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

SOME EXTENDED CUTS (with apologies…)

I’m quite bad for buying records with the intention of posting on the blog and then forgetting all about it.

It was way back in September 2018 that I last visited Toronto, and I did come home with a few bits of second-hand vinyl, one of which was a 12″ Blancmange single, with b-sides that were sort-of unique to the North American market.

mp3 : Blancmange – Living On The Ceiling (extended version)
mp3 : Blancmange – Feel Me (extended vocal version)
mp3 : Blancmange – Feel Me (instrumental)

I know from the one previous occasion when the duo featured on the blog that there’s a fair bit of love, particularly for the early material.

Living On The Ceiling was the huge hit over here, reaching #7 in the singles chart. It was the band’s third 45. with Feel Me having been their second (it had reached #46)

Over in the States and Canada, it appears that Catalogue# LDSX202, from which these three tracks are lifted, was the first single by the band.

Doing a bit of research, it does seem that this version of Living On The Ceiling is the same as the UK 12″ and the two versions of Feel Me are those which were on the UK 12″….but it’s handy to have them rolled up on to one piece of plastic.

The apology is for the delay, and also that there are slight skips on occasion towards the end of the lead track (not too surprising given the vinyl is 37 years old!!). I hope it doesn’t detract too much from your enjoyment.

JC

SYNTH-POP DUOS

Quickfire question.

Name five 80s famous UK synth bands who were comprised of a duo?

Got your answer?   Great stuff.

I suspect that the majority of the lists would contain the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, OMD, Yazoo, Erasure and Eurythmics.  Maybe Tears for Fears would get the occasional shout (see what I did just there??).

But how many of you would have said Blancmange?

bm1

They seemed to emerge in the wake of the overnight success of Soft Cell. But while Marc Almond always had something sinister and shady about his persona and Dave Ball looked sort of seedy and weird,  Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe were always seemingly clean-cut and good-living.

For a brief period between late 1982 and the summer of 84 they were vaguely famous in that they had six singles on the spin reach the Top 40. But prior to their commercial success they were seen by some as cutting edge, so much so there was a session recorded for John Peel which was broadcast in February 1982.

They first came to general attention via a song that just missed being a hit:-

mp3 : Blancmange – Feel Me

Just two months later however, they hit payola with a catchy as fuck ditty which blended synth pop with the music of the sub-continent thanks to the prominent use of sitar and tabla:-

mp3 : Blancmange – Living On The Ceiling

This #7 smash spent almost four months on the chart and when it eventually dropped out altogether, the record bosses cashed in by releasing a re-recorded version of the big ballad from the debut album:-

mp3 : Blancmange – Waves (12″ single version)

All of the above featured on Happy Families, the aforementioned debut album released in September 1982.  The sophomore effort, Mange Tout, appeared in May 1984 and included hit singles which were by now a year and six months old respectively, but that didn’t stop fans shelling out and the Top 10 album went ‘Gold’ with more than 100,000 sales in the UK.

But all of a sudden, the bubble burst.  The third album, Believe You Me released in late 1985, together with its three singles, proved to be a flop and the duo called it a day not long after.  However, like many others from the era, they came back to take advantage of the nostalgia industry around 80s pop but to their credit they went back into the studio in 2011 and recorded and released a brand new album more than quarter of a century on.

And that’s your potted history of a band, who as I say, are more often forgotten about than recalled. Oh and given it was pulling out the Waves single which prompted this piece, here’s its more experimental b-sides for your enjoyment:-

mp3 : Blancmange – Business Steps
mp3 : Blancmange – The Game Above My Head

The latter has a Paul Haig feel to it, certainly from his early 80s post Josef K era.