Twenty years on, I still remember Transvision Vamp fondly. Back in the 1980s, they were the ideal antidote to the Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced brand of pop music that dominated the decade. They had loud guitars and Wendy James vocals owed more to Billy Idol, with a sneer and a scream, than to Kylie and Jason. But as time moved on, so did musical taste; the 1990s brought boy bands and Transvision Vamp were eventually no more.
But I never forgot and so when I heard that Wendy James had a new band and was making a comeback, I had hopes that she would transport me back to my youth, once more screaming over a power pop hook and making me want to jump around like the teenager I havent been for a long time.
Whilst not having quite that effect, The Man starts encouraging enough, with a jaunty bass line, combined with an indie rock style guitar. Sadly, this is as good as it gets, with James vocal sounding like all the life has been sucked out of it and the lyrics consisting of three lines constantly repeated. It remains a track with a decent bass line, but the repetition gets soul destroying after too long and thats what ruins this one for me.
There are some interesting guitar effects at the start of Grease Monkey, along with a synthesiser that makes it sound like James is taking her 1980s heritage seriously. Again, however, the song turns into nothing, with the guitar and synth effect repeated pretty much the whole way through with little variation and the vocals once again sounding lifeless. Musically, this wouldnt have made a bad synth-pop tune, although it would have needed a little more work, but the vocals drag the whole song down with them.
Princess Patience Blues has a slower tempo and a quite dark piano running all the way through it, which is interesting, but does get a little monotonous, as theres not a great deal of variation to it, much like the earlier tracks. I think this is meant to be a ballad of some sort, but theres again very little life in James vocal and it turns the song into more of a dirge than a ballad. The song does appear to be attempting to be a dark pop ballad and succeeds only in being dark.
Theres a very lively synthesiser intro to Hip Hop 156, which is the closest Racine have come to something with any kind of life and its actually a pretty danceable tune. Its a decent enough 1980s synth pop attempt and although it doesnt have any of the Transvision Vamp edge, this is the first song on which Wendy James sounds even the slightest bit interested. Sadly, the lyrics are vapid and repetitive, but as this is as good as the album has got so far, that is easier to overlook than before.
Sadly, W13th is a lot more laid back with an almost reggae beat to it, although the reggae influence is more one of style than substance. Again, its a track that seems to drone along and James doesnt have a lot of interest in it. Although this is typical of the album thus far, after the previous track proved that James does still know what shes doing, this seems even more of a let down by comparison. At over four and a half minutes long, by the end of this track, Im not sure whether to fall asleep from boredom or shoot myself.
Blonde Mink Mimi is thankfully a little livelier, although not quite as enthusiastic as Hip Hop 156. Its a similar sort of song, though, only this time with a lively indie pop riff and a slightly more involved vocal. It does get a little repetitive by the end, but still manages to be one of the better tracks on the album; such is the lack of quality on show here.
When I first saw the title, I was hopeful that Heavy Metal Dude might just be a rock influenced track, but thats sadly not the case. This harks back to the album opener, The Man, in that it has a minimal yet annoyingly repetitive lyric, James vocal seems disinterested and the music makes the track sound more like an indie pop dirge than anything decent.
Theres an almost dance beat behind Thats the Breaks, Junior which, when combined with the strings, actually reminds me a little of the Brand New heavies for some reason. Its an upbeat track, with a strange pop-acid jazz style influence that seems to suit James lacklustre vocal a lot more than the indie pop from earlier. Thanks mostly to the music being the most interesting so far, this isnt a bad little track, although far from being great.
Sadly, Cakewalk is another that only has 4 or 5 lines worth of lyrics and gets very repetitive very quickly. There is a kind of trippy background, which makes me think of some of Portisheads kind of music. This has the potential to be quite relaxing chill out song, but it goes on for more than four minutes and, much like W13th, seriously outstays any welcome it had.
Life Goes On is another down tempo and dirge like tune. Its not intended as a ballad, but the slower delivery and music do give it a darker feel and the frequent repetition of both lyrics and the indie pop sounding backing track does tend to encourage boredom once more, especially as James doesnt sound all that interested again. Like others earlier on the album, this is another long track and again one that Id lost interest in long before the final note.
Theres a drum beat at the start of Deluxe that reminds me of Terence Trent DArbys Sign Your Name, but the music on this is more like a lounge act than anything else. The vocals are more varied than on most of the tracks, but with very little variation in the guitar lines, it does drag out a little, especially with a running time of more than four minutes once more.
Thankfully at this point the album is over and Im not at all sad to reach the end. Admittedly, when you go into an album (or, indeed, anything) with certain expectations, as I did here, the chance of disappointment is always increased. However, even had I put Number One on with a clear mind, I suspect I would still have found it to be a let down.
The problem with this album is that the vocalist sounds for the most part like she would rather be somewhere else. This certainly doesnt help, but combine this with what is largely monotonous music and the whole thing sounds like its designed to send you to sleep, especially with some of the tracks that go on and on when all reason or desire for them has long since faded and with a playing time of 45 minutes, the album as a whole outstays its welcome..
There is added disappointment in that you can look at Wendy James past, albeit from twenty years ago, and know that she is capable of so much more than this. This is made worse by there being a couple of decent tracks here, so you know she can still put out a decent song, but on this album she doesnt seem able to do it consistently.
The album has been seen for £3.99 on eBay and from £1.31 but I wouldnt recommend it, as its so patchy it doesnt really matter what kind of music youre into, this will disappoint. Even worse would be to pay £9.99 from Townsend Records or £11.99 from Amazon. I cant remember what the album cost me when I bought it, only that I know it didnt come free and therefore cost me too much. Its sad to see an icon from my youth fall on hard times this way, but this is an album I cannot recommend even half heartedly, for fear it will encourage the making of another.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Man
2 Grease Monkey
3 Princess Patience Blues
4 Hip Hop 156
5 W 13th
6 Blonde Mink Mimi
7 Heavy Metal Dude
8 Thats The Breaks Jr.
10 Life Goes On