Tuesday, November 13, 2018

BOW WOW WOW/Your Box Set Pet (3CDs) reviewed!

(Cherry Red Records)

Best remembered for their U.S. hit, “I Want Candy,” in 1982, Bow Wow Wow was one of the most unique Pop bands of the ‘80s. And by calling them a ‘Pop’ band, that is high praise indeed. On paper, all the elements that made up the sound of Bow Wow Wow – the tribal drumming of Dave Barbarossa, the manic Funk plunking of bassist Leigh Gorman, the ‘50s guitar twang of Matthew Ashman, and the playful and mesmerizing vocals of Annabella Lwin – should NEVER have worked. Add the lunacy of early string puller Malcolm McLaren and you’ve got a band that should never have made it past one disappointing release before they imploded. However, that first release – YOUR CASSETTE PET (1980) – was far from disappointing. In fact, it was truly exciting and far exceeded expectations. Yes, it was strange but it was exactly what Pop music needed – a kick up the arse! Bow Wow Wow was a flying saucer with four different pilots that crash landed on earth and made a glorious sound. For the next three years, this quartet managed to raise a racket while serving up some massive tunes that still sound magnificent today. Cherry Red Records’ YOUR BOX SET PET compiles all of the band’s studio recordings together into one three CD set that is jam packed with loads of energy and more hooks than a fleet of pirate ships. And to think it all started when Adam lost his Ants…

In a nutshell, Barbarossa, Ashman and Gorman made up 3/4ths of Adam And the Ants at the tail end of 1979. Former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren was planning to steer Adam and his band to great success and may have been responsible for encouraging them to pursue a new Post-Punk sound driven by a Burundi beat. Sadly, Malcolm and Adam didn’t see eye to eye and since he was unable to kick Adam out of his own band, he merely stole Adam’s band away from him and called them Bow Wow Wow! McLaren discovered vocalist Lwin when she was 14 and immediately added her to the line-up. Initially, McLaren wrote the lyrics while the three musicians in BWW handled the music. Eager to present his new band to the world, the band signed to EMI and released the EP YOUR CASSETTE PET on cassette only. This was, of course, McLaren’s way of kicking against the music industry at a time when home taping was supposedly cutting into vinyl LP sales. With songs like “Louis Quatorze,” “Sexy Eiffel Tower,” and “Fools Rush In,” BWW were certainly playing with fire. The Punk attitude, the funky tribal rhythms and Lwin’s distinct vocals – she went from tattle-tale mouth to sexy croon in no time flat – made BWW one of the most unique bands in the UK. However, McLaren’s plan went awry when Adam Ant hired a new set of Ants and took the same Burundi drumming style to the top of the charts. Oh, and EMI dropped the band as well.

With bruised ego, Malcom pushed BWW even harder. By the end of ’81, the band had signed to RCA and released their first proper album SEE JUNGLE! SEE JUNGLE! GO JOIN YOUR GANG YEAH, CITY ALL OVER! GO APE CRAZY! With their rough edges slightly smoothed over and Lwin’s mature, more confident vocals, the album was a triumph. Traveling a unique path that took them to surprising places, the album was a frantic mix of original ideas and great melodic hooks. With a little more focus thanks to production by Alan Tarney and Colin Thurston, the band was on fire. Lwin’s sassy mix of sing-speaking and Debbie Harry-like crooning was hard to resist. “Chihuahua,” “Why Are Babies So Wise” and “I’m Not A Know It All” were prime examples of Annabella at her vocal best. However, her playful singing on tracks like “Jungle Boy,” “Go Wild In The Country,” and “(I’m A) T.V. Savage” were ace as well. The backing vocals by the boys in the band added more depth, especially when they played off each other.  This wasn’t a band that harmonized behind Lwin – their chanting accented Annabella’s charming delivery.

They followed the album up with an EP in 1982 called THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS produced by Kenny Laguna. Included on the release was the band’s cover of The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” With interest in the U.S., the EP was expanded into an album called I WANT CANDY adding songs from their SEE JUNGLE… album as well as the Pop-errific “Baby Oh No.” The band became a sensation in the U.S. thanks to MTV and Top 40’s open-armed acceptance of “I Want Candy.”

With McLaren in their rearview mirror, Bow Wow Wow released their second proper studio album in 1983. Entitled WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING, the album was produced by Mike Chapman and was the band’s finest Pop platter to date. In fact, “Do You Wanna Hold Me?” remains one of the finest singles of the era. Tracks like “The Man Mountain,” “Aphrodisiac,” “Lonesome Tonight” and “What’s The Time (Hey Buddy)” retain the charm of old but Chapman’s production polishes the melodic shine, turning a Post-Punk tribe into a commercial juggernaut that was poised to leap to the toppermost of the poppermost. Sadly, exhausted after over three years of recording-touring-recording-touring, the band split up.

Although short-lived, the band left behind a catalog of exciting music that has dated very well. Cherry Red’s YOUR BOX SET PET combines all of the material listed above plus remixes, non-album tracks and so much more. There’s really only one Bow Wow Wow release that you need and this is it. Disc One features SEE JUNGLE… plus bonus material. Disc Two includes the WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH… album plus bonus material. Disc Three features YOUR CASSETTE PET, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and even more bonus material.  There’s really no reason NOT to buy this box!

Oh, and remember to catch Annabella Lwin when she comes to your town. She’s still touring and remains as arresting as ever.

Keep on truckin',
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

No comments: