Title - 'Happy Families, too ... The story so Far'
Artist - Blancmage
Eccentric musical pioneers, Blancmange are famous for bringing together electronic and eastern influences and yet still allowing a dance floor groove to exist. Indeed, the resulting album, Happy Families (1982) with its mixture of theatricality and synth sincerity won them a whole host of devoted fans.
And so here on the just-released Happy Families too ... The story so Far (a creatively re-imagine, remixed and re-recorded Deluxe Edition CD) we can finally listen to what everyone was hearing from the band when they toured the UK late last year.
To quote Neil Arthur he wanted to “approach the songs using today’s technology”, and that seems to have been done very successfully on this new album. "The intention is to do something a bit like Roxy Music did with Brian Eno processing sounds live during a performance,” he went on to say. "It might be less predictable, it might even be a bit chaotic! But I like the excitement of that, the chance element – the feeling I’m moving forward creatively.”
Now, before I get to the actual review I have to say I'd heard all the gripes and criticisms from the media that they still wanted the same album again! Some people hate change, especially when it comes to the reworking of a cult classic album of its time. So, for those that wanted the album to remain the same, but somehow be "refreshed," well, you got what you wanted here - kinda!
In truth, and revealing my reason for personally wanting to review this new CD, I have been a HUGE Blancmange fan since day one. I have even met them at a record store signing back in the mid ‘80s and they signed everything I put in front of them. Lovely guys. Anyway, this extension of their 1982 album takes all those original songs, adds a new twist and then provides four (4) brand new remixes.
So we open with the informative ‘I Can’t Explain’ which instantly sounds a lot ‘tinier,‘ shall we say. A crisper back beat also bounces it along a lot faster also, so my mind tells me. We then get to one of their biggest hits, the once-pulsating ‘Feel Me.’ But here on the new version, well, the urgency of the song has gone. The angst that once was perhaps. It’s still a track that resonates even today as a true electronic-pop fusion track, but now minus the original backing vocals from Madeline Bell and Stevie Lange it‘s definitely weaker. It’s backed by both the relatively short, near-spoken word track ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ which doesn’t sound too much different, and then the synth-pop sounds cape of ‘Wasted.’
What has to have gone down in the annals of musical history as their biggest ever hit comes next in the shape of the brilliant ‘Living On The Ceiling.’ This version is also lacking the angst that once propelled it, But, my goodness, now this was a HUGE dance floor smash and still gets me singing along and groovin’ in my (computer) chair today! It truly is the centerpiece to this great (original) album and allows the work of musician Stephen Luscombe to showcase some Middle-Eastern vibes perfectly.
And so, imagining if you will, we turn the record over and we next get the gently monotone ‘Waves,’ a track that still relies heavily on Neil Arthur’s dulcet tones not exceeding too much pitch. Listening carefully to the lyrics, and it really is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. But, and for all those Blancmange purists out there, the sound of waves have been removed! And it does lessen the listening pleasure of the song, as you’re always expecting them to wash up to the musical shore. Next is ‘Kind,’ which fairly flies along like a train accelerating on a track (“I‘ve just been shopping … online!“), before we then get the instrumental track ‘Sad Day.’ Performed live by Arthur, and altered as much as possible without it changing shape completely, it’s still nothing more than an odd filler on the album.
‘Cruel’ backs that track up and still acts only as a musical bridge before we get to the wonderful ‘God’s Kitchen,’ which goes by just too damn fast. With lyrics like “God ain’t in my lampshade, so I think we’re safe” it’s a so-called foot tapper of the highest order; although sounds no different from back in the day, with the rarely-heard last track ‘Running Thin’ closing it out nicely.
The four (4) added remix tracks to this now expanded album begin with ‘Feel Me (Greg Wilson & Derek Kaye Remix)’ and wow, what a great remix this is. Lots more electronica breaks extends the song to over eight minutes long, but the fact that the heart of the track still pounds loud and proud means nothing gets overindulged. The ‘Living On The Ceiling (Vince Clarke Remix)’ is probably the best of the bunch as he himself expands on the Middle-Eastern theme of the original. Clocking in at just over six minutes you can tell when Vince uses new synth sounds to embody a new electronic spirit to the original and for the most part it works splendidly.
The third track is ‘Cruel’ and was never, in my own humble opinion a stand out track on the original album, so quite why we get a ‘Komputer Remix’ here now is beyond me, sorry. Maybe it was always a personal favorite of Arthur’s, but whatever the reason this nearly eight minutes long track is still - expanded or not - a musical bridge to the song that comes next. Indeed, that fourth and final new cut is ‘God’s Kitchen (Komputer Remix)’ which adds some reverb, some extra electronic slap-happy back beats; perhaps some extra guitar work also. And where it doesn’t do much to change the classic feel of the original, save for an acoustic-sounding Arthur, it does allow a great track to have new life breathed into it.
Reviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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