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Weak in the Presence of Beauty - Floy Joy

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      20.02.2013 13:59
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      A largely unknown 80s gem of an album, covering a great mix of soul, R&B, pop and funk.

      Today, soul and jazz influenced pop group Floy Joy remain virtually unknown and forgotten. The English group formed from out of Sheffield in 1983 where the trio consisted of lead vocalist Elana Harris, brass instrument player Michael Ward and keyboardist/guitarist Shaun Ward. Together, the trio released their debut non-album single that year, the unsuccessful Answer Through Me. Soon after, Harris was replaced by English lovers rock singer Carroll Thompson, and together, Floy Joy recorded the 1984 album Into the Hot, which only managed to peak at #40 in New Zealand, failing to chart anywhere else in the world. It spawned three singles Until You Come Back to Me, Burn Down a Rhythm and Operator, where the first and second of the three singles managed to reach the lower end of the UK charts at #91 and #86 respectively. The lack of success basically caused the trio to break up although later in 1985, Michael Ward reformed the band, with the new all male line-up of vocalist Desy Campbell (also known as Desi or Desny Campbell), Ward and keyboardist/bassist Robert E. Clarke. Acting basically like a completely new group, the trio soon recorded a full album together, which was produced by American musician/producer Don "Don" Was, who had produced the original debut album as well. With the majority of material being written by Ward and Clarke, the album was released in 1986, titled after the leading single Weak in the Presence of Beauty.

      The album's opening track is Weak in the Presence of Beauty, a gorgeous and beautifully melodic soulful pop track. Immediately the song opens with the gentle, melodic and completely radio friendly keyboard lead, whilst some fitting saxophone keeps the song's soulful edge intact. The verses flow along nicely with Campbell's tender and smooth vocal over rhythm guitar and a solid drumbeat. A strong pre-chorus highlights group vocal over smooth keyboard backing, creating a great atmosphere which leads up perfectly to the chorus. The song's instantly infectious and beautifully carved chorus uses the main keyboard melody, combining it with excellent lyrics and gentle, fitting vocals. In fact, the song's chorus manages to capture a fantastic mood, immediately making this track an essential listen. A strong solo section highlights some finely performed saxophone, whilst the following choruses use backing vocals to push the mood even further, whilst an extra vocal layer performs some great lines over the top. Lyrically, the song speaks of the aftermath of a break up, where the singer of the song tries their best to move on and forget the past, but they always end up weak in the presence of their ex-lover, as they still have secret feelings for them. Notably, the song would be covered by English singer Alison Moyet in 1987 for her album Raindancing, where the song would become a big hit throughout Europe. Overall, a fantastic and beautifully performed track, perfectly constructed from start to finish, using great vocals, excellent instrumentation, strong lyrics and nice atmosphere. "Oh, its a long time since I saw you, well you know how time can fly, it seems like yesterday we were lovers, now we pass each other by. But if we're left alone tonight, don't ask me to hold you tight, I go weak, I go weak, I go weak, I go weak, weak in the presence of beauty..."

      Friday Night is solid track that manages to combine both a soulful and jazzy sound together, whilst maintaining some obvious pop roots. The song itself lasts approximately six and a half minutes, where it opens with some light and atmospheric instrumentation, highlighting some nice guitar and bass guitar. A basic formation of the chorus comes first, where the group vocal works nicely over the weaving keyboard layer that is showcased afterwards, along with a springy synthesizer layer. The verses make good use of Campbell's dominant and strong vocal which manages to also have a soulful and smooth edge, performed over some nice and clean guitar licks. The song's first proper chorus follows, which uses the group vocal over the keyboard and springy synthesizer layer, creating an infectious and soulful jazz-pop influenced sound. After the second and third proper choruses, two strong saxophone solos ooze plenty of atmosphere and captures the listener with a soulful hook. After the final chorus which grandly uses many a number of vocal layers, the song's main instrumentation is showcased before the lean guitar is left to bring the song to a fine close. Lyrically, the song speaks of moving on and leaving your old life behind without looking back, starting completely fresh. The track itself doesn't quite have the effect or memorability of the flawless album opener but the song still has many great qualities. Overall, a good and fitting track that highlights some great vocal, strong instrumentation, plenty of atmosphere and some fitting lyrics. "Start again where nobody knows me, a new life, another town, and I'll try to find someone who can hold me, maybe I'll settle down. And it'll be just like I say this time, no chance to return, oh, when I reach the hill, look over my shoulder, watching my old life burn...."

      Penny in my Pocket is a fantastic slice of soulful pop, offering plenty of nice atmosphere and some very thoughtful lyrics. The opening drum roll soon gives way to a fitting keyboard melody that sounds very much like an accordion, immediately setting the soulful mood, and aided by a hint of nice clean guitar. In the verses, Campbell's vocal is perfectly fitting and soulfully smooth over the gentle keyboard backing, whilst a group of backing vocalists perform some soulful harmonic backing in places. The song's gentle but still fully memorable chorus continues the use of the backing harmonic vocal group, whilst the lead vocal remains smooth over the accordion-themed keyboard. Following the second chorus, which uses a more dominant keyboard layer, a new vocal section which uses some more dominant lead vocal over fitting keyboard and backing harmonic vocal. For the ending, the song's title is repeated over the accordion-themed keyboard, whilst the backing harmonic vocal keeps the soulful sound fully intact. Lyrically, the song thoughtfully broadcasts the feelings of a man who is completely skint and lost, where he speaks of his life, talking about the frustration of job hunting, a long lost old friend, a certain regret and how his dreams feel so far away. These thoughtful lyrics keep the song interesting and memorable throughout, whilst casting a great atmosphere over the track. Overall, an excellent album track with some strong vocal, fine instrumentation, brilliant lyrics and some great backing vocals. "Had a friend I thought that I could talk to, lent him records, used to sit all day. I'd go to his house but his wife doesn't like me, she pays the bills and so I have to stay away. I took a walk without a penny in my pocket, feels like my dreams are a lifetime away..."

      Too Drunk to Funk is a strongly funk influenced track which also manages to keep a finely trimmed pop edge throughout. The song opens with a somewhat odd theme, where behind a simple mix of piano and synthesizer drones, a sound effect of a man 'inviting someone to come in' as well as some laughter is repeated three times before the song gets underway properly. From this opening, the song memorably spirals into a basic formation of the infectious chorus, where Campbell's fierce and dominant vocal works nicely over the hypnotising keyboard and rich percussion. The verses use some fitting and dominant lead vocal over more of the hypnotising, ultra-funky keyboard. For the first proper chorus, Campbell's vocal is once again fiercely charged but not without keeping some of the usual smooth, soulful charm, whilst backing vocalists work with the funky instrumentation that flows well. Following the second proper chorus, both a great solo section highlights saxophone and fitting piano. The song's ending features the final chorus, where various spoken lines are performed over the top before sounds of cheer from an audience quickly closes the song. Lyrically, the song speaks of someone who is basically very drunk and if they are not, they are 'living on their nerves', therefore hinting that they are very anxious and paranoid without alcohol. Overall, a very good album track although it takes a few listens to fully click. The use of Campbell's charged vocals, the funky instrumentation and the infectious chorus makes for a fun song on the whole. "Naked hate in vacant lofts, and we're living on nerves, oh, the steel handcuffs aren't tough enough, when I'm living on my nerves, when I'm living on my nerves, oh. I was just, I was just, I was just, I was just too drunk to funk, too drunk..."

      Ask the Lonely is a cover of the soulful pop ballad, originally recorded by Motown singing group the Four Tops in 1965, where it became a successful hit at the time. Written by Ivy Jo Hunter and William "Mickey" Stevenson, the Floy Joy version manages to keep the song's 60s soul-pop theme strong and overcoat it with the 80s sound of the time. The song opens with a nice and soulful mix of Motown-themed trumpet, melodic keyboard and fitting background lead guitar. A hint of soulful group vocal soon follows with the final part of the chorus section. The verses feature Campbell performing a rather different sounding vocal, perfectly fitting and captivating, whilst harmonic backing vocal, guiding instrumentation and a steady drumbeat keeps the song intact. For the memorable chorus, Campbell's fantastically Motown-like vocal works tremendously well with the harmonic backing and group vocal, trumpet and melodic backing keyboard. A fine solo section highlights the harmonic vocal, some lead guitar and a new melodic keyboard layer. The remainder of the song acts like an extension of the chorus, with Campbell continuing to give an excellent vocal performance. Aside from the lead vocal, the harmonic backing vocal plays a big part in keeping the original song's 60s soul-pop theme strong. Lyrically, the song's memorable message speaks of all the lonely people who lost love and are left alone ever since, where the singer of the song is made out to be the loneliest one of all. Overall, a great and loyal cover of the Four Tops song, featuring Campbell's excellent vocal, brilliant harmonic vocal, strong instrumentation and fitting lyrics. "The young and foolish laugh at love, so they run away, confident and sure that fate will bring another love their way. But ask the lonely how vainly a heart can yearn, for losing a love that will never return..."

      Chinese A-Go Go is a strong pop track with a soulful edge, making most of light atmosphere and mood. The song immediately opens with a great atmospheric mix of harmonic vocal from Campbell, clean guitar, soulful saxophone, light backing keyboard and a solid drumbeat. The song's verses use Campbell's gentle and fitting vocal over the solid mix of guitar and keyboard, allowing the vocal to be most dominant. For the song's strong chorus, Campbell's vocal merges perfectly with the backing vocal over similar instrumentation as the verses, adding a hint of saxophone in places. Although the chorus doesn't really stray far from the sound of the verses, the use of the atmospheric vocal certainly keeps the section strong. The second verse uses a hint of backing harmonic vocal, which the band do so well, whilst after the second chorus, a new vocal section uses more harmonic vocal, whilst Campbell's vocal remains strong and soulful over the atmospheric instrumentation, including a small but great piano layer. A short solo section highlights some fine and soulful saxophone, whilst the song closes with the final chorus. Lyrically, the song is rather like Penny in my Pocket, where the lyrics are thoughtful and well constructed, even if the meaning isn't entirely clear. The song seems to speak of a lonely fool in love who is surrounded by evil and darkness, until he meets someone at a bar although they both know they will soon say goodbye for good, leaving the singer of the song to recall their brief meeting. Overall, an excellent album track with some great vocal, strong instrumentation, fantastic atmosphere and thoughtful lyrics. "The band are on, we're stood at the bar, your boyfriend's cut somebody up, now he's in trouble with the law. Oh, I want to leave, take you from this place, and though I've since forgot your name, I never will forget your face..."

      Crackdown is a strong pop song with a large funk theme that uses interesting sounds and highlights some memorable vocal from Campbell. The song opens with sound effects of a group of people shouting and talking, which sounds like it's an area full of poverty, before some sombre violin casts an emotive sound. The first verse begins rather unexpectedly, featuring Campbell' s memorable vocal, where he speedily lets out the lines over strong guitar licks, dominant, funky bass guitar and a solid use of percussion. For the chorus, chanting group vocal is used over an Egyptian sounding keyboard layer, whilst the final words are spoken by a young male child, who's part in the song is irritatingly somewhat out of place and doesn't quite pull off the effect it should. Following the second chorus, a strong solo section highlights a nice mix of piano and violin. A new version of the chorus follows, highlighting the instrumentation, whilst using only a bit of chanting vocal, but still using the child's vocal line. Following on is the return of the people sound effects and the sombre violin, whilst Campbell performs a hint of vocal in the backdrop, before the song comes to an abrupt ending with the violin, connecting the song to the next one on the album. Lyrically, the song speaks of a crackdown on the underworld, where the verses speak of evil men, a living hell and how it will do no good to scream and shout, seemingly relating to a world of crime/evil. Overall, a good and fitting album track with some fantastic verses, memorable vocal, interesting, funky instrumentation and great lyrics, although the chorus does let the song down a bit, mainly due to the child vocal part. "Waiting at the end of an Eastern route, while evil men leave him destitute, crackdown, crackdown. His closest friends don't know him well, spends his waking hours in a living hell, crackdown, crackdown..."

      Walking in the Night is an instant highlight of the album, a melodic pop song with a strong soul theme that runs throughout. Flowing nicely from the previous track, the song immediately bursts into a great and instantly hookable keyboard melody, aided by soulful backing vocal and a strong rhythm section. The verses flow nicely with the use of Campbell's strong, dominant and soulful vocal, backed by hints of great backing vocal, nice keyboard backing and the driving rhythm section. A strong pre-chorus highlights some more great lead vocal and strong, fitting backing vocal. The song's chorus is naturally infectious and memorable where both the lead and backing vocal weave their parts together excellently over the song's main keyboard melody and great rhythm section. A strong solo section follows the second chorus, highlighting some fitting lead guitar which nicely isn't dominant at all, as well some sound effects of whistling, various noises and people chattering. For the ending, the final chorus is performed, followed by the backing vocal which performs some lines, as well some harmonic vocal, before fading out. What stands-out so much on this track is the instantly accessible sound as well as the feel-good theme it carries from start to finish. Lyrically, the song speaks of someone who feels the desire to take a stroll during the dead of night, as they believe everything goes exactly right for them, where they can put their troubles out of sight. Overall, an excellent album track with some fantastic vocal, great instrumentation, infectious sound and perfectly fitting lyrics. "I lie awake and watch the moon casting shadows on the wall, I've been through every song I know, so I decide to take a stroll. Cause in the night, anything can happen, everything goes right, when I go walking in the night..."

      This is my Time is a basic two minute track that uses only vocal and clapping, as well as some background sound effects of various noises all the way through. Acting very much like an a-capella themed song, it was written solely by Campbell. Opening with the sound effects and clapping rhythm section, group vocal soon joins for the opening vocal section, where they give a soulful and naturally dominant vocal performance. For the first main section, Campbell gives a soulful and gentle vocal performance, whilst the backing vocal, mainly harmonic, is used in places. The song's second main vocal section is almost like a chorus, where it uses a similar theme to the verses, where Campbell's dominant vocal works well with the clapping rhythm section. The song closes with the last vocal notes, whilst an interesting final addition to the song is some very short banter in the studio, with either Ward or Clarke speaking to producer Don "Don" Was. Lyrically, the song speaks of someone who gave up their 'wonder days' for a love, where they now feel it is time to move on as it is their time to peak and see the life outside of the town they have been stuck in. Naturally, the song is a simple and unique addition to the album, which works perfectly well for the track it is, although one might easily see the track as album filler, where most listeners would understandably wish for another full album track instead. Overall though, a fair addition to the album as a nice and easy-going simple vocal track. "I did a lot for you, you made me do things I thought I could never do, I gave up my wonder days. But it's a big old world, and I know there's more to life than this town girl, please don't make me stay. So goodbye baby this is my time..."

      It Makes No Difference to Me is the album's closing track, a strong and more straight-forward pop number, highlighting some great melodic keyboard. The song opens with the infectious melodic keyboard layer, which is backed by another sharp keyboard layer, dominant bass guitar and a solid drumbeat. The verses feature Campbell giving a strong and fitting vocal over the rhythm section whilst a hint of keyboard sparks between lines. The song's chorus is a highly memorable mix of strong, anthemic and dominant vocal from Campbell, background backing vocal, great guitar licks, fitting keyboard backing in places and a driving rhythm section. After the second chorus, the song's main melody is highlighted in a solo section, the same as the song's introduction. The final verse uses a fitting effect on Campbell's vocal, whilst the song itself comes to a close with the final choruses, where an extra vocal line fittingly performs over the top. The song's instantly hooking sound immediately makes this song a great album closer. Lyrically, the song's strong and meaningful message seems to speak of a soldier who looks back on the war he fought, although this could be all metaphorical. The soldier speaks of seeing his comrades fall around him whilst he remained untouched, as well as now being alone with forgotten heroes, with the chorus relating to the song's title and perhaps therefore hinting that the soldier is now one of those fallen casualties of war. Overall, an excellent album closer with great vocal, memorable instrumentation and strong lyrics. "I was a soldier who wore no armour, I saw my comrades face up in the rain. I was untouched while they fell around me, I know their faces but I don't know their names. But now it makes no difference to me, it makes no difference to me..."

      ~~Album Background~~
      Upon release, Weak in the Presence of Beauty was a complete commercial failure, although it deserved to be successful, if even a little. Overall, the album may not have been instantly commercial for everybody but with the title track and various other songs, the album fit nicely with the soulful-pop sound of the time. A lack of promotion was one major issue and so the album failed to appear in any national charts throughout Europe, where it was mainly released. The very underrated lead single Weak in the Presence of Beauty made a little dent in the UK charts, where it peaked at #85, and it actually managed to peak at #68 in Canada and #14 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary Chart too. The follow-up single was Friday Night, under the title Friday Night in This Cold City, which failed to make any chart appearance. The album itself was completely overlooked and faded without much attention.

      Afterwards, Floy Joy immediately split and soon disappeared without a trace. A little recognition followed when Alison Moyet nicely covered Weak in the Presence of Beauty, turning it into a less soulful and more commercial pop orientated song. It became a big hit for her in 1987 although today she insists she never actually liked the song and just recorded it as she knew it would be a hit. This only proves that the original could have been successful with the right promotional effort. Aside from the album, the only other song released was the non-album R&B-pop track You and Me which was released as the b-side to Weak in the Presence of Beauty, and also written by Ward and Clarke. In 1990, Campbell and original Floy Joy member Shaun Ward worked under the name Everyday People with Stewart Levine, releasing one album titled You Wash... I'll Dry. The two singles Headline News and I Guess It Doesn't Matter both reached the lower end of the charts in both the UK and Germany. The group released two more singles in Germany and toured Europe extensively. Shortly after that, around 1992, Campbell started a solo career which resulted in the release of two self produced singles Stranger and L.O.V.E Poem.

      I highly recommend this album to any fan of more obscure 80s pop, funk-influenced pop, soulful pop and 80s R&B. The entire album itself is flawlessly produced by Don "Don" Was, and both the sound/production is unmistakably from the 80s. The material on the album altogether stands up well but more so for those who particularly like the sound. Many of the songs on the album are instantly accessible pop numbers but some feature a more acquired taste, and for me personally, some tracks took a few listens to really have an effect. Despite this, the album should have been successful all the same on some level, and deserves much more attention that it even gets now. Today, the album is available on vinyl and CD, where the Into the Hot debut remains out-of-print on vinyl only. The CD for Weak in the Presence of Beauty can be found second hand for anything from £10 to £20. The album doesn't seem to be available to download from places like Amazon or iTunes. Although the album could perhaps warrant a four out of five star rating, once all the material takes effect, the album itself stands up very strong for the theme and style it has, and the mix of commercial and more obscure numbers gives the album plenty to offer those broadening their 80s musical appeal. Overall, Weak in the Presence of Beauty is a fantastically underrated 80s gem, blending pop, soul, R&B and funk together nicely.

      ~~Track Listing~~
      1. Weak in the Presence of Beauty (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 3:28
      2. Friday Night (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 6:35
      3. Penny in my Pocket (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 4:22
      4. Too Drunk to Funk (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 3:48
      5. Ask the Lonely (W. Stevenson; I. Hunter) - 3:43
      6. Chinese A-Go Go (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 4:00
      7. Crackdown (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 2:48
      8. Walking in the Night (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 3:25
      9. This is my Time (Desy Campbell) - 1:59
      10. It Makes No Difference to Me (Michael Ward; Robert E. Clarke) - 3:26


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