Monday, September 13, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #83

There was a period of time between 1982 and 1983 when the New Wave world seemed to be overrun by synth duos. Two people and a keyboard was the recipe used by Yazoo, D.A.F., Soft Cell, The Twins (not of the Thompson variety), Naked Eyes, and on and on. The synthesizer was the instrument of the future, after all: it could replace an entire orchestra with its plinky electronic approximations of other instruments, so all you needed was one person to focus on the music and one to focus on the vocals, and viola! Instant band! And without all the headaches of having to deal with a room full of musicians and their egos and "artistic visions."

Of course, after the novelty of the synth duo approach wore off, we were all left sitting there thinking, "don't these bands all kinda sound the same?" Well, yeah, they did, but let's not let details get in the way of a good story, shall we? Those synth duos sold a lot of records and filled a lot of dancefloors, after all.

One of my favorites of the genre was comprised of Neil Arthur (vocals) and Stephen Luscombe (synth), who got together in Middlesex in late 1979 and were soon releasing synthy burbles under the name Blancmange.  During the height of the synth-duo era, Blancmange hit the UK Top 40 five times, with their biggest success coming from their 1982 breakthrough single, "Living On the Ceiling," which reached #7 and saw considerable exposure here in the US via MTV and college radio.  Their follow up single, "Waves," managed to hit the Top 20 as well; both songs are found on their debut album, Happy Families (1982).

Blancmange were something of an anomaly in the synth-duo genre in that they were able to maintain their popularity through a second album. Mange Tout was released in 1983, and generated three more hits: "Blind Vision," "That's Love That It Is," and "Don't Tell Me," with the latter nearly eclipsing "Living On the Ceiling," reaching #8 in the UK.

By mid 1984, however, the synth-duo were a dying breed. A few more singles and a third album, Believe You Me, appeared under the Blancmange name, but the moment had passed.

Oh, and about that name...many of us here in the US scratched our heads wondering where that name came from, while our British counterparts knew full well that a blancmange (don't pronounce the "nc" in the middle) is, according to Wikipedia, a "sweet dessert commonly made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin, cornstarch or Irish moss, and often flavored with almonds. It is usually set in a mould and served cold. Although traditionally white, blancmanges are frequently given a pink color as well."  Um...that could either be delicious or nauseating.

Desserts aside, this week's NW4NW entry celebrates the synth-duo in the form of the band Blancmange, and their fantastic first hit, "Living On the Ceiling." Enjoy!

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