Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Looking Back: SPAZ Reviews Cherry Red's CAPTAIN SENSIBLE Reissues!

Looking Back:


When Captain Sensible briefly stepped away from his duties as bassist/guitarist in Punk legends The Damned and decided to record a solo album, the last producer anyone expected him to work with was Tony Mansfield. Not that there was anything wrong with Mansfield: he was an enormously talented songwriter, guitarist, producer and musical visionary. The real issue was that the good Captain was in a PUNK band and Mansfield was best known at that time for fronting Synthpop band New Musik. (Note: you can read my appreciation for New Musik HERE). 

What people didn't take in to account at the time was that the Captain was a superb Pop songwriter and whether his tunes were fuelled by slashing guitars or bleeping synths, it was the song that mattered. And judging by his 1982 debut solo album Women And Captains First, Mr. Sensible's gamble paid off... in spades!

The album's big UK hit out of the box was a cover of "Happy Talk", originally from the soundtrack of South Pacific. An odd choice, but a brilliant single. Captain is in fine form, vocally and Mansfield's production lets the synths do the talking... but without taking it to Human League/Soft Cell territory. It's jolly, it's happy and it still sounds wonderful, overblown and fun.

The album's opener, the funky rappy "Wot", managed to creep into U.S. radio (including L.A.'s KROQ) and helped build the Captain a fanbase who probably had never heard a single note from The Damned. The song was also a decent sized hit in the UK.

Elsewhere, the album is as eclectic and the Captain is eccentric. There's a healthy dose of great Synth-based pop ("Brenda", "Martha The Mouth" and "Croydon"), some poppy Punk-inspired rave-ups ("Yanks With Guns"), Dixieland swing ("Nobody's Sweetheart") and so much more. This Cherry Red reissue adds bonus tracks from the single b-sides (ranging from experimental to Pop to Psychedelic) plus the previously unreleased instrumental gem "Joe Meek" (why this was never released remains a mystery!). This is a treat from beginning to end. To be honest, it may be TOO eclectic for some listeners, but you'll end up coming back and listening to it over and over eventually...

After the success of Women And Captains First, Mr. Sensible bowed out of the Damned and pursued his solo career, heading back into the studio with Mansfield for a second album that would capitalize on the success of his debut. 

The Power Of Love was not as eclectic as Women... but, on many levels, is actually a better album for it. The anti-war hit, "Glad It's All Over" continues in the same Synth vein as the debut, although the song has more depth, musically and lyrically, than any of his solo recordings up to this point. While the album didn't have any singles as popular as "Happy Talk" or "Wot", The Power Of Love is a great, cohesive Pop album filled with delectable little Pop nuggets that demand to be heard. 

"It's Hard To Believe I'm Not", "It Would Be So Nice", "Thanks For The Night" and "The Power Of Love" are guitar pop gems that are hook-filled and instantly hummable. "Stop The World", "I'm A Spider", "Royal Rave-Up" and "Secrets" are synth-dominated slices of pop pleasure that won't leave your head for days afterwards. The Captain even shows his sweet side on "I Love Her" and "I Love You", two songs that are quite pretty and touching... but you're really not quite sure if ol' Cappy is being sincere or taking the piss! Either way, they are classics.

The bonus tracks on this Cherry Red reissue are excellent additions, including the non-album singles "There Are More Snakes Than Ladders", "One Christmas Catalogue", "Come On Down" and "Revolution Now" plus the odd B-sides. Another must-have for any '80s pop collection... or ANY pop collection for that matter!

Peace, love & Captains
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

(Most of this review was originally featured on this blog in December of 2009)

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