Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #62

I'm slowly cleaning out my attic room with the intention of turning it into a hobby room. For the past eight years, it has been the repository for boxes of stuff that I just never got around to unpacking after moving in. So, whenever I have some spare time, I bring a box down from the attic and go through the stuff I find in it to decide what's worth keeping and what can either be tossed or donated to charity. The other day, I found a box filled with yellowing copies of my high school's bi-weekly newspaper.

My first published writings about music were found within the pages of Manheim Township High School's Hi-Lite, and it was a blast to read some of my earliest primitive scribblings again. Many of the bands I wrote about a quarter century ago (yes, my 25th high school reunion is coming up...shudder) remain favorites today, including this week's NW4NW entry. Let's go back in time, shall we?

Right there on page 2 of the February 24, 1984 issue of Hi-Lite was my glowing review of the six-song mini-album Batastrophe, the debut release from Bristol, England's Specimen. Having achieved some notoriety in London as the house band at The Batcave, Specimen finally had their Glam-Goth sound committed to vinyl, and the 17-year-old me was pretty psyched:

First, there was Adam and the Ants with their warrior makeup. They were followed by the irrepressible Boy George. And now, there is the latest in the line of costumed British new-wave bands, Specimen. Specimen (note the lack of a "the") have been entertaining music fans in the UK for about a year and a half now, and they have gained quite a cult following from their numerous appearances at The Batcave...Luckily for us here in the States, Sire Records has signed Specimen to a recording contract, and their first album, Batastrophe, has recently been released.

Specimen are an odd quintet who appear onstage in Bow Wow Wow-inspired hairstyles and vampire makeup...If you are thinking, "Oh another one of those six-song albums that are over in a flash," you are wrong. Put Batastrophe on your turntable and you're in for a half an hour of listening enjoyment. This is a major plus, because you're only paying a mini-album price for an album's worth of music.

Say, nice of me to be looking out for my classmates' record-shopping budgets, but what about the music?

The final cut on side one, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," has an unusual twist to it. Midway through the song, the instruments die out, [lead singer] Ollie's voice whispers harshly, "Kiss kiss bang bang," and there is total silence for almost half a minute until the song suddenly resumes at full tilt, climaxing in a barrage of feedback that fades into the record's lead.

The flip side commences with Specimen's first single, "Returning From A Journey." The guitar intro is almost an exact duplicate of Def Leppard's pathetic "Foolin'," but the tune salvages itself and fills its 5:25 very well. Continuing with the idea of mimicking intros, "Tell Tail" has a beginning that is virtually indistinguishable from that of "Stray Cat Strut."

Well, my phrasing may have been clumsy, but at least I was trying to convey the sound of the band, either through direct description or in comparison to mainstream hits of the day. Of course, listening to the record today, I wonder what in blue hell I was thinking. "Indistinguishable" would be stretching it, to say the least!

You'll also note, via the backhanded shot I took at Def Leppard there, that I was carefully maintaining my Punk Rock anti-mainstream stance. That stance gets more pronounced towards the end of my column:

Bands such as Specimen provide a welcome break from the dull conformity of Air Supply, Journey, and the like, and they serve as reassuring proof that there remain musicians out there who record for the sake of the art involved rather than just for the money; musicians who aren't afraid to be different. The public should take a hint, and dare to accept a band who isn't as well known as Men at Work or Quiet Riot without worrying what others think.

Well, we all had to start somewhere, right? I've spared you most of the of the really bad writing, both in consideration of space and in consideration of my own ego, but I got a good chuckle out of looking back on this and other record reviews I wrote back then.

Over the years, Specimen has remained a favorite band around my household. Batastrophe holds up well all these years later. Its over-the-top T. Rex/Bauhaus hybrid sound is a little bit tougher than most of what you might think of as Goth, and damn if those hooks aren't catchy. Still, Specimen only released one more single, 1986's "Indestructable" [sic], before calling it a day. Their music has popped up on several compilations over the years, and in 2008 the band reunited to record a live album at The Batcave.

I have chosen a favorite clip from the Batastrophe mini-album to be this week's NW4NW entry. Enjoy Specimen's "The Beauty Of Poison":