In March 2011, another 1980s synth-pop band re-appeared some 25 years after their last album, joining the increasing number of acts that had seemingly jacked it all in only to pop up again. Whilst that isn’t entirely true of electronic duo Blancmange, with solo projects and TV music compositions filling the void, nothing really gained sufficient exposure during this period to keep their presence in general awareness, Neil Arthur’s solo album Suitcase from 1994 summing things up with its almost immediate disappearance after production issues.
The comeback album – Blanc Burn – was a “solid collection of songs” without being standout, but then at the time of their heyday, Blancmange were seen by many as merely also-rans, their slightly aloof style and sound perhaps scaring off serious aficionados. However, that same style brought about a strong core fanbase and a legacy of three Top 10 successes – Living On The Ceiling, Blind Vision and Don’t Tell Me, released between 1982 and 1984. All three were synth-soaked dance-inflected cuts that were more than a little infectious, but they rather unfairly stole the limelight from other, more serious sounding slower gems like Waves and the Abba cover The Day Before You Came that continue to see much less retrospective recognition. All had cracking 12″ mixes and are well worth checking out.
Sadly, the duo is no longer. Original member Stephen Luscombe remains gravely ill following the diagnosis of an abdominal aneurism shortly after Blanc Burn was finalised, an illness that also saw him unable to participate in the ensuing tour. So step forward Mr Arthur, the floor is yours (although aided by others such as revered guitarist David Rhodes and keyboardist Graham Henderson amongst others).
Supporting Depeche Mode on a couple of early tours cast them in the shadow of the Basildon boys right from the beginning, and It Didn’t Take Long sports a clear likeness to their tour companions, albeit in a watered down form; it’s enjoyable, if comfortable and vocally unchallenging. Like I Do is another decent if average cut, vocals this time sounding a little like a Dave Gahan sung passage set to sinister, bitter undertones of “they never cared like I do”, set amongst early ’80s sounding synths and programmed percussion.
Single Paddington pays homage to Arthur’s former London lifestyle rather than Michael Bond’s furry creation that’s enjoyed its very own renaissance around Town during the last few months. Trademark quirkiness appears for catchy verses and those Blancmange-owned Eastern keyboard riffs despite a rather subdued techno-pop chorus, and the wackiness also appears for the faster I Want More alongside monotone vocals and robotic electronica.
Minimalist eight-minute opener The Fall doffs its cap in the direction of The Fall, an early influence, but sees its promise and potential slightly unfulfilled as it struggles to go anywhere of real significance. In stark contrast, the end of the album boasts three of its best songs. The more up tempo and familiar sounding Acid takes their conventional best bits and adds a dollop of techno for a highly enjoyable effort with customary snake-charmer like synth melodies. Useless is similarly upbeat and taps into Arthur’s tongue in cheek lyricism as it states, “They really do adore you, you’re a superstar” and “Everybody loves you, useless as you are”. The grimly sinister Bloody Hell Fire then brings down the curtain with despairing lyrics of “Your bridges are burnt, your lessons went unlearnt” amidst its foreboding presence.
After 30 years, nothing much has changed for Blancmange. They still remain in the shadows of the big boys and the shadow is now also being cast by their own biggest hits of their peak period. One thing’s for sure though, if you fancy a slightly off centre alternative to the mass appeal of more prominent electronic bands, despite a few wobbly bits here and there, then you won’t go far wrong with giving this latest collection a chance.