I’d been consuming this desolate Dadaist ‘tronica since first offered the review. Blancmange’s newest album is a wide room to walk through, you can pick up and put down pieces of each song and move on to examine the next piece you fancy; A crystalline beat, hook or texture, a word. It’s flashy because it’s unflashy. It towers with no overcrowding. It’s open and wide and almost afraid of its own empty space.
By chance a second hand shelf at Rough Trade held an album from 1982, a much earlier record called Happy Families. I set to consuming that too.
So how would this translate on a Rescue Rooms stage? How I would navigate this unknown length of history?
After the support climaxed in an updated Stranger Things season finale, and after Depeche Mode and Human League held back the silence, the humming and all light disappeared. Open to nothing. Nothing but a packed room in darkness. When sound does arrive it is thin and piano-sound synth.
Accompanied by white light on black suited man it’s an intimacy that I wasn’t expecting. Half hole-punched lines arrive half sung in an easy baritone voice, in choruses we whisper along. The references date back to Dallas, t-shirts bought in 1979 are proudly shown off and I start to envy the dedicated. What is this secret I’ve just been let into?
From whenever we were it’s now 2017. Lights widen and the band grows to three, Neil Arthur remains centre stage and unfussed between synth and bass and the opening track of the new LP begins. I’m scrawling from the balcony, don’t notice the end, I also don’t notice he’s pointing me out talking to me ’til someone behind taps my shoulder. I smile, he smiles, they play. This secret is friendly. His unhidden regional accent warm to the audience all warmed to him. In song he’s alone and between them he’s anyone.
We move through 80s pomp-joy synthpop and get dropped in John Foxx isolation. We get welcomed and guided through Post Punk, New Wave, New Romantic. ‘Last Night I Dreamt I Had A Job’ seals the overheard pre-gig talk of Smiths’ favourite albums and ties up the dots of why so familiar. Again he’s any one of us.
While the slickness is carried throughout, there’s working class malice pre-Major / New Labour. There is shyness inside of it too. In parts with no vocals Arthur steps out of light clenching fists, stands taught, shake out and release before next line is due. “This is the first song off first album” and slick gives way to a violent purge – it’s the only song as angry as parts of his latest release. It’s a pleasure to see restraint lost.
Fan favourites, B-sides, unreleased Peel sessions, I fall in line with communal nostalgia – even for things that I’ll never recall. Above all, it’s all genuine. His thanks to us and our thanks to him.
I don’t think I could have handled the gloss without the warmth. I’m not sure how I’d like it the other way around. But the evening was new and familiar and Neil Arthur promised a phone interview and I promise to ask when he’s back.
– Will Wilkinson
Blancmange played Rescue Rooms on November 4th with support from Transfigure