Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Welcome To The Pleasuredome

Even though they had a handful of hits, Frankie Goes To Hollywood is unfairly called a one-hit wonder today. Most people remember “Relax”, whether due to the various videos presenting different views of hedonism, its use in the movie Body Double, or from the, shall we say, spunky sound effect in the middle.
This was a band certainly made for the video generation, as their image could be inflated into something larger than life, and certainly themselves While they had already existed as a band—you know, playing their own instruments and everything—they truly became something noticeable when Trevor Horn and his crew got involved. The sonic experiments already proven commercial by ABC and Yes were taken to their wildest extremes with each new single.
The second single was “Two Tribes”, framed by an air-raid siren and a gloomy piano intro before exploding into an infectious dance beat with a speedy guitar riff and pretty simple lyrics about war. Its video was a work of genius, depicting the leaders of the US and the USSR in a cockfight ring, with Frankie singer Holly Johnson “singing” the song in the guise of a sports commentator.
Meanwhile, the band were supposedly hard at work at their debut album, which, in keeping with their overblown self-importance, emerged as a double album. Welcome To The Pleasuredome played up their image to the hilt, from the Picasso homage on the cover to the merchandise order form sure to shock anyone’s parents. Most striking now is the inner-sleeve quote from one band member who almost expects that they’ll be yesterday’s news ere long.
There is something of a sequence to the record, though it was probably accidental. Side one is mostly a setup for the thirteen-minute title track, which ended their streak by not becoming a number-one single. One reason could be that it illuminates Holly Johnson’s three-note range and tendency towards Morrissey-style repeated couplets. Side two provides alternate mixes of the first two singles, sandwiching a barely recognizable version of the Motown classic “War”, featuring spoken passages by a Reagan soundalike, and soon to be done better by Bruce Springsteen. (More about him shortly.) Another soundalike closes the side with an impression of Prince Charles discussing orgasms over a jaunty fanfare.
Side three is mostly devoted to the band’s cover versions. Unfortunately, their reverent take on “Ferry Cross The Mersey” (part of their bid to be the biggest thing from Liverpool since Gerry & The Pacemakers) is cut short, giving way to an equally reverent version of “Born To Run”. Critics called foul at what they viewed as desecration, but then again the song was only nine years old at the time. Mostly they didn’t like how it’s followed by “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”.
That’s the end of the covers, which at least provided a distraction from the band’s limited songwriting capabilities. “Wish (The Lads Were Here)” seems to stop halfway through in favor of a sinuous instrumental punctuated by female sighs and moans. “Krisco Kisses”, “Black Night White Light” and “The Only Star In Heaven” have not aged well, but “The Power Of Love”, promoted by a Nativity-based video given its December chart push, provides something of a show-stopping climax. The final listed track, “Bang”, lasts barely a minute, comprising a melody from the single version of “Ferry” with the Reagan voice finally stating, “Frankie say no more.”
By the time Welcome To The Pleasuredome came out, Americans were already distracted by Wham!, whose “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video unintentionally demonstrated how passé the “Frankie Say” T-shirt had become. In fact, Wham! took over from FGTH on the UK pop charts as well. Various CD editions have presented differing track orders and mixes, and somewhere out there is a 25th anniversary edition that presents the original LP sequence alongside rarer material. A much better buy is the Bang! greatest hits collection, which has all the “good” songs mentioned above, as well as the handful of singles from their second album, which nobody bought.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984) —2

1 comment: