Across the border
10. Galveston Bay
11. My best was never good enough
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Old 08-09-2012, 11:46 AM   #1467 (permalink)
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Sheena Easton, in the days before she was (ahem) corrupted by the Purple One... This is “Modern girl”.
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Old 08-09-2012, 08:29 PM   #1468 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
But who, or what, is or are My Friend the Chocolate Cake? Well, it seems they're a duo, based out of Melbourne, consisting of David Bridie and Helen Mountfort. Both were part of another Australian combo called Not Drowning, Waving...
I remember seeing Not Drowning, Waving in a small venue back in the eighties. Really intimate gig. Their later albums were a bit patchy but their album The Little Desert is pretty nice.

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Old 08-11-2012, 04:52 AM   #1469 (permalink)
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Ah, the great 10cc! Love this one from them; this is “Dreadlock holiday”.
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Old 08-11-2012, 10:46 AM   #1470 (permalink)
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Here at the Playlist of Life we've always been in the vanguard, reviewing those albums that most self-respecting rockers, or even music fans, would find hard to reach with a barge pole exceeding nine feet eleven inches. We've looked at Kylie, Pixie Lott, George Michael --- hell, we've even reviewed the Carpenters and Neil Diamond, for chrissakes! So we're perhaps known for being open to the sort of music one wouldn't normally associate with us, but this is something new.

There are albums I wouldn't listen to personally if you paid me --- what's that? How much to listen to the new Justin Bieber? Yeah? How much room for negotiation have you? I see. We'll talk... Ah, sorry about that, where was I? Oh yes: albums I wouldn't listen to if... well, you get the idea. I still wouldn't spin these discs for pleasure, but in the interests of being open-minded I'm prepared to give them a fair crack. So in this section we'll be looking at some of the more, er, iconic pop albums of the last three decades, probably mostly concentrating on ones from the late seventies/early eighties, which encompasses my adolescence, and so would be the ones I would have seen floating about at the time, while sneering “No way would I ever listen to that!

But are these albums as bad as they're made out to be? Do they deserve the reputations they've earned among “serious” music aficionados? Sure, the kids loved them when they came out, and they scaled the charts. Their singles were all over the radio and their concerts were sell-outs, but when the dust has settled and we can take a more clinical, probing and critical look at these albums, were they the “pop classics” they were feted as, back then, or were they simply appealing to the masses, generic tripe churned out on an assembly line of crowd-pleasing but ultimately empty music?

Fantastic --- Wham! --- 1982 (Innervision)


Yeah, it's that one. Any of us who had a kid sister at the time this came out would have been driven mad by the incessant bop-bop-bop of tracks like “Bad boys”, “Young guns” and of course “Wham! rap”, possibly one of the first/only times a sentence was composed of two words, the first finished with an exclamation mark, making it really two sentences... Not only that, but that bloody sleeve! The sneering arrogance of the duo on the album cover just made you want to punch them both in the face until your fist was sore!

Of course, that wasn't the end of it. Far from it. Two years later Wham! Would release their second album, which would do even better than the first, inflicting on us such “classics” as “Wake me up before you go-go” and “Everything she wants”, though in fairness it would finally point to the development of the songwriting of one of the duo (guess which one?) in the closer, another number one hit which would in fact be credited only to George Michael, and would signal the beginning of the end for Wham!, as George, emerging as really the only talented one, embarked on a solo career that would lift him to the sort of heights that would make even the big success he had here with Wham! seem paltry and fleeting. Which it sort of was.

But enough of the history of this band. We're concentrating here on their debut, the album that introduced them to the world, set a generation of females all a-quiver and a generation of males sneering that Ridgeley and Michael were gay. Prophetic words, in the end. Well, sort of. “Fantastic” unleashed Wham! on the world, and how the DJs loved them! For a long time, they could do no wrong, and when they broke up in 1986 there weren't quite the scenes of devastation we saw with the demise of Take That, and more recently Westlife, but their poor fans still found it hard to take.

That was all in the future though, and in 1982 this album delivered four hit singles for Wham!, all inside the top ten. Overnight sensation is a hackneyed term, especially these days when stars can be discovered, manufactured, marketed, promoted, broken and forgotten all in the time it takes Simon Cowell to count a thousandth of his vast fortune. But back in '82 there was no X-Factor, no You Tube, no quick route to the top for musicians or pop acts, and for a band to be unknown one day and within a few weeks be a household name was not all that usual. To their credit, Wham! Did not rise to the top on the back of a huge cheque book and cigar style manager's coattails, but promoted themselves, and only accidentally made an appearance on “Top of the pops” when another act pulled out and they had to fill in. Their performance that night earned them overnight success and the Wham! Train was ready to roll.

And roll it did.

Some of you may look at “Fantastic” and say, why bother reviewing it? It's only just over half an hour long in total, with eight tracks, half of which we know as they were big, big hit singles. Yes, well normally I would treat such hits with my usual you-know-these-so-I-won't-go-deeply-into-them philosophy, but because I'm putting the entire album under my microscope, I actually will be looking at even the well-known tracks deeply, trying to figure out why they were hits, if they deserved to be, or if they were just lucky to catch the record-buyer's imagination and frame of mind at the time they were released.

Wish me luck: I'm goin' in!

It's typical eighties disco beats as “Bad boys” opens the album, with some trumpet and brass that was becoming more popular around that time on disco and pop records, especially thanks to the solo career of Phil Collins, with a certain flavour of Earth, Wind and Fire though without of course their innate class. From the off though you can hear George Michael's confident and powerful vocal delivery, and his presence is all over this album, whereas Andrew Ridgeley is immediately reduced to the status of a session man, playing the guitar and adding backing vocals, but really, there's no reason why George wouldn't have had great success with this album had he released it solo. Then again, there is the image, which was one of the defining factors of Wham!'s success, so perhaps he might not have been such a big hit on his own at that early time, but this certainly sets the scene for the future. His voice is a little more falsetto than we became later used to, but as Waits once remarked (not about him), he sure can sing, that sonofabitch!

But the song itself is throwaway, certainly caught the spirit of the time though and became a big hit for them. It's followed by another disco styled piece, a little funkier in “A ray of sunshine”, another Micheal-penned track, with some cleverly-sped-up backing vocals, more brass and it must be said a nicely smooth bassline. Another “good time” song, it hasn't got much to say, although others on this album would, surprisingly perhaps, pose some hard questions for the “yoof” of that era. Some biggish names in the plethora of backing vocalists, too, with D.C. Lee, who would go on to work with Paul Weller in the Style Council, and Katie Kissoon, known for her work with Meat Loaf.

Next up is a cover of the Miracles' “Love machine”, which gives the album a certain amount of street-cred, and was a good decision by the guys, or the label. I'm not that familiar with the song, though I do know it, but I think Wham! do a fairly okay job with it, although nothing special. If nothing else it hopefully introduced the work of Smokey Robinson's band and the sound of motown to a generation of kids, who let's be honest probably didn't care. Still, if this turned on just one percent of those who bought or heard the album to motown, it was a good move. I do have to say though that so far I really haven't heard anything remarkable from Ridgeley on the guitar, and his contribution seems workmanlike rather than indispensable or definitive.

Everything changes though with the next track, one of their bigger hit singles. One of the first rap songs by a British band, and the first on which Andrew Ridgeley contributed to the writing, “Wham! rap (Enjoy what you do)” took them into the top ten, and it must be said that at least here Andrew's jangling guitar takes command, coming far more to the fore, though as ever it's Michael's vocal, which alternates between low baritone and high falsetto, that draws the attention. The horns play their part, and the guitar is at times low down and dirty enough to almost qualify as rock. Well, not really, but nearly. The song contains a message, perhaps the first on the album, but not a great one really, as it glorifies the delights of not having a job and being on the dole: ”The benefit gang are gonna pay” and ”Having fun with the boys/ Down the (welfare) line” and therefore encouraged youngsters not to look for a job, as George cries ”Do you want to work/ Are you gonna have fun/Do you want to be a jerk/ Are you gonna have fun?” Great piano work on this I must say, very funky, and some pretty good instrumentation all round. A far cry though from George's later, more pensive and deep work, such as “Mother's pride”...

Another big hit for the boys, even bigger than the last one above, and the only other song on the album to feature writing by Ridgeley, “Club Tropicana” is a dig at the “Club 18-30” package tour crowd, and is played in a sort of “Copacabana” style, with more happy brass and some nice sprinkly piano, and a more level vocal by George, more in a bar/club vein. With four hit singles on “Fantastic”, that was probably enough, but even so, it's surprising that the only slower song on the album wasn't released as a single, as it surely would have made an impact on the charts, if only for its difference in tempo. “Nothing looks the same in the light” is a slow, moody, brooding piece (well, for Wham!, that is) and provides a nice respite from all the disco and dancing and mostly empty-headed songs, and could indeed be seen as the morning-after-the-night-before, when the clearer head prevails and reality asserts itself. Another fine George Michael composition, it's again indicative of the sort of classics he would later write when he pushed ahead on his own, jettisoning Ridgeley and forging his own mega-successful solo career.

Perhaps that song was considered too “mature” for Wham!'s mostly teenage audience and fanbase, but “Come on” gets the party restarted with another dancy, uptempo and ultimately empty and vacuous number, redolent of just about every boyband that has ever existed, or probably ever will. A funky disco beat, more falsetto vocals, handclap percussion, chunky bass, but in the end there's very little meat on them bones, and the album ends on their biggest hit single at the time, “Young guns (Go for it!)” which took them to the number three slot and catapulted them to international stardom from a position of mostly obscurity. A little more cerebral than “Wham! rap”, this song concerns the dangers of settling down too early and losing the chance to sow your wild oats, and so was of course popular with the younger set, probably the lads, though I think you'll find few who would ever admit it --- particularly those who are now happily (or otherwise) married!

It has a big, bouncing synth beat, backed with slappy bass and almost Bee Gees style vocal harmonies, and also contains a rap from George Michael, making this perhaps the first pop album to have two raps on it, both released as singles, both exceptionally successful. The brass section again helps to drive the song along, definitely imbuing a sense of soul into it, and there are elements of Kid Creole and the Coconuts in there too, particularly “Stool pigeon” and “Annie I'm not your daddy”. It's also the first to properly feature contributions from the female backing singers, one of them taking an active vocal role as the main protagonist's (what is this, a novel??) fiance, though whether it's D.C. Lee or Sherrie Holliman I don't know. The song is followed by a short snippet of pianola music, god only know why.

I suppose the main draw this album had --- other than the “two good-looking guys” on the cover --- was its sense of rebellion and giving the fingers to authority, in songs like “Wham! rap” and “Young guns”, allowing “the kids” to think/believe they could get by on a tough attitude and a dole payment. Ultimately of course, George Michael would remedy this by basically growing up as a musician and putting out some very thought-provoking music, even if it wasn't always to my taste. Ridgeley would quit the music business after Wham! broke up, following one pretty disastrous solo album, and concentrate on motor racing and acting.

The Wham! phenomenon lasted barely four years, but was enough to establish them as top-selling pop artists and pave the way for George Michael to conquer the world as a solo artist. No doubt some Wham! fans followed George's first few albums, and no doubt many remain fans of his to this day, but similarly, it has to be expected that many lost interest when he stopped doing the “pop” thing and became a more “serious” artist. I'm sure he doesn't exactly bemoan their loss though, having picked up millions more fans along the way and made his fortune. Perhaps in a way Wham! paved the way for the later boybands of the eighties and nineties, and today, but really, looking back there were no other acts like them. Perhaps the Pet Shop Boys, though they worked in a different sphere. You can say Wham! milked the formula and the success it brought them, but what artiste doesn't, and who could blame them for that?

As for the album? I still see nothing special in it. The music is pretty mediocre: high-energy sure, danceable and with the odd proper message, but on the face of it fairly banal, and its format would be repeated by other bands, boy and otherwise, down through the decades. I think what worked for these guys was the image: if Wham! had not been two “pretty boys”, or if one of them (or both) had been a girl, then I wonder would they have had the success that they did? In the end, I have to conclude that for a short album with only eight tracks, one of which was a cover, “Fantastic” was a prime example of style triumphing over substance.

TRACKLISTING

1. Bad boys
2. A ray of sunshine
3. Love machine
4. Wham! Rap (Enjoy what you do)
5. Club Tropicana
6. Nothing looks the same in the light
7. Come on
8. Young guns (Go for it!)
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