Pseudo Echo: Autumnal Park to After Party
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Sydney, 1985. Back in the UK the new romantics are on the way out but down south The Wizard of Oz is playing some sort of backhander. Lipstick and hair is in (unless you’re CHISEL, Mi-Sex, Men at Work or INXS). I have one copy of music magazine Countdown (there’s a TV show of the same name if you’re not familiar with things Australian).
I’ve bought it in the hope of some news about ICEHOUSE projects on the go. There is a bit on Iva – part way through making the ballet Boxes at the time. There’s a beautiful full page ad for DO-RE-MI’s debut album Domestic Harmony and umm a tampon ad.
Oh shit! Is this a girl’s mag and I don’t know it? Why didn’t they tell me in the store? Or did they think I was a girl? Anyway I digress it’s also got an interview with a guy called Brian Canham from a band called err what Echo!? P-S-E-U-D-O (sue-dough). How in christ name to you pronounce that!? I thought ICEHOUSE band members had crazy names and that’s before they did Crazy!
Now Pseudo should have been of interest to me because they were synth-pop and had their first album produced by John Punter, yes him of Japan and Roxy but strangely not ICEHOUSE who opted for Steve Nye (who should really have produced Pseudo no?) However this means absolutely nothing to me yet because although I know who Japan are I won’t get to them until ’89. See the David Sylvian blog for more on that.
I should add that their single Listening was produced by the ever versatile Kiwi Peter Dawkins but doesn’t sound dissimilar from Punter which is quite a feat when you consider he was known for producing Air Supply, Dragon and Australian Crawl – not exactly what you would call synth-pop.
Anyway the interview with Brian Canham went something like this:
Q: How do you write songs?
BC: Many ways.
Q: What car do you drive?
BC: A red pointy one.
Me: This guy sounds like an arrogant *@#!
*I’ve since learnt he’s nothing of the sort.
LIVING THE DREAM
And that was that thought I and anyone in the northern hemisphere until… that magical year of 1987. So what happened? Someone at Pseudo-central (or the record company) had the spiffing idea of doing a cover. A cover of what? How about umm, err, Funky Town. Originally by Lipps Inc and at that time less than a decade old.
But in ’87 Brian and co rocked it up a bit, turned on some Marty McFly charm in the video and it flew out of the stores. Unfortunately they would never have a hit that big again but that is of course why they are here on the KULTURE KIOSK, home of the art some and underrated. Personally I love both versions.
In the UK Funky Town was backed by Lies are Nothing and manages to break into the top 10 – rare for Aussie bands in the UK, but it was a sensation rocketing to numero uno in Australia, NZ and in Canada. They followed up with Living in a Dream which I quite liked buying the 12” back in the day.
Dream only charts in Australia #15 and the US #57 – ahead of Funky Town being released – the British single backed by another song that had been a big hit in Australia – Don’t Go (it’s the kind of Euro-boogie Laura Branigan was known for eg Self Control).
Incidentally the sleeves to Funky Town and Living in a Dream in the UK have their own unique logo which don’t seem to appear on any other releases elsewhere – see picture above.
FLASHING THE FRINGE
A quick look at Wiki though and you’ll soon see that Funky Town was the proverbial flash in the pan (and sadly I am not referring to Canham’s fellow Aussies with that band name). Wisely the band switched styles for the album RACE. An album with two different sleeves both of which are sadly unflattering.
The change in sound and style made perfect commercial sense at the time (King Swamp) but despite some reasonable tunes (Fooled Again, Take on the World – the latter a single only in Japan) and some fringe leather jackets, tanked.
What most perplexes me is why they chose (another Aussie) Julian Mendelsohn to produce it (as he would have been more suited to their previous work). Mendelsohn himself says Canham teases him about it ‘you thought you were here to do a fairlight album didn’t you?’
Which in all seriousness would have made more sense. Speaking to Mendelsohn via email in 2020 revealed the (Leigh) brothers in the band who opted to ramp up the rock (as did the record company).
The band seem to exist in the vortex of a moment in time. They are known as synth-pop yet the background as Brian Canham explains on The Hustle podcast was doused in seventies rock! STYX, Kansas and possibly RUSH. It’s the former’s Miss America that would deal the ace of influence on Funky Town – you can hear it in the intro. Not a direct rip-off but definitely in there.
The early eighties delivered the driving shot of youth needed to gain the band attention. Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Japan, Ultravox, and even early INXS (Just Keep Walking). In other words synth-pop with a guitar.
AUTUMN IN ALPHAVILLE
While making Autumnal Park (their first album) in Sydney, Duran Duran were next door making Seven and Ragged Tiger! With John Punter co-producing, Duran might’ve thought they were suffering deja-vu or hearing themselves (See Through a near dead ringer for Hungry Like the Wolf or Rio).
A Beat for You continues the period synth-pop where Brian Canham sounds like a German guy singing in English (see the Alphaville blog). Listening, their first big hit charted in ’83 the same year as Kids in the Kitchen’s Change in Mood – also good synth-pop from Australia but this is not indicative of the Kids sound overall.
Stranger still is that the instrumental title track doesn’t appear on the initial version of the album. Walkaway is not the John Foxx song but had he stayed the frontman in Ultravox this might have been the result.
The cover art features the familiar PSEUDO ECHO logo styled on the Porsche one against a grey backing with some nice tree imagery cut into four thick strips and graphically manipulated to look cool.
The American edition omits the album title but is otherwise better considered and better executed with extra bold black type for the band title but the ‘tree’ imagery is set against a green backing with eighties lines in magenta running a diagonal direction (think Duran Duran’s Rio for example).
LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE
Try (Sade’s Smooth Operator with a synth) was the first single from Love an Adventure in late ’85, followed by Don’t Go which like Listening peaked at #4 in Australia. Produced by Mark S Berry the only other thing I know about him is he remixed Duran Duran’s Meet El Presidente single and its varying versions including the insane Meet El Beat.
I Will Be You has a nostalgic synth melody (as does Walkaway from the first album). Both time capsules awaiting the ears of those who overlooked them or who have a penchant for the eighties. Girl meanwhile is an unofficial ode to Madonna’s Material Girl.
The chart stats for Pseudo Echo are pretty erratic. Listening – top five in Australia, barely dents the NZ top 40. A Beat for You stops at 12 in Australia, but makes the NZ top 10. Love an Adventure’s title song makes 6 in Oz but only 50 in NZ. Long Plays barely makes the top 50 (in Aus again) but goes all the way to the top in NZ. Only on Funky Town and Race do they both agree.
According to Brian Canham the band dynamics shifted due to other members and he was more or less ousted from his own band (a little like Martyn Ware of the Human League). Canham believes the band was damned either way whatever record they put out and he was probably right.
Rather than limp into the 90s and album four he chose instead to widen his creative canvas by moving into production (Chocolate Starfish) and jingles. Though there is an album from this time awaiting release!
The artwork again differs drastically between territories, the Aussie version hasn’t aged well, the international version is a standard band shot (at either dusk or dawn) with the band logo in red type but at least it looks reasonable, certainly easier on the eye.
Brill – like an alternative version of Steve Kilbey’s The Church or Stephen Duffy’s Lilac Time issued their only album in 1997. Singles Ebony Eyes (a cover of Bob Welch’s seventies hit) ironically done in a mock sixties vibe and Mary Ann (both 1999) do not appear on the album.
From Brill Canham – looking like a cross between a Harvard prep and the Manics James Dean Bradfield – went on to Origene; an EDM band with a female singer for a series of singles between 2001-2005 including the song Suddenly Silently – finally released as an Echo single in 2012 – and Close to You (which also features future Echo track Laguna) and finally Design, well you’ve gotta love a song with that title don’t you?
Fast forward or indeed ‘beam yourself into the future’ as Kraftwerk would say and Teleporter contains some new tracks, some live tracks it’s a bit of a hotchpotch. I just wish it had been a new album or an EP. Think about A-ha’s resurgence in 2000 with their resplendent Minor Earth, Major Sky.
Hope I Go To Heaven – has a nice synth line in the bridge but it should have been a little more accentuated. Ultravox are still an influence but here it’s fused with a Robert Miles (him of Children fame) style club beat. The Future sounds like early Depeche Mode with a big beat.
Lesson in Love No 1 wouldn’t have been out of place on Black Celebration which is a compliment. Then come versions of Funky Town (the Sly version is not bad), Listening and Love an Adventure – these in time would be reinterpreted multiple times. They are his staples.
14 years in the making Ultraviolet is their first proper album since Race in the late eighties. The Desert sounds like Tony Banks meets Ultravox, yet that croon is definitive Brian Canham. Things You Like sounds as fresh as a spring breeze. Fathers Arms – Vince Clarke era Depeche Mode or The Assembly.
The title track at first comes across like BT but soon settles into a standard synth-pop strut. Pseudo Echo however are a band of intriguing dichotomies and it’s the slower numbers that take the crown. Lonely – another ballad cruising in a similar vein to Ultravox’s Lament, and Architecturally Sound; the Pet Shop Boys meet Ennio Morricone? The cover is also much better than usual with the band seemingly paying homage to Kraftwerk.
The unwanted Covid-crisis of 2020 brought about unseen changes and releases from many artists. In a vicious Victoria (Australia) lock down, Canham’s response was to strip down Pseudo Echo’s sound into an Acoustic renaissance and it’s maudlin recycling of his past catalogue works!
Don’t Go is a million miles away from its original synth boogie but not far from Brill’s version of Ebony Eyes. Listening has a campfire quality to it with hand claps on the chorus and is followed beautifully by a shuffling cover of Real Life’s Send Me an Angel. Overall it’s a resounding success.
The camp ground or hut in the wilderness also lends itself nicely to the cover art and at only seven songs, Acoustica doesn’t outstay its welcome and dare I say it is as good as Boom Crash Opera’s Dancing in the Storm acoustic album from 2009. Possibly better!
Another dichotomy, another bend in the road of an otherwise stylish synth-pop band taking a break in the woods before getting back to synth-biz for their next album Afterparty.
By contrast and continuing the theme of band juggling polar opposites, After Party begins with a rather nice instrumental Morning in Amman – now there’s different, you don’t often get that city name checked in a song.
The second track I’m Alright is club orientated with digitised vocal which doesn’t seem to belong to Brian Canham though the guitar (similar to the intro of Funky Town) does.
All of the Above with its refrain of ‘How’s your day today’ finally delivers a vocal and its Euro-synths sound like something Jean Michel Jarre might’ve come up with (Rendezvous 4). However behind the light synth is a darker message: suicide prevention! Following the deaths of two close friends.
Wedge-Tail – named following an epiphany viewing wild eagles in the wilds of Victoria – sounds like a song made up of the chorus of Duran Duran’s Planet Earth – you could easily sing the ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba this is Planet Earth’ over the top.
Heaven blurs a line between Cafe Del Mar, Robert Miles (again) and Alphaville (again). No wonder when you consider its origins lie in the late eighties; a song of rejuvenation and starting again.
For the warm and sensual Quasar (named after an astronomical body that produces energy) Canham sings literally from the heart with great personal relevance – it’s an open letter to his wife and manager. Quite fittingly, the guitar riff sounds like something Queen’s Brian May might have pulled out of his own universe – he’s an astro man himself if you didn’t know.
New is the Way sets the chill bar below zero – this is a great album if you’re pining for the days when you were 18-30 in Ibiza. A series of pastoral synth washes caressing the ears. Otherwise it sounds like your dad trying to be trendy and barely dissimilar from what they were doing 20 years ago on Teleporter. When he does sing, his voice is in fine form.
Formotion is Kraftwerk meets latter day OMD. Has a really nice guitar part running through the middle and later parts like Roger Sanchez’s Another Chance. In addition is a dub version of 1985 and a chill version of Love an Adventure – he’s almost as good at reinterpreting his own songs as Mark Tierney’s time in Strawpeople. This along with his Acoustica album earlier in the year are the highlights.
Artwork? Well it could have been better put it that way. The image isn’t so bad but the placing of the type in an L shape (the band ‘Porsche’ logo running up the left and the album title bottom left) is perplexing. More diagonal lines jut out across the cover but I would have gotten rid of those and run the band logo across the centre with ’AFTER PARTY’ titling centred beneath it.
For that I would have chosen another typeface, possibly Optima (as used on John Foxx’s Golden Section and Mysterious Ways albums) thus maintaining a ‘synth artist connection.’ Worse still is the track list on the back uses the same typeface as Acoustica. On the acoustic record it works but not here.
If anything it seems as unfocussed as the album; once considered an instrumental album and changed to accommodate a few vocal tracks. That said, if you’re a bigger fan than I, none of this will matter and you can be pleased that if nothing else, the pandemic bestowed you with more material than might have been the case otherwise.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
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Early Images – Iva Davies
Theme from Jungle Jim – DO-RE-MI
Gentlemen Take Polaroids (single version) – Japan
Love in Motion (single) – ICEHOUSE
Funky Town – Lipps Inc
Miss America – STYX
Funky Town – Pseudo Echo
Don’t Go – Pseudo Echo
Living in a Dream – Pseudo Echo
Fooled Again – Pseudo Echo
Take on the World – Pseudo Echo
Just Keep Walking – INXS
See Through – Pseudo Echo
Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran
A Beat for You – Pseudo Echo
Sounds Like a Melody – Alphaville
Listening – Pseudo Echo
Change in Mood – Kids in the Kitchen
I Will Be You – Pseudo Echo
Walkaway – Pseudo Echo
Ebony Eyes – Brill
Suddenly Silently – Origene
Suddenly Silently – Pseudo Echo
Teleporter – Pseudo Echo
Minor Earth, Major Sky – A-ha
The Desert – Pseudo Echo
Things You Like – Pseudo Echo
Fathers Arms – Pseudo Echo
Never Never – The Assembly
Ultraviolet – Pseudo Echo
Lonely – Pseudo Echo
Lament – Ultravox
Architecturally Sound – Pseudo Echo
It Couldn’t Happen Here – Pet Shop Boys ft Ennio Morricone
Listening (Acoustica) – Pseudo Echo
Love an Adventure (Acoustica) – Pseudo Echo
Send Me an Angel (Acoustica) – Pseudo Echo
Send Me an Angel – Real Life
Wedge-Tail – Pseudo Echo
New is the Way – Pseudo Echo
Formotion – Pseudo Echo
Another Chance – Roger Sanchez
Love an Adventure (chill version) – Pseudo Echo
Quasar – Pseudo Echo
Photo credits: Discogs except Kraftwerk band shot brooklynvegan.com and I’m Alright cover from the bands Facebook page. Brian Acoustica shot from You Tube retouched by KH