Title: Raging hard on
Author: John Harris
Bringing a touch of Sodom & Gomorrah to Thatcher’s Britain.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood
ZTT 165 CD
Just how ‘80s were Frankie Goes To Hollywood? Let us examine the evidence: Katherine Hamnett shirts, Trevor Horn’s production, nuclear paranoia, a single banned by Mike Read, liberal use of the Fairlight synthesiser, Paul Rutherford, sleevenotes written by Paul Morley, omnipresence on The Tube, Patrick Alien — the voice of Barratt Homes. Pretty ‘80s, all told.
In keeping with all that, their music has hardly weathered well. Their most potent singles, 1984’s Relax and Two Tribes, once sounded mighty indeed; apocalyptic even. Now, their aural pyrotechnics could be reproduced on a £99 home keyboard, and the music’s air of unstoppable strength has withered accordingly.
That said, their throw-everything-at-the-wall approach can now be viewed through ironic lenses, and provoke truly dizzying mirth. When, mid-way through the ludicrously overcooked Welcome To The Pleasuredome, Holly Johnson yelps — he always yelped, as if something was stuck in his throat — "There goes a supernova, what a pushover", you cannot help but collapse with laughter. Their version of Springsteen’s Born To Run is yet funnier.
In the wake of ‘84’s debut album, they distanced themselves from Trevor Horn, and elected to take a greater role in their recordings. The upshot was ‘86’s pretty rotten Liverpool album, presaged by a single called Rage Hard that may be the dottiest thing here: "Love like the head of Apollo," sings Johnson in a cod-Bowie baritone, "young and strong on the wings of tomorrow". The video featured long lines of refugees and quotes from William Blake. Of course it did.
The first part of Maximum Joy, then, is a treasurable period piece. For part two, however, some bright spark has sought to update this most non-updatable of groups by remixing the hits in a modern style. Most — as evidenced by Rob Searle’s retoolings of Relax and Two Tribes — go straight for the Euro-trance jugular, dispensing with all of the original lunacy, and plunging Johnson’s vocals into a Majorcan disco-pub. Execrable is too much of a compliment.
So, let us remember "The Frankies" as they and Trevor Horn intended. Ostentatious, ridiculous, using all 24 tracks to capacity, and aided and abetted by a drummer called Ped who looked like Terry out of Brookside’s thuggish older brother. There is no need for equivocation: We will never see their like again. ***