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.