Wang Chung: Serious Fun – Beyond the Flat Horizon
A JOURNEY WITHOUT MAPS
If you look at the map on my Arrivals page and on social you may notice the grey graph of the ocean floor and dotted around it, a small ship. Aside which I mention the tag line ‘Riding the New Wave of Cultural Travel one – point on the curve – at a time!’ This, if you don’t know, pertains to the album of the same name by Wang Chung. Points on the Curve that is, not the rest.
Further still I was rather humbled recently to find none other than their singer Jack Hues following me on social which is mighty generous considering I’ve been following him (musically speaking, along with bassist Nick Feldman and for that album drummer Darren Costin) since 1984! Some 35 years ago and it’s there my intro to things Wang Chung begins (cue misty wavy going back in time effect)…
So here I was in the UK feeling sorry for myself, travel all but a memory. Having always had a thing for Japan (the country) the eighties were kind of feeding me all kinds of sonic sustenance (see the Now That’s What I Call Orientalism blog). One Saturday on the morning TV came a music video – this is before The Chart Show exclusively dealt in them – and it was called Dance Hall Days by a new, or so I thought, band called Wang Chung.
I didn’t particularly care what it meant, it just sounded good. Kind of Bowie-esque and being as ICEHOUSE weren’t getting any love here Wang Chung would not replace but certainly run parallel with them. Little did I know WC weren’t going to get much either – unusual for an English band at home and when you consider they were being produced by Tears for Fears team Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum even more perplexing.
Were the Wangs too late to the table? Had UK audiences overdosed on new wave? Or were they sick of what seemed at first glance another feint Bowie-franchise?
SHRINK WRAPPING POINTS
Wang Chung of course were not new at all but had a past life (see also Bridges – A-ha, Flowers – Icehouse, Graduate – Tears For Fears, Serious Young Insects – Boom Crash Opera etc). The Wangs had come from The Intellecktuals via 57 Men (which is how many images I sourced for this blog) and finally Huang Chung. It would take time to figure all of this out mind you.
For now a quick visit to Cardiff – specifically the Virgin Megastore and there before me was the shrink wrapped Points on the Curve, on vinyl back then for £4.49 looking dramatic in its grey graph skin with jade WANG chung titling. It was saying ‘Hello Kelv’ and I was definitely in. But I didn’t purchase that day – a lack of pocket money perhaps.
Interesting that the HMV ad for the album has it at £4.79 and the stores own type in gil sans is not too far off the band logo for MOSAIC – you’ll see what I mean in due course (if you don’t know already). And as a sad footnote is the fact ‘Points’ album designer Barney Bubbles committed suicide more or less as the album was being released.
The single meanwhile (in pink graph with the band name in deep green) climbed to 21. And that was more or less it as far as the UK went. Even worse than ICEHOUSE had managed with Hey Little Girl (17) – I mention it here as that and Dance Hall Days would be the songs that define both acts on these less than fair shores.
In America the song danced its way to number 16 with more to come but I’ll get to that too. The band by the way were signed to American label Geffen so maybe that had something to do with it. Though it made the top 10 in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many of the European territories.
Back in the UK it was a familiar story with acts I like, the next single Don’t Let Go (white graph, purple type) does nothing, and Wait – remixed for single release by one Stephen Lipson (Propaganda, Annie Lennox) – even less.
This left the second hand stores on my regular trips to Bristol, the bargain bins at Woolies and other stores to discover what was what in the world of Wang Chung. I see the single of Wait with Dance Hall Days Part 2 on the b-side (it sounds nothing like the Dance Hall Days). The cover looks a little different than the others in that it has no graph and carries musical notation with a rust red band title (same logo) and the song title.
It’s then that all manner of other unknown items surface. Singles of China, and Hold Back the Tears – I had seen neither before. Journey Without Maps? I like the sound of that. Years later on You Tube I hear an archival broadcast of Radio 1’s pop panel where guests review the weeks singles. It’s a good week and they’re being judged by David Sylvian and Robert Palmer.
Sylvian likes China Crisis (African and White) but not China – accusing the band of jumping on the zeitgeist bandwagon for things oriental. J’Accuse? This would be a prime moment to enlighten you to the phrase where Jack Hues (Jeremy Ryder) got his stage name from. But you knew that right? Palmer on the other hand likes the brass. China isn’t a hit.
I MUST HAVE SEEN YOUR FACE BEFORE
Another time, another place and lurking in the racks was… a 12” of Dance Hall Days in a red cover on Arista records and produced by Tim Friese-Green! You mean this thing has been kicking around for years!? The real first album HUANG CHUNG had been issued in March of 1982 (as had Days) but stiffed (record company term that neither band or label want to hear i.e it didn’t shift too many units).
The story goes that they modified the name on signing to Geffen as no one could pronounce it and they were sick of being called Hung Chung. Back in my regular record binging haunt of Bristol more artefacts were discovered; 12”s of both Don’t Let Go and again unknown to me a 1983 issue of Don’t Be My Enemy.
The former featured Ornamental Elephant and I don’t know what the ‘ornamental elephant element’ means but according to Jack the pesky blighters have been residing in us all for years! Seriously I know I say ‘dramatic’ a lot but I’ve loved that track ever since. The latter featured a ‘ticking groover’ mix. I should also give mention to the hit making version of Dance Hall Days (in the pink sleeve) b-side There is a Nation; the sentiment wonderful and still relevant.
‘There is a Nation, wherever we go, with places to talk about, and people to know.’
This song in my opinion was too good to be a b-side but if anything furthered my interest in the band as we have similar pursuits; travel, places, people, and an existential outlook – ‘there is the heart, there is the soul’ and ‘there is your being, there is your breath.’ It also contains Jack’s most Bowie-esque moment in the high pitched ‘for you and for meeeeee oh.’ Though if you listen in to Wang Chung at length, you realise Jack is not mimicking Bowie at all but being himself.
All the Points singles came with picture disc editions and in Holland and North America the remix of Enemy was coupled with another for Wait (8mins a piece) in a deep grey sleeve with the logo in yellow and what looks like the red leaves that cling to autumn walls. Another illustrative effect embellished the cover of Fire in the Twilight a couple of years later.
The North American and European issues of Don’t Let Go had an entirely different cover using the ship from Points as the main, err, point of reference. The Japanese accentuate on this by adding a shot of the band and the Brazilians opt for something totally unique in red with its own logo.
Points on the Curve would attain the grand height of 34 in the UK – not bad considering its lack of hits after which drummer Darren Costin quit to pursue his own quest as a HERO.
‘The breakup was a mutual thing,’ Jack Hues insisted. ‘Nick and I wanted to Wang Chung to be the way we wanted to it to be. We wanted it to be experimental. We wanted to try this and that and do some offbeat stuff. Darren was intent on making a flagrantly commercial record. If we had stayed together, the tension between the two factions would have been horrible and very destructive. From the LA Times Dec 28, 1986
Points best showing was in fact not in America although 30 was a fair achievement, but across the North Sea in the Netherlands where its ship sailed up the chart docking at 19. Behind the jade type and grey graph lie the music. It is one of those albums that could be sequenced a number of ways and was.
Most common is Dance Hall Days followed by Wait but there is also a version beginning with Don’t Let Go followed by Days. It’s a difficult record to sequence in that it has two track 9s The Waves and Devoted Friends. The latter of which demonstrates a neat progression from I Can’t Sleep on their debut, more on that later. I quite like The Waves coming toward the end of the album instead of directly after True Love (as it borrows lyrics from it).
Some songs sadly suffer from a serious bout of repetition; Look at Me Now and Talk it Out. The grey of the cover was a good fit in that so much of the album is bathed in greys and blue (Devoted, Don’t Let Go, Look and The Waves) but that doesn’t mean it’s a gloomy record and it has its fair share of, well, warmer sides of the cool if you like; ‘Days,’ True Love, Even if You Dream for example).
The orchestral flourish at the beginning of Talk it Out is almost an unofficial theme resident in many of the songs including Dance Hall Days during the ‘you need her and she needs you’ middle eight and in the emotion-charged finale of Devoted Friends.
CITY OF THE ANGELS
Onto 1985 and the guys, now down to a duo, are making a name for themselves across the pond, lucky Yanks. It’s movie soundtracks that are particularly catching fire in an almost literal sense. Fire in the Twilight from The Breakfast Club is produced by Keith Forsey – another ICEHOUSE link – who is also responsible for the The Reggae which backs it up on single issues.
The video might not be anything to write home about but I loved the track. Again the Brazilians opt for their own brand chung with a black and white image, same logo as their take on Don’t Let go. Elsewhere the cover was the same save for America who play on the songs connection with the movie with shots of the characters and a rather boring logo.
TV and Film were going to play a very big part of their success in America, scoring the whole of William Friedkin’s To Live in Die LA. The director gave them the luxury of complete creative control and then built the film around their music! Wait may have been an overhang from Points but the rest was new including some beautiful work not just on the escapist title track which struck the cruelest number – 41 – in the US.
‘I wonder why we waste our lives here, when we could run away to paradise, but I am held in some invisible vice and I can’t get away, To Live and Die in LA.’ In case you’re wondering, the single came in a similar cover to the album, though I’d have been tempted to do it in black and white or with a blue tint to accentuate the sombre mood of the song.
The album might have been produced in Motion-vision by David Motion but its title song was beautifully manicured by the expert hands of Steve Jolley and Tony Swain (especially arresting on Orchesography with the tempo slowing to a halt during the latter moments of the song).
Lullaby sounds just like it should, an almost perfect execution of a ‘movie’ song. A finger snapping shuffle ‘sing a lullaby to the night.’ It’s the sound of a million yellow lit houses at night or the amber lights of a motorway guiding home, they hold the power to mesmerise, to hypnotise but I’ll get onto that too. Likewise the startling and suspenseful City of the Angels sounds an exact musical mirror image to the sunset on the front cover.
A descent into the unknown, a long line similar to what ICEHOUSE attained with Great Southern Land and Pink Floyd’s (well David Gilmour’s) The Narrow Way from Ummagumma. Angels is a sonic seduction caressing the heat of an orange dusk before kicking into gear, in essence an expanded instrumental Fire in the Twilight but much more. Long, but worth all of its nine minute duration.
Thus the guys were not afraid of taking on longer pieces and pulling them off with great finesse and drama. Speaking of which the guys weren’t in MIAMI VICE – though judging by the look of their wardrobe on the Wake Up Stop Dreaming cover they could’ve been! But their songs were and if you thought To Live and Die in LA was dark then True Love backing up an incestuous rape scene was heavy stuff for the fun hipsters.
From there lay their commercial zenith with MOSAIC – which the band labeled ‘global pop’ due to it being recorded in London, Vienna and L.A. The video for lead single Everybody Have Fun Tonight featuring a much documented jump frame causing some viewers to have epileptic fits or seizures. In America it reaches 2, Canada one better and eight in Australia.
Oddly the Dutch are by this time beginning to falter and it stalls at 30, still better than home though. If there is a number crueller than 41 it’s 76 – one place out from qualifying as a hit in these isles.
The song also featured the term ‘EVERYBODY HAVE FUN TONIGHT, EVERYBODY WANG CHUNG TONIGHT’ which became a zeitgeist expression in the States. ‘What’s (so and so) doing? ‘-He’s Wang Chung-ing.’
I bet a few advertising execs wish they’d come up with that one ‘Wassup? Wang chuuuung!’ The odd factor here is MOSAIC isn’t their biggest selling in America, that accolade belongs to Points on the Curve.
The DJ Gary Davies champions second single Let’s Go to zero effect. Only in the States does it climb to a respectable 9 and once again performs favourably in Australia and New Zealand going all the way to the top 20. It may be fair to say the extended versions by Shep Pettibone might try the patience of some with the looped woo-woo-woos!
Note the capitalisation of WANG CHUNG on this and the standard US editions of Hypnotize Me. Only the Japanese keep the continuity of MOSAIC running with the lower case wang chung in gil sans. And speaking of Hypnotize Me, which became single three and another attached to a movie – Inner Space. The Dutch cover uniquely plays on this factor, the same as the American’s did with Fire in the Twilight.
Hypnotize has its fans, Tina Turner for one, but somehow it couldn’t mesmerise the fans in the States to take it any higher than 36. The Flat Horizon which could also have been a single features Siedah Garrett on b/vox and some call it filler but I really like The Eyes of the Girl (official video).
The RITZ show (summer 86) from this time is worth seeing (if you’re a fashionista you’ll love the outfits and well, the hair! Drummer Brian Hitt’s mullet is worth a look alone! And Deborah Dobkin is so New York! It’s a nostalgia fest – and as such is just right for the Kulture Kiosk!
WE CAN BE HEROES!
What became of Darren Costin? Well he formed Heroes along with Michael Casswell (guitar), Korda Marshall (keyboards), Chuck Sabo (drums) who sounds familiar, and Colin Baldry on bass. I didn’t get to hear much of their sole album ‘Here We Are’ but if you look at the dictionary of 1987 pop My Heart Beats (to the beat of love) is pretty much it.
A dash of brass, backing singers, squeal away geetar solo from Casswell. It’s semi-wang or wang-lite, possibly more Brother Beyond than Brother Beyond and produced by Richard James Burgess who filled the same role for Living in a Box the same year. I wasn’t going to include it on the playlist but the next morning I found myself singing it, somewhat wryly, around my apartment. Therefore it did make some sort of an impression and is another candidate for a Shelly Long movie soundtrack.
Driftaway carries a familiar 80s shuffle beat and those cowbell keys commonplace back then. I wonder why it didn’t make a dent in sales or the charts. That said I can’t remember hearing anything on the radio, unless I did without knowing who it was. Another footnote is that six of its ten songs were co-written with Nick (Feldman) and it’s also mixed by Brian ‘MOSAIC’ Malouf, so it’s of note in the Wang-esphere.
TALL TREES AND BLUE SKIES
Back at Wang central and success may have eluded them in Grand Britannia but they were still able to attract class musicians to fill the vacant roles left by other members notably the drumming of Vinnie Colaiuta. The Warmer Side of Cool – again produced by Peter Wolf was their most Americanised sounding record yet and ironically enough rejected by them. Had they had enough Wang Chunging?
Simultaneously American audiences went cold on their own Hall and Oates so it must have been the time. The dream it seemed was officially over and so were the eighties. To quote the lyrics of the future Abducted by the 80s ‘now it’s gone, we had our chance now everybody’s moving on.’ According to Jack, speaking on The Hustle podcast, The Warmer Side of Cool was not enjoyable to make.
Despite the budget of a nice video, Praying to a New God hit the skids in the States (you can reverse the digits of Hypnotise Me’s peak to find its chart position). Nonetheless the album included some notables as they always do. Could Jack’s falsetto on What’s So Bad About Feeling Good have been influential to Bono’s during the Achtung Baby and Zooropa years?
Snakedance – possibly their sexiest – ‘all the words are dead so we need to Snakedance’ is period eighties funk/rock possibly with a synth bass but possesses some neat touches such as the guitar that sounds like it’s having a nervous breakdown on 23secs. Colaiuta’s cymbal work and the silences that shadow the lines ‘Everything’s real but it doesn’t belong to you’ and ‘The silence in the room is all that belongs to you.’
Probably the only thing reminiscent of Wang Chung on Snakedance is the ‘Wrap Yourself Around me, help me start again, wrap yourself around me and come and Snakedance’ sequence. Big World utilises the kind of self referencing I like by borrowing the refrain from the first albums Dancing (which at the time I didn’t know).
The cover is a montage and simultaneously showcases the bands wacky humour and seriousness. Back in Blighty, Dance Hall Days Revisited is issued with a rap in it. It’s an anomaly in that it’s a stand alone single – not pushing a Greatest Hits and also fails to chart.
RISING IN THE EAST
Although HUANG CHUNG (Yellow Bell) was their first album it was the last – other than Tazer Up – I got round to buying. When I finally caught up with it I found it was like The Police, Japan and Haircut One Hundred had met and had a jam session! In other words they were yet to settle on a ‘direction’ and didn’t have an fully formed identity as yet hence the names: NICK DE SPIGG, DARWIN, AND HOGG.
But it was still a step up from the post-punk of Isn’t it About Time We Were on TV. It’s their only album as a quartet and sounds like one of those produced by Peter McIan (Men at Work and the first Mr Mister album) but isn’t. That honour goes to Roger Bechirian (who I’ve not heard of before or since) and the mighty Rhett Davies of Eno, Roxy, ICEHOUSE and Cock Robin fame who handled one of my faves in I Can’t Sleep.
We’ve all had those insomniac moments in hotel rooms where we look out on the world and wonder what that city or distant shore is; the sky breaking in the new dawn. Years later in China itself I play China and Chinese Girls to my students to much bemusement. To them Wang Chung are as ancient as Xi’an’s Terra Cotta Army!
Ti-Na-Na – a single in Germany begins with a brooding 50 second intro before the king of early eighties instrumentation, Nick’s fretless bass, takes us out of our revery and into a more contemporary setting. It is like moving from a country idyll into the city and speaking of geographies, in my A-ha blog I mention nature being an almost unofficial member of the band.
Wang Chung also give plenty of references to the world around us perhaps more fittingly the world in which we live: I have already mentioned There is a Nation, but then there’s The Waves, The Flat Horizon, and in When Love Looks Back At You where Jack recalls ‘flying into spring leaving winter behind.’
Environmental concerns creep out on Tall Trees in a Blue Sky and Big World which even in the late eighties was a thing. The harmonic chorus on the lengthy outro of ‘keep on rolling through the night, cause this Big World is never gonna let you down, if we learn to treat her right, then the Big World is never gonna let us down’ culminates in the acoustic slap that would wrap up the Wang Chung story for over two decades!
BEYOND THE WARMER SIDE OF COOL
In the early nineties Jack recorded The Anatomy Lesson (another ghost album which he says he’ll get round to releasing at some point) and scored another Friedkin directed movie, The Guardian while Nick became an A&R man for Warners via a stint as Jesus in Promised Land (well, if you’re gonna be in a band called Promised Land!) Another duo this time with Jon Moss of Culture Club and Heartbeat UK.
Seriously it’s a wonder Nick wasn’t asked to do Jesus Christ Superstar. Anyway to the music and Circle in the Square, a single from July 1992 is the kind of soul-lite jazz pop Tears for Fears Curt Smith was peddling at the same time and rather lovely.
Lyrically it follows Tall Trees and Big World as it’s another pean to the environment i.e. the parties nearly over, we’re running out of time – ‘If you wanna change the world, If you really care, If you wanna change the world, Make a circle in the square.’
Flowers in the Desert is a sedate English rap (save the falsetto chorus) in the vein of a swing beat Beloved (the band as in The Sun Rising) or the flower child pop ABC were working with their UP and Abracadabra era or The Lemon Trees. So it’s not a bad effort and certainly less bland than the Americana rock of Warmer Side of Cool.
The album is co-produced by Tony Swain (of Jolley and Swain) but it’s a world away from To Live and Die in LA! All Dressed Up for the End of the World is another smooth take on sedate soul-y pop. Not on the album was a cover of Something in the Air with a Soul2Soul beat.
It seems the guys were destined to work in duos; this time it’s Jack’s turn pairing up with Tony Banks – yes him of Genesis for Strictly Inc. Though I took notice of the ads doing the rounds at the time, I mean I was a Genesis fan and I liked the single Tony did with Nik Kershaw (I Wanna Change the Score) yet I never got round to hearing the Strictly Inc material.
And it is exactly what it says on the tin; a Genesis sounding record with Jack Hues singing, the bridge between We Can’t Dance and Calling All Stations. Produced by Nick Davis and featuring guitar by Daryl Stuermer the comparisons were always going to be easy to spot. Moody ballad Don’t Turn Your Back on Me is a good start and sounds like something the Human League could pull off (though Steve Winwood’s Freedom Overspill also came to mind).
Walls of Sound is pleasant and a reasonable choice for a single. The hymn like A Piece of You is great for the photographers out there – ‘a street in Paris in the rain, I shoot in black and white a thousand frames.’ But best of all are Charity Balls, Strictly Incognito and Back to You (the latter written by Nik Kershaw) which are more sprightly and lyrically more interesting ‘you go to goodwill functions, charity balls, you walk with royalty in presidential halls.’
An Island in the Darkness at just under 18 mins is an epic jaunt that you would expect from someone who came up with One for the Vine. Perhaps Tony Banks took Only Seventeen as a literal instruction. Thus it must be said the songs are lengthy, many crawling over the 5 minute marker and remember what I said about grey being a good choice of colour for the Points on the Curve sleeve, well it would’ve been good for Strictly Inc too.
I am not sure why the album cover is like it is as in the press shot Jack is looking very bohemian. The single cover to Walls of Sound would have been a better choice for the album as they are incognito as illustrated silhouettes. Plus the words would have made sense as it’s a very wordy record. The official cover makes Jack look like an anarchic figure; perhaps Keith Flint from the Prodigy and Tony Banks like some sort of fiend!
I thought I knew all there was to know about Wang Chung until one day on You Tube I spot Dreaming in the Hills of Heaven. What’s this? No it can’t be, it must be some sort of mistake. So I hit play and there it is, a glorious slice of dream pop from 1985 that had somehow escaped detection hiding away, unknown to me, on the 12” of Fire in the Twilight.
And if that wasn’t enough the Wangs are the gift that keeps on giving… Hard Times – wow! And that was on a double pack single of Wait, all these years I never knew it. Points on the Curve probably could have been a 20 track double album and that may yet happen with the new deluxe issues due anytime soon!
Right, a quick word on the compilations. There are only a few in existence and unlike A-ha or even ICEHOUSE it seems WC are not marketed as a classy eighties band but a tacky novelty band who aren’t worthy of a proper overall design experience, hence the reason none of the comps make an appearance here. One is noteworthy not for its design but for the inclusion of a new song; Space Junk.
The Millennium Collection has a nice uniform banner of silver and black/white type. But the band shot is ill advised. And the compilation called Dance Hall Days is simply hideous. In the spirit of creativity I’ve knocked up a couple of possibles. Now see for yourselves what the Millennium Collection would have looked like utilising the ‘Charles Dance’ shot from above. Much better no?
The second is more an inner image to an imagined anthology again using the same image as it’s one of the few where they look less well, eighties! I think this is the main reason they were looked on as a bit naff rather than the serious musicians they really are.
ABDUCTED BY THE EIGHTIES, THE NINETIES AND THE NOUGHTIES!
It’s hard to believe it took 23 years when you consider their main period of activity was between 1982 and 1989. Tazer Up took over three times as long to reach us which puts the Blue Nile, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Guns & Roses in the shade any day.
Tazer, described by Nick as ‘a modern antique – faithful to their past but also contemporary,’ appeared without warning in December 2012 at a time when many were quoting the Mayans who prophesied the end of the world.
Well so much for that. It’s also their most ‘English’ outing since Points On The Curve, albeit a very different England than the land of colourful snoods and 80s electro-pop from which WC emanate. While there are traces of the ‘world music’ traits like tribal chanting that peppered the Warmer Side of Cool, there is nothing quite as rockin’ as say Logic and Love.
Like fellow Brits Duran Duran, Wang Chung washed up on the edge of America scoring five top 40 hits in the process to only one (no prizes for guessing) here in the UK. Also like DD, they keep an eye on things current so don’t expect any post-rock art noodling here. That said don’t expect any Rihanna styled RnB either, but hey they did cover Hot in Herre so you never know!
Kicking off is the umpteenth re-working of said Brit-hit which depending on how you look on it is either a blessing or a curse! It’s now appeared on three of their six albums less the compilations and to some it may seem odd to start a new album with a revamp of a 30 year old track. On the other hand that may be the point and while cross-referencing themselves has always been part of their repertoire (more on that later) for me it is treading a little thin.
Track 2 is the rousing City of Light – not the same song as John Foxx’s rocking 1985 b-side for electro-pop anoraks out there. Up third is the rather lovely Lets Get Along, which extends an acoustic-lite Americana handshake to its audient.
Has ‘yeah’ ever sounded so sweet in pop? Rent Free is a good concept – the memory of an ex-lover overstaying their welcome in the mind however it’s the few that follow that are perhaps the strongest.
The sultry RnB of Justify Your Tone opens out into a more traditional chorus, the enchanting tone poem Driving You and Why? But an Annie Lennox cover this is not, oh no. Although they’ve previously hinted at funk, most noticeably on MOSAIC’s first three songs, all of which utilise it as a backdrop to a rock/pop setting.
On Why? The funk is very much to the fore which suggests Scritti Politti are not the only ones into American RnB grooves. Again, for all it’s funky chops it is very much an English funk. It’s easy to imagine it coming out of a Notting Hill or Ladbrook Grove window in the summer. It’s also the first of the cross references ‘Why won’t you dance with me? Why won’t you Wang Chung with me?’
Following that, more scenes as viewed from the driver’s seat. While Driving You laments the beauty of being behind the wheel at night, London Orbital is a typically grey England ‘Black-red-white fills my sight’ which in turn is a near reference to their Black-Blue-White (from the LA soundtrack). Thankfully, Abducted By The 80s is the song version rather than Rob Gee’s narrated poem version from the EP.
Here the guitar refrain from Dance Hall Days makes a welcome and much more relevant return, a bit like ‘true love is the answer, true love is the thing, true love is the answer to – everything’ turning up on The Waves all those years ago.
For Overwhelming Feeling, the band like so many before them pay homage to The Beatles. Initially I dismissed it for that reason. As you may guess I think the whole Beatles saga is a bit overblown, overrated and although they may well have had some decent material, the fact is they happened to be one of the first bands of the rock era.
Does this mean everyone and their dog has to praise them as some sort of musical God’s that can never be surpassed? Nonetheless, Wang Chung do themselves proud considering and when I began listening to the song it is not only endearing but a very good hook ‘orpheus in the underworld.’ Finally and similarly to their latter recordings MOSAIC and Warmer Side of Cool, the set closes with the longest piece and one of its strongest.
Previously premièred as part of the Abducted in the 80s EP, Stargazing has a gritty little guitar hook that repeats throughout the track and it seems to follow a uniquely British fascination of what may lurk in our immediate heavenly vicinity. From Bowie to Pink Floyd, and other British duo’s Fripp and Eno, the Pet Shop Boys and Tears For Fears (well Roland Orzabal) have all come up with at least one or more songs devoted to the cosmos.
They may have spent two decades away but like Scott Walker they are acutely aware of what the world is up to and where we as a species are at. ‘The super collider will be there soon’ indeed – if Virgin Galactic doesn’t get there first that is. When Tazer Up was released I was based in China.
At last I could identify with the song, ‘China! There’s no finer – place to be’ and where better to Wang Chung tonight! I joked to Nick Feldman that Jack could be singing about Cardiff when he sings ‘I’ve been to Cathays’ but I think Nick took me seriously as he reassured me Jack was singing about China.
A year later and there are a couple of interesting curiosities. One, a French label ‘Culture Factory’ issues ‘Points’ and ‘MOSAIC’ as limited editions but no extra tracks. And then in 2016 what looks like another best of called ‘Playlist’ is in fact Wang Chung’s first live album – culled from the show at London’s Bush Hall in May of 2013, so a complete disaster of packaging and one wonders who had given the green light to market it as a best of.
The Wangs take on Hot in Herre allowed them to consider other songs to sing so in 2015 they took on Blur’s Girls and Boys. They are not afraid to take on the ridiculous or the seemingly impossible!
MUSINGS ON THE BALLAD
I think I can quite safely say this is one of the most beautifully packaged items in Jack’s entire career thanks in the main to Anna Fewster’s excellent and sympathetic design. The instrumentation is sparse with Jack simply singing on a few tracks, playing acoustic guitar on two and electric on the other. This is augmented by bass and piano.
The lyrics are a collaboration with Kelvin Corcoran whose thesis came from his book Hotel Shadow. The record has a homey air to it given it was recorded at home in Canterbury in the south east of England. With titles like An Expanse of Water, Class War and Sex War it’s an album clearly hinting at the intellectual academic spectrum of the literary and the song.
The first track Barbara Allen has familiar feeling to Overwhelming Feeling and something that Chris Martin and Coldplay might’ve come up with; Jack’s voice raspy and weathered by years of musical activity and within that body of work some bloody high notes!
An Expanse of Water is nothing like I imagined and is not dissimilar to Jack’s PRIMITIF – more on coming up. Of particular interest for me is The Truth where Jack narrates all of two lines over the music, and I wish the whole thing was like that but alas it is not the case.
For 2019’s 22 minute Nobody’s Fault But My Own, the vibe conjured by the cover image couldn’t be more different, like an outcast from the ECM label. I suppose you could say that life with the Wangs (or members thereof) is a bit like Forrest Gump’s take on life being like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get next!
LET’S ADD STRINGS
With myself newly returned to the UK in 2018 Nick cranks the PR machine into gear for an upcoming release – not the mooted follow up one was expecting but an orchestral set of re-workings called… Orchesogrpahy via a label called August Day.
Just as they did with MOSAIC in Vienna the band chose to record with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchesography might be stretching it as it sounds like a rock band with an orchestra behind them. And some like Electric Days are more electronic with an orchestra flourish. For that reason I’d probably prefer the orchestral/vocal disc.
Hypnotize Me is given a fresh analysis (i.e. it’s in a different key) but not sure it benefits from the band trying to be funky with an orchestra. Still rakes up a certain level of charm. I guess you could say I love it in a half hearted way – but the original is among my personal faves.
The ballad version of Everybody Have Fun again sounds like something else Chris Martin would come up with. Maybe there’s a future collaboration there. Anything is possible in Wang-land.
And so to the now (which will inevitably in time become then, the future becoming the present to become the past). Jack is set to release his first solo album, not The Anatomy Lesson but PRIMITIF – born from poems dedicated to his late wife. The voice is still there but make no mistake this is NOT Wang Chung!
Whitstable Beach is an indie rock thrash (there are quieter passages but it’s not easy listening) what it does have is brilliant lyrics… ’you’re swimming just out of reach, I shiver on the shingle beach’ and ‘I drown on the shore’ and ‘my intention is an isthmus stretching far into the breakers’ A Long Time is bluesy. They are also fairly lengthy pieces. Winter is almost 10 minutes!
And again its sound relates toward to the lo-fi indie alternative vibe. Not my cup of tea but at least he dares to be different. The closest it comes to Wang Chung is Akasha, their song from Of Hands and Hearts; music for the Tsunami disaster back in 2005.
Clearly a very personal record lamenting the loss of Jack’s wife in 2014. Other titles include Diamond Ring, You Are the One I Love and You Will Kill the One You Love. If Stargazing was evident on Tazer Up, then you might almost expect a song called Astrology and the seasons wrap around this body of work beginning with Winter and ending up with Autumn, the penultimate track on the album.
And there you have it, the mosaic world of Wang Chung. We, the audiant, the fan, have heard from the world in which they live. Real people, real artists, real words and real music culled from real life. They have amassed a healthy body of work in many genres. Undaunted and able to laugh at themselves.
Who else would call one of their songs (Fire in the Twilight) Fire Toilet on set lists? Need I point out the band initials are WC. And that just about covers everything you need to know about Wang Chung. Oh wait, you want Beatles by Ukulele? Awrr crap ok, here.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please check out the MEDIA and UNIVERSITY pages. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…
Dance Hall Days (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Hey Little Girl (from Primitive Man) – ICEHOUSE
True Love (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Dance Hall Days Part 2 (b-side to Wait) – Wang Chung
Wait (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Don’t Let Go (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
The Waves (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Devoted Friends (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Ornamental Elephant (b-side to Don’t Let Go) – Wang Chung
There is a Nation (b-side to Dance Hall Days) – Wang Chung
Fire in the Twilight (single and from The Breakfast Club OST) – Wang Chung
To Live and Die in LA (from To Live and Die in LA) – Wang Chung
Lullaby (from To Live and Die in LA) – Wang Chung
City of the Angels (from To Live and Die in LA) – Wang Chung
Every Big City (from To Live and Die in LA) – Wang Chung
Everybody Have Fun Tonight (from Mosaic) – Wang Chung
Let’s Go (Shep’s Dub)(from 12” of Let’s Go) – Wang Chung
Hypnotize Me (from Mosaic) – Wang Chung
The Flat Horizon (from Mosaic) – Wang Chung
The Eyes of the Girl (from Mosaic) – Wang Chung
Look at Me Now (from the RITZ) – Wang Chung
My Heart Beats (from Here We Are) – Heroes
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
Snakedance (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
When Love Looks Back at You (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
The Warmer Side of Cool (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
Tall Trees in a Blue Sky (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
Big World (from The Warmer Side of Cool) – Wang Chung
Dancing (from Huang Chung) – Huang Chung
I Can’t Sleep (from Huang Chung) – Huang Chung
Ti-Na-Na (from Huang Chung) – Huang Chung
China (from Huang Chung) – Huang Chung
Circle in the Square (from Promised Land) – Promised Land
Child of Love – The Lemon Trees
I Wanna Change the Score (single) – Tony Banks/Nik Kershaw
Freedom Overspill – Steve Winwood
Don’t Turn Your Back on Me (from Strictly Inc.) – Strictly Inc.
Walls of Sound (from Strictly Inc.) – Strictly Inc.
Charity Balls (from Strictly Inc.) – Strictly Inc.
Strictly Incognito (from Strictly Inc.) – Strictly Inc.
Back to You (bonus track from Strictly Inc.) – Strictly Inc.
Dreaming in the Hills of Heaven (from the 12” of Fire in the Twilight) – Wang Chung
Hard Times (from a double pack single of Wait) – Wang Chung
Abducted by the 80s (from Tazer Up!) – Wang Chung
Why? (from Tazer Up!) – Wang Chung
Driving You (from Tazer Up!) – Wang Chung
Justify Your Tone (from Tazer Up!) – Wang Chung
Stargazing (from Tazer Up!) – Wang Chung
The Truth (from A Thesis on the Ballad) – Jack Hues and the Quartet
The World in Which We Live (from Orchesography) – Wang Chung
Hypnotize Me (from Orchesography) – Wang Chung
Electric Days (from Orchesography) – Wang Chung
Everybody Have Fun Tonight – reprise (from Orchesography) – Wang Chung
Everyday Life (from Everyday Life) – Coldplay
Whitstable Beach (from PRIMITIF) – Jack Hues
Cover images from discogs
Dance Hall Days advert from my personal archive.
Points on the Curve HMV advert from the internet.
Jack ‘red room’ shot from his bandcamp page.