Bow Wow Wow: Your Boxset Pet, The Complete Recordings 1980-84 – Album Review

Bow Wow Wow 

Your Boxset Pet: The Complete Recordings 1980-84bow

Cherry Red

3CD/DL

Released 25 May 2018

Collection featuring all the recordings of Bow Wow Wow, with both full length albums See Jungle.. and When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going, single tracks and the EP/mini-LP Your Cassette Pet from 1980…..LTW’s Ian Canty dogs their footsteps

With the Pistols implosion just a distant memory and the court case that took the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle away from his auspices concluded, Malcolm McLaren returned to the UK in late 1979 after a brief “exile” in Paris. He then embroiled himself in the career of Adam And The Ants. The Dirk Wears White Sox LP had not been the commercial success Adam had hoped for, so he hired McLaren despite (or perhaps because of) his past record in turning band members against each other and general trouble making. A good move though was the introduction of a Burundi drum album – the musicians picked up on this and forged something exciting and new. For a very short while, all seemed promising enough.

It couldn’t last. McLaren almost immediately torpedoed his reputation as a star spotter/Svengali by firing the man who would be the biggest Pop star in the country little over a year later. He press-ganged the remaining Ants for his new project Bow Wow Wow, which would utilise the exotic sounds they had developed (as would Adam with his all-new Ants). As the new band evolved, so many incidents concerning BWW seemed a direct repeat of the Sex Pistols controversy of three years before. It really started to feel like the Swindle Part 2. For instance, much like how Bernie Rhodes discovered Johnny Rotten and Malc took the credit, a similar thing happened with Bow Wow Wow’s singer Annabella Lwin (real name Myant Myant Aye). A contact called Dave Fishel, who used the launderette she worked in, gave him a tip off about this talented kid, with Malcy tacking on his “A Star Is Born” story afterwards. With the line up in place he did get them a deal with EMI and straight away set about stoking up controversy.

This time not Anarchy but home taping became the cause celebre, with the idea that this would lead to the downfall of the music industry. He didn’t seem aware that this practice was not a new concept at all, loads of people had been taping the Top 40 off the radio for years. To be fair C30, C60, C90 Go was a pretty damn fine single, breathless yes but very exciting. Flipside Sun, Sea And Piracy was more of the same, presenting a quality 45. It didn’t quite reach the heights expected though, which perhaps had more to do with the public growing tired with McLaren’s daredevil scamming than the record itself. There were vague whispers from him of anti-hyping by EMI to keep the record out of the charts, yet another re-run of the Pistols, in this case the “God Save The Queen: was it number one in Jubilee week?” thing.

It is difficult not to conclude that McLaren was repeating himself, not noticing that music had moved on since 1977, seeming to think that the only way a band could succeed was through notoriety. This was at the detriment to the considerable abilities of Bow Wow Wow, because they were a group of excellent musicians (I saw Leigh Gorman play bass a few years back…well the boy could certainly play) and when Annabella wasn’t instructed to squeal she had a very appealing voice. Just the same as with the Pistols, McLaren underestimated their musical ability and deemed it secondary to trying to use them to put across his ideas and create chaos.

Despite mild disappointment with the chart placing, Bow Wow Wow had cracked the Top 40 and the future looked reasonably bright for them. The next move pushed the tape thing even more, with the mini-album/EP Your Cassette Pet (tracks 2 to 10 on disc 3 here), which was only released in that format. This offering showed Bow Wow Wow in their early prime, with some fine music and singing outweighing the occasionally dodgy lyrics and concepts.

Sound-wise they had found their own style, which mixed in some great guitar interjections that even looks back to the early Rock & Roll days of the Shadows allied to mighty drums and extremely fluid bass lines. Also, when Annabella had a decent song she could work wonders, as the excellent cover of Fools Rush In proved. Louis Quatorze was a bit near the knuckle to say the least lyrically, but is another masterful musical creation. Giant Sized Baby thing worked well with the contrasting hollered male vocals and the calm I Want My Baby On Mars works all the better because of the sedate pacing.

Your Cassette Pet could be the definitive Bow Wow Wow recording, a snapshot that captures the genuine excitement and wonder of the band. Unfortunately it didn’t receive the reception it warranted. What may have shot the whole thing in the foot is that the record industry couldn’t decide whether it was a single or an album, eventually sticking it in the singles charts where it reached number 58 and faded quickly away. McLaren hadn’t reckoned on the fact that if you limited the format you limited sales – believe or not some music fans back then had either a cassette or record player, not both. But I suppose it all fit in with the narrative of Bow Wow Wow being outside of the music industry.

The follow up to Your Cassette Pet was W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah, No No My Daddy Don’t), which wasn’t really a good single, though the remixed version which is also featured on this collection is a vast improvement. This single struggled into the lower reaches of the Top 75 and promptly disappeared. It looked like Bow Wow Wow’s career was over before it really started. Somewhere a dandy highwayman was heard to chuckle.

Outside of the London fashion crowd they struggled to pick up a following (a UK tour was cancelled due to poor ticket sales) and in the view of the press they were merely McLaren’s puppets, which was true to certain extent and was actually played up to in the lyrics. Previously the ex-Ants had left it to Adam to come up with the ideas, words and image and with Annabella a total newcomer, MM stepped willingly into the breach. McLaren shaped their lyrical themes, some of them very dodgy indeed, worked up during his Paris sojourn with an eye to producing a risible “rock opera”. There was also the inevitable tie-in with his and Westwood new clothing line as he was still keen to “sell a lot of trousers”.

By the time of their belated debut album (which makes up disc 1 here along with a plethora of 12″ mixes and re-cuts), they had shifted away from the Burundi rhythms and were aiming their sound much more towards joyful African High-Life and Township Jive, with of course a sharp Pop focus. Jungle Boy and Chihuahua combine to get the LP off to a great start, though the lyrics of the latter Lois Wilson quotes in the sleeve booklet were more or less directly lifted from the X Ray Spex song I Can’t Do Anything. Musically though they are both infectious and intoxicating. There a natural exuberance and vivacity to this record that is hard to dislike. Elimination Dancing is a highlight, all wild drums and frantic singing, it works perfectly.

Orang-outang has the mood of the Spaghetti Western in its dreamy guitar sound and the murder ballad/death song Hello, Hello Daddy has some pleasing touches of Funk. Nothing seems bolted on with Bow Wow Wow, all the diverse influences are mixed into present a tasty concoction of their own.

After Prince Of Darkness (a reworking of album track Sinner, Sinner, Sinner) and Chihuahua failed to do the business singles-wise, Bow Wow Wow finally had the big hit their work deserved with the catchy and gently subversive Go Wild In the Country. Around this time it seems that Boy George was primed to replace Annabella, but George’s strong personality would not tolerate merely obeying Malcolm’s orders, so it was very much a non-starter. This near-split ironically worked to bring the band together, putting McLaren on a slippery slope… Their cover of the Strangeloves’ I Want Candy hit the Top 10 just as the relationship was reaching breaking-point

By the time of When The Going Gets Tough…(disc 2, with remixes attached) the band had split with McLaren. After they had gained some actual mainstream success it appears he lost interest and with the band now representing united force, they felt empowered to stand up to his bullying tactics. This album is a lesser work, with a decent couple of singles in Do You Wanna Hold Me and uncharacteristic acoustic-tinged slowie The Man Mountain. Love Me is good as well, delving right back to Exotica for its sweet vocal sound and quaint musical setting. The 12″ inch version of Aphrodisiac is a very worthwhile bonus, with their Rockabilly roots expertly teased out. Maybe with time they would have progressed into something quite different and worthwhile, bearing in mind the swift changes and nuances they had incorporated into their sound in just over 2 years. As they split soon after the record was released, we will never find out, but they left us some unique and often fine music.

On Your Boxset Set Pet the music of Bow Wow Wow has held up surprisingly well, better than a lot of the usual 80s set. They still sound bright, original and playful and with much better tunes than you might recall. The first two “albums” “Your Cassette Pet” and “See Jungle” were excellent recordings and if When The Going… shows a band unsure of its next move (there wasn’t one unfortunately), you have to remember they were still finding their feet away from the (mostly malevolent) influence of Malcolm McLaren. Maybe given time they would have found their own muse and produced lyrics that would have matched their sometimes jaw-dropping music? I can’t answer that, but I will say that the irresistible rhythm and tunes they came up make this collection more than worthy of your attention.

~

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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3 comments on “Bow Wow Wow: Your Boxset Pet, The Complete Recordings 1980-84 – Album Review”

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  1. Has anyone else noticed that they omitted the hidden track from Your Cassette Pet on this box set? The short piece of instrumental music in 6/8 time in between Sexy Eiffel Towers and Giant Sized Baby Thing is missing! So much for it being the complete sessions.

    • RP,

      Is that omitted, hidden instrumental from ‘Your Cassette Pet’ by chance called (if however unofficially)…”Theme A” or, actually, “Bow Wow Wow”?

  2. When discussing guitarists/ bass players/drummers – Matthew Ashman, Leigh Gorman, and David Barbarossa should each be mentioned respectively if only for a few sentences (preferably more than just a few). Each one arguably the most-underrated at their craft. This made Annabella technically (key word – “technically”; again, key word – “technically”) the weakest-link of the band. That said, BWW cannot be BWW without her thus the Biggest Mistake in Music History Ever Made was when she was kicked out!

    After all, as phenomenal a bassist Gorman is, who would you rather see in concert now – his version of BWW with a different female lead singer, or Annabella’s current rendition with not-as-good but quite good-enough (still very good; VERY good) musicians backing her? Yes, enough said. A bit Debra Harry-influenced amongst other influences, but quite an original Annabella is. Quite an Original! Only SHE could be their front-person! Only SHE!

    Yes, BWW should have lasted much longer. Or at least into the ‘alternative’ early-’90s; simply to reap the commercial bennies that their ’80s counterparts/influenc-ees, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, did. Perhaps be a headliner at one of those early Lollapalooza fests. BWW was, after all, a better excuse for a ’90s band than an ’80s one but – better yet – an even better excuse for a ‘right-now’ band than either of those two decades of long ago.

    Yes, they did indeed changed quite a bit in the very brief time (essentially four recording sessions) in the mere three years they were together. Of course it does at least begin with Malcolm McLaren. Controversial (to put it lightly) antics aside, and he not being all that great an actual band manager, he was however very able to instill creative influence in his band. Giving the boys in the band (and Adam Ant, now elsewhere) a laundry list of different albums and styles of music to listen to, intimidating the boys (particularly Leigh to “play more notes”), and despite actually getting her to pose a certain way for those very album covers, he actually was a bit shy and timid when mentoring Annabella creativity-wise, simply telling her to be herself thus inspiring her unique style.

    Then again, he didn’t have to outright steal the timelessly beautiful, peaceful “Umculo Kawupheli” from Mahotella Queens, not even bother translating but simply insert his own English lyrics, then deliver the kids the stolen goods all in the name of “Jungle Boy” (just the same, a pretty good BWW version which opens ‘See Jungle’, but not quite as good as the original MQ’s version and – yes – the Queens should have been given proper credit)! Don’t blame the four, blame Malcolm; and how he got away with it, amongst other (even bigger) things, is beyond me. It’s not as if South Africa is all the way on planet Neptune. The Queens and their people had to know of it at the time. Malcolm untouchable, heh?

    In either event, again controversy aside, Malcolm was a key influence in BWW’s special unique sound you got to admit. He gave the four quite a push; even more-so than Russell Simmons/Rick Rubin gave the Beastie Boys with their initial push. But, like the Beasties with Simmons/Rubin, BWW proved they were talented all by themselves – ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’ being SUCH an example! What a great, uplifting album! Unlike the case with Hendrix’s ‘Cry of Love’ (or Beatles ‘Let it Be’, even if it wasn’t their actual last album recorded), it didn’t feel like a ‘last’ album of theirs. It simply felt like it was only the beginning (‘Hot Sauce Committee Part 2’ had that same ‘no-end-in-sight’/’still-have-something-to-prove’ energy for the Beasties as well). And Annabella was now writing the songs which made it all the more better and sensible. Man…to think what their 1984 album would have been like…then their ’85 album…(they bringing down the house at Live Aid)…okay, let’s change this sore subject!

    As for this very box set itself, I’m waiting to hear more reviews. Many say good things, including this informative review, but it’s the few elsewhere who mention the apparently still inconsistent/bad sound-quality (that has, for the most part, been the case historically with the BWW catalog) that has me a bit gun-shy of purchase. I hope the volume on all tracks are the same and you don’t have to turn up the volume more-so than anything else outside this box set in-general. I know volume doesn’t equate to sound quality amongst experts and those with gifted music-ears, but volume means something, at least; and don’t want no Jethro Tull ‘Thick as a Brick’ or (back to) Beastie Boys ‘Licensed to Ill’. Trust me, you significantly have to turn it up compared to other albums in-general. Actually, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic’ no real angel either. Turn it UP, already!

    Now back to the very BAND itself. Very underrated as we all know. This has to be justified. And those who are fans of them…their real story isn’t all that well-known. Now if the three remaining members don’t want the whole story to get out there, then let’s all respect that – forget the rest of this paragraph – and just appreciate their MUSIC instead. But if they’re willing to talk, and then others who were close to the band, friends and relatives of Matthew, Malcolm etc, then perhaps a nice book and/or a motion picture (a la ‘The Doors’, ’91) should be in order. Sophia Coppola…are you reading this? Or any other Hollywood people who are of interest who can inspire the ball to get rolling? I’d LOVE for there to be some kind of biopic; book and/or movie. Who’d possibly play ANNABELLA – the big question???? So unique in Persona, Grace, and Spirit! She’s a Scorpio Buddhist Goddess for Heaven’s Sake (and born on Halloween, adding even MORE spice)! Have fun finding THAT actress!

    Bow Wow Wow were simply happy, fun, “out-there”/silly at times while at the same time being pop-musically complex. This is a band that’s better now than they ever were and it should still be that way 100 years from now. If there is any chance of this world ever finally living together in Love, Peace, and Harmony…well, you know the rest!

    PS – why does the box set say, ‘1980-1984’ when ’83 was their last recording? Are they referring to “Where’s My Snake?” which didn’t even appear as a B-side at all in ’83, but did appear the following calendar year in the forgettable bomb-flick, ‘Scandalous’. Great, fun, exciting track btw…very, very typical of the BWW Sound and very, very belonging to their catalog!

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