Visage – Visage

Let me start with a confession. I don’t know much about Visage. I don’t even like them that much. But I do own a copy of their debut album Visage, and as an interesting challenge I thought I might listen to it, and try to write a review based on what I heard.

So a very long time ago, before I’d even got into short trousers, Midge Ure out of Ultravox and Steve Strange worked together with some other people on the album I’m holding in my hands. It’s a great package – the artwork is absolutely beautiful, and it yielded three massive hit singles, including Mind of a Toy, oh and another song called Fade to Grey.

The album Visage by Visage opens with a track called Visage, which it seems was the third single. It’s nothing special, although I can hear traces of Gary Numan in it. It mixes into the bloody awful second track Blocks on Blocks. The third track The Dancer is similarly charm-free, an uninteresting instrumental, and this is followed by their original debut single Tar, which wasn’t a hit, probably because it’s dreadful.

At the end of side one, though, you might be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a different album, as Fade to Grey finally arrives. Even from its opening chords you can tell it’s going to be amazing. The synth bass line comes in, and shivers are already running up and down your spine. “Devenir gris,” says the probably very lovely French lady. A forlorn and hopeless vocal breaks in and drives the whole song forward. Seriously, leaving subjectivity aside for a moment, Fade to Grey is clearly one of the best songs ever written.

Why couldn’t the rest of Visage have been like this? All the dross and filler could have been kept for the next release. They could easily have filled up the entire album with ten different versions of this one track – it would have been considerably better and nobody would have complained.

Side two begins with another attempt to channel Gary Numan with Malpaso Man. I’d been assuming that Numan must have been pretty popular at this stage and this whole project was conceived as an attempt to borrow from that popularity, but from a quick bit of research it looks as though half of his band turned up to work on this album, which might explain a lot.

After the sea of dross that constituted the first half of this album, it’s therefore a bit of a surprise when their second hit Mind of a Toy turns up, and also turns out to be pretty good. You can see why the album sold so well. LP buyers of the early eighties must have heard the amazing single followed by the pretty good single, and must have been totally hoodwinked into buying the full album. How disappointed they must have been.

Later tracks are uninspired – Moon Over Moscow is a pleasant enough instrumental, although admittedly it does feel as though it’s trying (and entirely failing) to channel some kind of Russian or Cossack inspired melody. Visa-age is only slightly less dreadful and pointless than its title might suggest. Finally, Fade to Grey‘s b-side The Steps is a pleasant enough closing to the marginally better second half of the album.

On balance, then, let’s never mention this album again. Let’s each go and buy ten Fade to Grey and call that an album instead. It will be much, much better.

Let’s do it! Click here, and here, then here, and after that here and here, and that’s side one done. Then for side two, click here, here, here, here, and finally here. You’ll find it’s pretty good.

5 thoughts on “Visage – Visage

  1. You’re right, you are not a fan of Visage, although you did give the LP a listen and if you’re not into this sort of music the LP can be a task with it’s obscure electronics and instrumentals.
    ‘Visage’ has some brilliant musicians working on it, and there are some great songs within, to be a fan of Visage or even electronica means also loving the quirky songs, lyrics and at that time, lots of dubs and instrumental tracks…of which Visage had many.
    I do think ‘Tar’ should have been a stand alone single, and left off the debut album. It’s not a bad song, but it didn’t sit well with the rest.
    The instrumentals themselves were a part of the New Romantic soundtrack, and were a constant at ‘Heroes’ and ‘Blitz’ they were good interludes to the album.
    There were definitely a couple of more singles on ‘Visage’ and also with their later albums which only yeilded two each.
    ‘We Move’ ‘In The Year 25 25’ didn’t even make it to the LP and were saved for their 1983 ‘Singles Collection’ they should have been singles, and also on ‘Visage’
    ‘Fade To Grey’ is absolutely the highlight, but ‘Malpaso Man’ and ‘Visa-Age’ could step up and been singles.
    ‘Moon Over Moscow’ was an actual single in Japan and Russia which was the oddest choice.
    Visage are due to release their fourth album soon, and you may even find a new ‘Fade To Grey’ on it.
    A brilliant band, im definitely a fan.

  2. Thanks very much – I really appreciate your perspective! Actually I’m feeling guilty for being quite so rude about it now…

  3. No guilt needed 🙂
    If you didn’t like the LP that’s fair enough, you should say so. But sometimes with an electronic record (or any really) it takes a few listens to hear all the parts, overlays, instruments and changes…
    I feel you may like ‘The Anvil’ more, it was/is sleeker, more refined and definitely more financed, and for me personally, a better LP by far. It’s very enigmatic and holds a lot of atmosphere.
    I’d like to know what you thought/think of ‘Beat Boy’ too, it was their third LP and as a fan of Visage, electro and Steve Strange…this LP even took me by surprise, however, I grew to love it and listening back to it now it was underrated and unfairly dismissed, I call it electro rock, and it came before what Gary Numan was to do. 🙂

    Did you ever hear ‘In The Year 25 25’ or ‘We Move’?

    • I didn’t actually think I had (or had heard) any other Visage, but it looks as though I’ve somehow picked up the 12″ of Mind of a Toy too. Since you asked, I’ll listen through to that and review it soon!

  4. Pingback: Visage – Mind of a Toy | Music for stowaways

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