AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #251 : BLANCMANGE

A GUEST POSTING by DOUG McLAREN

Track 1: Distant Storm (from the album “Wanderlust”, 2018)

An excellent album opening track, from a really outstanding “comeback” album that is not at all a “comeback”. Plenty of 80’s electronics bands are resurrecting themselves throughout the past decade, primarily as nostalgia acts for the 40-to-50 year old set. But Blancmange cannot really be said to be just a part of that phenomenon, as they have continually been re-inventing themselves since 2011 and their new material has been equally as experimental and “out-there” as what they produced through their short run from 1979-1986, if not more so, and certainly more prolific, with 8 or 9 albums (depending on how you count) in fewer than 10 years.

Track 2: “Waves (12” Mix)” (from the album “Happy Families”, 1984)

A sprawling, morose, and lusciously produced track that really could be the showcase of any Blancmange “Best of” compilation, this song is an ideal chaser to the opening “Distant Storms”, if you want to chill to a building, ominous, and disturbing symphony of hopelessness, for those who know that “Time, Time’s not kind”:

“What are these waves?
They’re coming over me
It must be my destiny
Waves, coming by
Goodbye, goodbye…”

Track 3: “Mindset” (from the forthcoming album “Mindset” due out the end of May, 2020)

A spare, brutally honest electronic track that seems to speak to our times in these difficult days of home isolation and its consequent disorientation:

“Unlike Wednesday
This day is focused
There will be
No distraction
From the action…

…Beyond crash barriers
All is on hold
Story in waiting
Typesetting inky fingers
Plots yet to unfold…”

Track 4: “Don’t Forget Your Teeth” (from the album “Blanc Burn”, 2011)

Again, a very spare synthetic track that could be about almost anything, given the superficially nonsensical nature of the lyrics, though one suspects it is ultimately about unhappiness, and an uneven breakup. What is it that the psychiatrists tell us about dreams which involve losing our teeth?

“You got my coat
You got my coat
Don’t forget your teeth

You take the car
You take the car
I’ll take the past

You take the goldfish
You take the goldfish
I’ll take the bus…”

Track 5: “I Smashed Your Phone” (from the album “Wanderlust”, 2018)

It is about smashing cell phones. Enough said. Also, it name-checks Arthur C. Clarke. It is not even about our future. It is, sadly, our present.

Track 6: “Living On The Ceiling (Vince Clarke Remix)” (for the album “Happy Families Too”, 2013)

The Big Single, to open side two of the Vinyl version of this ICA. And it could only be the version remixed by Vince Clarke in 2013, as a promotion for the release of the re-realization album “Happy Families, Too”. For those not aware, Blancmange decided that 2013 was the year for not a re-release, but a re-recording and modernization of their classic 1982 album “Happy Families”, the one with the delightful cartoon cat album art. There is even new “space age cat” album art for this “30th Anniversary” edition. Definitely worth a listen.

Track 7: “Don’t Tell Me” (from the album “Mange Tout”, 1984).

This is the single that new wave nostalgia radio stations like Sirius XM’s “First Wave” consider the definitive Blancmange track, and still play 35 years on. Actually deserves it, too.

Track 8: “Murder” (from the album “Mange Tout”, 1984)

Just in case people were under the mistaken idea that Blancmange were a happy poppy synth band, I include this dark track. It’s a full 1:20 second before the vocals come in on the track, and soon enough, one might almost wish they hadn’t:

“…Kill me now
Kill me now
You don’t know what this will lead to
If you keep on pushing me
Murder
Murder…”

Track 9: “We are The Chemicals” (from the album “Unfurnished Rooms”, 2017).

A more recent, and disturbing track from the resurrected Blancmange, showcasing a band more than three decades older than on the previous track. One reviewer on electricityclub.co.uk informatively tells us that “[Neil] Arthur himself provides guitar on the track and a simplistic square wave synth and early Roland JP-style arpeggiator fills in the mid-range on the piece. The track’s beauty lies in that it doesn’t try too hard and in its concluding 50 seconds hits a wonderful, but still low-key climax with some additional soaring keyboard parts”.

For myself, I must say I personally love the ongoing series on the New Vinyl Villain entitled “Some Songs Make Great Short Stories”. I have always felt that there is room for genres even shorter than the Short Story, though—something that evokes, rather than captures a moment in time, where an impulse of action is all that you get, and must capture a truth of the human condition. What would that poetic but essentially narrative genre be? A “vignette”, perhaps? My dictionary defines that as “a small graceful literary sketch”. This sketch is pretty chilling:

“There’s been a chemical spillage
On a trading estate In Altrincham
The area in question has been sealed off
There are no reports
Of loss of life
At this present time
We are the chemicals
In a garden shed 80 miles due south
As the crow does fly
The identical scenario
Has taken place
On a much smaller scale
We are the chemicals
We are the chemicals
We are the chemicals
At this present time
Now walking back
Across the Irish sea
Would it surprise you to know
That in the boot of a hire car
On a rain swept street
Chemicals are at this moment
Seeping through the tiny perforations
In a Waitrose plastic bag
The liquid will lay for a while
On the surface of the man-made fabric carpet
That lines the said boot’s floor
Before gravity wins
And pulls it down
And the occupant
Locks the door
In this present time
At this present time
We are the chemicals
We are the chemicals”

Track 10: “Radio Therapy” (from the album “Blanc Burn, 2011)

Haunting, melodic, and chirpy. I think this is a great way to end a Blancmange Compilation album. We all could use some musical therapy if we have listened our way through the lyrical musings of Neil Arthur and the dark synthetic palette of Stephen Luscombe (until he left the band in 2011).

Bonus Tracks:

“I’ve Seen The Word” (from the album “Happy Families Too”, 2013).

Should have made the cut, but for the fact that Blancmange has a ridiculously strong back catalogue. It includes the most awesome opener to a Blancmange song ever, with Neil Arthur intoning in a deadpan voice “I’ve seen people, laughing in churchyards…”

Fader: “Laundrette”.

Fader is a kind of 2019 “superduo” comprising Blancmange’s Neil Arthur and the synth wizard Benge. Another song that could make a great “vignette”.

“The Day Before You Came” (from the album “Happy Families”. “Mange Tout” 1984).

Blancmange covering ABBA: how is it possible that this did not make the 10 song ICA cut???

Faithless (feat. Blancmange): “Feel Me”

A really fun blippy and bleepy 2010 track by the English electronica band that gives an interesting “facelift” to the 1982 “Happy Families” track.

Kincaid (feat Blancmange): “Big Fat Head”.

Hilarious lyrics about forgetting what exactly happened at the party you were at last night. More spoken word than sung, and plenty of quirky remixes included on the 12” single. What more could you ask for?

DOUG

12 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #251 : BLANCMANGE

  1. Good compilation and their new stuff continues to surprise . It’s poppy and predictable but I just love the 12” of Blind Vision and would need space for Feel Me . First thing I heard from them and always thought it a kind of electronic talking heads track

  2. Benny and Bjorn say the Blancmange’s version of The Day Before You Came is better than theirs. For this reason alone it should have made the ICA. (oh, and it’s from Mange Tout, not Happy Families) 🙂

  3. Wow! What an absolute treat. Like most ICA’s there are different songs I would have chosen but I can’t complain about any of the choices made. Blancmange are substantially more than a synth pop band (no offence intended to bone fide synth pop bands) and their lyrics illustrated this time and time again. Neil Arthur is an incredible wordsmith. I was sad to learn that Stephen decided (following an abdominal aneurysm) to leave the band just before the kick-off of the 2011 UK tour. It was the one and only time I had seen them live (Glasgow) and it was utterly incredible and one of the last gigs I ever attended.

    Waves still enjoys the ability to make me cry as does I’ve Seen the Word.

    Ageing man. Happy. Thanks for this, Doug.

  4. Ashamed to admit that I didn’t know Blancmange made it out of the 80’s. Glad to see I was mistaken as there looks like a lot to discover. Another interesting and very well written guest post–standards at TVV are impressive.

  5. A great ICA. I enjoyed 80s Blancmange and always felt they were a little under the radar compared to some of their contemporaries.

    I was aware that there had been some activity in the last decade but hadn’t checked anything out save for a discounted purchase of 2015’s Semi Detached when my local record shop closed its doors. I enjoyed that album and had made a note to check their other more recent output – I’ll go and underline that note now and keep an eye out for a live date once we’re allowed to play out again.

  6. Fantastic ICA! Can’t disagree with any of the choices. Blancmange are one of those bands that I latched on to and never let go. They never really go a lot of positive response in the music press or with critics, but I feel they were always looking for a way to innovate and expand on their original musical intents. FoRW is spot on with a comparison to Talking Heads and I agree I can’t imagine a playlist without their over the top with intent Blind Vision and any version of Feel Me.
    Nice placement of Kincaid’s. If Fat Head at the end. Neil Arthur’s son Joe is a chip off the old block.
    I only ever got to see them once in NYC in the early 80s, I took a Canon SureShot to the show wit a role of black and white and a role of color film. I took a lot of pics but the b&w images were dreamy and full of motion. In the late nineties I got a request for photos of the band for a book on 80s synth bands and the actually licensed two of the photos I had almost forgotten I’d taken 15 or more years before.

  7. this is an ICA that has surprised and intrigued me more than most. now revisiting Happy Families with glee

  8. I appreciate the friendly feedback from everyone very much. Now perhaps a little confession. I started compiling the list of songs nearly a year before firing this along to The New Vinyl Villain. Of course, at the top of the list of songs I began jotting down was Blind Vision (and of course the 12″ version, which I am pretty sure is the first piece of Blancmange music I owned). Then I drew a little line, and put it aside, as I realized I would have to sit down and re-listen to all of the albums thoroughly and thoughtfully to make the rest of the choices, which I began to do over the next few months.
    My goal was to try to span the entire career of albums, especially spurred on when I read the news that Mindless was coming out soon (end of the month?) and the lead off single was so promising. I was a little surprised that even several listens of Semi-Detached and Believe You Me yielded up nothing I thought was essential enough to be used given the limitations of 10 songs, because both are really enjoyable enough as albums in their own way, just without the standout pieces in my view; also, I figured that Nil By Mouth would be off limits as purely instrumental, and it was along similar lines that in the end I had reservations about including “The Day Before You Came” on the album proper, as it was a cover, brilliant though it is. I am sad to say Commuter 23’s songs all had less immediacy for me because, I suppose, it is the one album I don’t own physically…stilling hoping for a vinyl release.
    What ended up happening was that I slowly added songs to the list, which the underlined Blind Vision topped. Then, when the list was complete, I selected songs, one by one to write about, selecting first what I though would make the best album opener, then spurred on by what I felt would follow that just perfectly, etc, till I came to the 10th song, which would make a perfect closer. It was only when I was about to press send and fire it along to JC that I realized that line I had drawn under Blind Vision had stupidly prevented me from seeing it as I made the selections. Sounds dumb, right? But then I sat down, re-listened to the 12″ a few times, and tried to find a place for it in the running order, which seemed to me already yo be just so. Which led me to think, why not pull a New Order here, and leave the Big Single off the album? Make people go out and spend their hard earned cash on a second purchase? At very least it would inspire more comments in the comment section! So I took a deep breath, hit send, and…no regrets, man.

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