Blancmange: Happy Families Too … – album review
Blancmange rework their classic 80’s album. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
If you saw Blancmange on their November tour in the UK, aside from the usual array of their finest moments you will also have witnessed the debuting of Happy Families Too. To quote Neil Arthur he wanted to “approach the songs using today’s technology”, and that seems to have been done very successfully.
There will be criticisms from people who really want the same album again (but different, but not too different, but it can’t be the same), and those who say that the album should remain untouched, but there are probably also reasons unknown to us for its revamping. The originals tapes I believe, are lost, making live recreations difficult, and the sounds used are probably difficult to emulate without using old synthesizers. To re-record the album make sense and is testament to how good the songs were in 1982.
The album had four cracking singles on it (and an AA side) which together with I Can’t Explain created an album of quite memorable proportion. Living On The Ceiling, which will undoubtedly keep Messrs Arthur and Luscombe in M&S underwear for the rest of their lives, is given a powerful immediate dance beat. The instrumental hook is still there but not at the intro as the track now launches straight into the first verse. It would have been an easy option to keep with the initial track layouts, but Happy Families Too sees the Mange delve a little deeper and completely reconstruct.
Even the original backing vocals from Madeline Bell and Stevie Lange have been stripped away from Feel Me and replaced with an almost vocoder styled “Ha” or “Hey”. The “cocky little friend” joke is still there though and the commercial side of the track, which somehow missed the UK charts, is as catchy as ever. The typical Arthur wit is further present on the opening to Kind where the word “online” has been added after “shopping”.
Waves has the sound of waves removed and this will no doubt upset the purists, but again, the track has been revamped and if listened to as a standalone version it’s rather damned good. Perhaps the instrumental, Sad Day performed live by Neil, could have been missed. It was almost filler the first time around, and whilst every effort has been made to alter it, its original simplicity is only there to be echoed. Then again, if a job’s worth doing ….
If you missed the tour then don’t worry as Cherry Red will be releasing a version of the album with new artwork, extra tracks and remixes in March 2014. Keep an eye on the Blancmange website too, as due to inflated eBay prices it will shortly be obtainable there.
In short, this is a brave move by Blancmange and one that they manage to pull off. Happy Families was the sort of album that had timeless tracks that maybe needed a bit of a dusting down, and with Happy Families Too the boys have succeeded admirably.
(Please note that the Vince Clarke remix above is not included on the standard version of the album)
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.