Blancmange? THE Blancmange? Yep. That Blancmange. The one no-one under forty is likely to have heard of, but for those of a certain age will fire a spark of recognition and a certain – albeit brief – flicker of enthusiasm.
A friend of mine recently attended what, on the face of it, was a ghastly retro festival of one-hit-wonder also-rans. I’d made some quip about Johnny Hates Jazz, only to learn moments later that, yes, they were on the bill. Among the bands we agreed we’d probably watch if we were there, Blancmange got a thumbs-up, despite nether of us knowing more than one song – their biggest hit, ‘Living on the Ceiling’, from their 1982 debut album ‘Happy Families’. And it was – and still stands as – a cracking tune.
But who knew they’d been going for a full 40 years since their 1979 formation, and while appearing on retro festival circuits, mostly playing the early 80s hits, had actually knocked out fifteen studio albums along the way? Not me, that’s for sure.
‘Private View’ is album number sixteen, and if it’s business as usual for the band, it’s a pretty impressive business when you survey the roll-call of those involved according to the accompanying press release, that notes that the album features ‘founding vocalist Neil Arthur, returning producer/keyboardist/programmer Ben “Benge” Edwards (John Grant, John Foxx) and guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Scott Walker) who played on the band’s 1982 classic ‘Happy Families’, adding that ‘With each member offering their own stimulating contributions, ‘Private View’, conjures a record that is still distinctly Blancmange but also expands into new sonic terrain. Fusing futuristic electronic sounds with Arthur’s unmistakable vocal hooks, it offers 10 songs veer from buoyant and joyful to dark and brooding that all equate to a pulsing, boundary-pushing return.’
Pushing boundaries may be a bit of a claim, but ‘Private View’ is a solid album, that, while clearly rooted in early 80s synth pop, sounds contemporary. For an act of their vintage, that’s quite an achievement. I remember The Human League’s 90s comeback and thinking how abject and sadly dated it sounded; somehow, even when throwing in all the 80s synth sound, as they do on ‘Some Times These’, Blancmange manage to sidestep the cringe element to deliver a set that accentuates the ‘cool’ aspects of vintage electropop without attempting to revisit or explicitly exploit their former commercial feats.
‘What’s Your Name’ packs some solid beats and pulsing synth bass, and there’s a motoric Krautrock quality to the steady ‘Reduced Voltage’. They’re content to keep it low-tempo and low-key for much of the album, but there are some nice melodies and a reflective feel that feels natural and flows through the fabric comfortably. ‘Chairs’ is a standout with its uptempo, solid groove and a theatrical delivery from Neil.
They do pitch in some moments of drama, and ‘Private View’ is an album with movement and action and some surging synth energy that leaves you shaking all over.