Title: Frankie say pleasure can pay<
Author: Max Bell
Source: The Times
Publish date: 3-9 November 1984
Frankie say pleasure can pay
Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Welcome To The Pleasuredome (ZTT IQ1)
Pop music thrives on frivolity and hyperbole - but the pop business in 1984 was not prepared for the jolt to its nervous system that was provided by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Although Duran Duran, Wham and Culture Club may be happy to offer calm before the storm, the Frankies are not. Their debut double album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, like the singles “Relax” and “Two Tribes” that preceded it, is a flash of lightning that has thrown most current pop music into hideous perspective.
Frankie, or more precisely the five members of the band, Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Mark O’Toole, Brian Nash and Peter Gill, are to rock’n’roll what Brookside is to soap operas and Coca-Cola to fizzy drinks. Their native Liverpudlian savvy, irreverent attitude and love of outrage may have upset the tranquil applecart of daytime radio but their fans love them. Welcome had pre-release orders of more than one million copies - and that is before the band has played a live date in this country at a major venue.
The Frankie phenomenon, ingeniously stage-managed by the music journalist Paul Morley and the staff of ZTT, succeeds because it provides a reality which is alien to mainstream pop music. Frankie have had the ingenuity to treat children like adults and vice versa. Who else could have persuaded a l4-year-old girl in, say, Neath, to wear a tee-shirt proclaiming “Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed”?
Welcome To The Pleasuredome is a masterpiece, produced by that wizard of the mixing desk, Trevor Horn; it sets a new standard in aural entertainment.
Side one is constructed as a lengthy atmospheric tableau: operatic, melodramatic, compulsive and hard. “The World Is My Oyster” and the title track give fair warning of Frankie’s preoccupations, which are entirely contemporary. It hardly matters that some people imagine them to have been manipulated by Horn’s genius for production. Would The Beatles have succeeded without George Martin?
Humility is no virtue in pop music and all parties understand this; Frankie’s cheek knows no bounds. Samuel Taylor Coleridge might have approved their ransacking of Kubla Khan’s decree; whether Graham Greene will appreciate their appropriation of the title of his essay on cinema is another matter.
Side two consists of the ultimate mega-mixes of Frankie’s demonic disco hits; the sexual thrust of “Relax” and the subversive panic of “Two Tribes” exemplify a band without peer at a time when nothing in pop seemed new anymore. Their version of the Whitfield/Strong song “War”, previously recorded by the Temptations and Edwin Starr, is proof that these five boys who shook the world can play, and that Holly Johnson can sing, extremely well.
Here is a band who want to “go for it” and who aren’t afraid to embrace both vulgarity and elegance; side three might be sub-titled “Frankie gives a history lesson”. It starts with Gerry Marsden’s scouse anthem “Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey” (incidentally Gerry and the Pacemakers are the only band to have had number one hits with each of their first three singles); this side shows where the roots of the band lie.
Frankie deal with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” like heavy rockers, capturing the song’s American fantasy in full. The pace slows to ballad tempo as Johnson and the boys pay homage to Dionne Warwick’s version of “San Jose”, treating Bacharach and David’s lyric and melody with the respect they deserve. If any dissenting voices remain this is the track which will silence them.
Most extraordinary of all is the instrumental “Wish (The Lads Were Here)” that closes this section, a brazen parody of Pink Floyd which would not sound out of place on that group’s album, Meddle.
Finally, side four is “Frankie goes to glamour school”, with four songs that recall the period in the early 1970s when an album like Bowie’s Aladdin Sane or Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure was the yardstick of taste and style, to be queued up for at the local record shop and then savoured at leisure.
Of the four numbers “Krisco Kisses” is the most immediaiely accessible, with the guitar recalling Mick Ronson and the chirpy lyric revealing another important ingredient in Frankie’s recipe: a well-developed sense of humour.
Welcome To The Pleasuredome closes with the band’s next single, “The Power Of Love”, an overblown tear jerker of a ballad, surely destined to become the star on the top of the Christmas tree chart. Frankie have blazed a trail from sex to horror to true love. Welcome’s banquet may be too exotic for taste buds accustomed to the staple diet of conventional pop music, but like The Beatles’ White Album it will repay repeated listening.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood have been accused of being a hype, of paying lip service to amoralism, of fiddling while Rome burns. This is not the case.
Pop music only survives if it is original; pop is about noise and excitement, not polite judgments. Frankie are like a scream from a crevasse. They are welcome indeed.