Heaven 17 – Bigger Than America

Poor Heaven 17. By 1996, nearly two decades into their careers, they really hadn’t produced anything new of note under that name in over a decade. After their fame subsided with the reasonable How Men Are album (1984), just two studio albums and a couple of compilations had followed, and so Bigger Than America was truly a comeback.

But Dive is brilliant. It starts with some subtle analogue warbles, and builds into something that’s every bit as good as Let Me Go. The line that mixes “hear” with “here” could easily be tacky and awful, but somehow it works perfectly here. What a great opening track!

First single Designing Heaven follows. Unsurprisingly when you hear it, it wasn’t an enormous hit, but it’s reasonably good, and probably deserved a place somewhere in the Top 40. If you’re ever bored, track down the single to hear the laughably bad German version Den Himmel Designen.

Second (and final) single We Blame Love comes next, actually perhaps a better choice of single than the first, but it didn’t get any attention outside of Germany, where all your favourite eighties acts went to die.

Another Big Idea is next, and is largely fantastic. It might have been a while since Heaven 17 were this good, but they definitely had the right idea. In fact, the first reminder that they had been lost in the wilderness for over a decade at this point is on track 5, the pointless Freak! It contains the lyric “You’re an X and I’m a Y / Just take a look into the sky”. Which is pretty much all you need to know.

Changes are definitely afoot at this point in the album. You might have been wondering what exactly the title was about, but it isn’t until the title track that you really get a clue. Bigger Than America seems to be an attempt to poke fun at the USA, but a fair proportion of the lyrics don’t really make sense unfortunately. The chorus is good, though (despite rhyming “car” with “Ameri-car”), and the analogue squawks are fully in attendance.

From here onwards, my memory was suggesting the tracks would all start to merge into one, but that isn’t really true. Unreal Everything is a nice track, if somewhat forgettable – the only thing you’ll really remember here is the pleasant theremin (or portamento?) line that makes it sound like something out of a 1950s science fiction film. The Big Dipper takes some more cracks at the USA, this time hitting harder and arguably hitting the target more accurately.

Do I Believe? is really brilliant – fueled primarily by enormous analogue noises, but there’s a great song in there as well. Resurrection Man is a bit misguided, but towards the end things become pleasantly mellow, with the sweet and gentle Maybe Forever and then the uplifting An Electronic Prayer. The electronic howl that closes the album is an exemplary way to finish matters.

So this was Heaven 17‘s contribution to the 1990s. It was good, but was largely irrelevant and went ignored by most people. What it does seem to have done is spurred them to start playing live for the first time in their career, and so, a decade or so later, they finally came to be seen as the legends they are. As long as they stick to playing tracks from their better albums, anyway.

The CD version of Bigger Than America has long since fallen out of print, but you can still find digital downloads and second hand copies in most places.

Record Store Day 2016

Backlash aside, I always feel as though we should try and stir up a bit of excitement for this weekend’s Record Store Day, as we did in previous years. Here are some of the releases that caught my eye…

  • a-haHits South America – five previously unreleased live tracks (12″ EP, 3,000 copies in the US, also in the UK and Germany)
  • AirCasanova 70 – four remixes including two by Brendan Lynch (12″ “maxi transparent splatter vinyl”, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • David BowieThe Man Who Sold the World (12″ picture disc, 5,000 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands), TVC15 (7″ picture disc, 5,000 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands), and I Dig Everything – The Pye Singles (12″ EP, 7,500 copies in the US, also Canada)
  • CassiusAction EP and 8 Beats (both 12″x2, Germany only – the latter also in Canada)
  • ChvrchesEvery Open Eye Remix EP (12″ EP, 5,000 copies in the US and Canada)
  • John Cooper Clarke – Ou est le Maison de Fromage (180g coloured vinyl, UK only)
  • Étienne de CrécySuper Discount 1, Super Discount 2, and Super Discount 3 (all UK only, format not stated)
  • Dead Can DanceAnastasis (2xLP, 1,500 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands)
  • 808 StatePacific – three remixes (12″ EP, 2,000 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • EuropeThe Final Countdown 30th Anniversary – three tracks including new remix (12″ electric blue vinyl, UK only)
  • Frankie Goes to HollywoodRage Hard (The Making of a 12″) (12″ EP, 2,500 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • The Future Sound of LondonAccelerator plus Andrew Weatherall remix of Papua New Guinea and Stolen Documents (black heavy weight LP in printed inner bag with hand-numbered 7″ vinyl, UK and Germany only)
  • Heaven 17(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang (repressed 12″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Jean-Michel JarreE.S.Exit (7″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Kings of ConvenienceQuiet is the New Loud, Versus, and Riot on an Empty Street (LPs, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • MadonnaLike a Virgin & Other Hits (12″ pink vinyl, reissue of 1984 Japanese EP with Obi Strip, 4,500 copies in the US, also in Canada, the UK and Netherlands)
  • Mike OldfieldNuclear (7″ picture disc, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • The OrbThe Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (4xLP, UK and Netherlands)
  • The ResidentsThis is a Special DJ Record of The Residents’ Alleged Music. Please Do Not Steal It! Keep it at Your Station – We Need the Radio Airplay (LP, 1,500 copies in the US, also in Canada, the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Soft CellSex Dwarf – including remixes by The Grid (12″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing You (picture disc, UK only)
  • Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks (LP blue vinyl, 2,500 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Dr. Who and the Daleks / Dr. Who – Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (LP box set, UK only)

Good luck trying to find any of those. More information for the US here, the UK here, Germany here, and various other countries here.

Music for the Masses 38 – 30 April 2005

The Live Bit, launched only the preceding week as a new feature, quickly turned out to be way too much trouble and was downsized to just one track, but the Electromix would continue for the rest of the show’s run, this week starring Leeds’s own Utah Saints as the centrepiece.

webcamg4webcamg1 webcamg2 webcamg3

Show 38: Sat 30 Apr 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Apollo 440.

  • Moloko – The Time is Now
  • System F – Insolation
  • Faithless feat. Boy George – Why Go?
  • Röyksopp – Remind Me (Someone Else’s Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Astral America
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Clarke & Ware Experiment – Communication (from Music for Multiple Dimensions)
  • New Order feat. Ana Matronic – Jetstream (Richard X Remix)
  • LCD Soundsystem – Disco Infiltrator
  • Heaven 17 – Being Boiled (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show
  • Apollo 440 – Pain in Any Language
  • Moby – I Like It
  • M83 – Teen Angst (Montag Mix)
  • Lemon Jelly – Make Things Right
  • The Flirts – Passion
  • Apollo 440 – Heart Go Boom
  • Ladytron – Blue Jeans [Electromix]
  • Utah Saints – Love Song [Electromix]
  • Piney Gir – Girl [Electromix]
  • Jam & Spoon feat. Rea – Be Angeled

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Heaven 17 – Before After

At the time of writing, Heaven 17‘s last full studio album was Before After, released a decade ago this week. There’s a fair chance you never came across it – its impact wasn’t especially big.

Heaven 17 albums are traditionally patchy at best. Some of their early works are more complete efforts, but by Before After, the pattern of half-baked song ideas and ill-advised instrumentation was well established. So the dire opening track I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me should come as no surprise.

Things do pick up quickly with the disco-flavoured second track Hands Up to Heaven. When they’re good, the Sheffield trio are masterful songwriters, and Glenn Gregory is an exceptional singer. And this isn’t even one of their finest moments, but it does hint at just how good they used to be.

Third track The Way it Is is an odd one. It starts off reasonably promisingly, and it isn’t till the chorus arrives that you realise quite how forgettable it actually is, in a weirdly catchy way. There are definitely songs here that are best skipped. But having got most of the dross out of the way, Freedom from Love is actually pretty good. There’s a lovely melancholy to it, and it gives Gregory a real chance to shine as a vocalist.

A cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper follows, which is entirely nice, but you have to wonder slightly what the point is. It doesn’t really say anything anybody else hasn’t already. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t it be here?

Things settle down a little with the second half of Before After. Into the Blue and Deeper and Deeper are both competent songs – one gentle analogue and one disco – which would probably grab you to varying degrees depending on how much you like Heaven 17. At the very least, both are pleasant and unobjectionable pieces.

With its synth-harpsichord stylings and catchy vocals, What Would it Take is the real surprise here. It’s an unlikely hit, but by the renaissance-inspired middle section you really ought to be remembering just how great Heaven 17 can be. If anything from this album ever makes it onto one of their many “best of” compilations, this really ought to be it.

The last track on the American release is the pleasant but ultimately forgettable Someone for Real, but the European versions add a particularly nice disco song Are You Ready? which is worth having if you’re going to own this album. But in the end, this is a conflicted release – by 2005, Heaven 17 were definitely embracing the fact that their day in the limelight had passed. It’s surprising how much disco there is here, given that the genre was already thirty years old. And given the title, it’s surprising too how little they really seem to address their own past. In the end, disappointingly, you find yourself accepting that Before After is just another forgettable album from a sadly overlooked group.

The version of Before After to track down is the UK release (the US version misses off the last track), which is available here.

Week of oldies 2015

Every year around this time, the anniversaries of old albums really start to come thick and fast, and the only meaningful way we can celebrate on this blog is by having a Week of Oldies. This week, we’ll revisit some greats from Septembers past, including albums from Goldfrapp, Camouflage, Heaven 17, and others! Stay tuned…

Music for the Masses 27 – 22 November 2004

Show 27 was, judging from the pictures and playlist, a blistering affair, involving lots of waving hands around in the air like I just didn’t care, and finally seeing Kraftwerk as the artist of the week.

webcam71webcam72  webcam73

Show 27: Mon 22 Nov 2004, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Kraftwerk.

  • Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood
  • Tears for Fears – Shout
  • Röyksopp – Poor Leno
  • Utah Saints – Lost Vagueness
  • Télépopmusik – Genetic World
  • Sugababes – Too Lost in You
  • Kraftwerk – Radioactivity
  • Alpinestars – Green Raven Blonde
  • Vic Twenty – Kiss You
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Electricity
  • Heaven 17 – Dive
  • Wolfsheim – Kein Zurück
  • Dubstar – It’s Over
  • Kraftwerk – Computer Love (The Mix Version)
  • Ladytron – Blue Jeans
  • Komputer – Looking Down on London
  • Paul van Dyk feat. Vega 4 – Time of Our Lives
  • Yello – Get On
  • Wes – Alane
  • Kings of Convenience – Know-How
  • Tiga & Zyntherius – Sunglasses at Night
  • Audioweb – Into My World
  • Kraftwerk – Tour de France