They were on the stage together for the first time in 36 years. They came together to sing for Eurovision 2023 in Liverpool.
They said it seemed to be a good thing to do and, after all these years, many agreed with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but performing one song created controversy. As The Guardian reported;
‘The Liverpool crowd shouted for more but were left puzzled after one song when Johnson, the lead singer, said: “Bless you. Lovely to see you all,” and the band left the stage. On social media, spectators described it as “utterly bizarre” and “a piss-take”.
That 36 years? It takes us back to 1987. That was when the band seemed to split, after the tour for that contentious 2nd album.
Liverpool was a disappointment for fans. After the enormous-selling, video-enhanced, furore-causing debut ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’, fans were hungry. They wanted a follow-up in the same vein as that debut. They waited. And waited.
It seemed like an age, but it was only 2 years, hardly very long to wait, definitely not Guns N’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ territory, but the supercharged status, the hits and column inches created the febrile atmosphere.
As The Quietus commented;
‘…and Frankie knew that the extravagance of Welcome To The Pleasuredome was out of keeping with the times. Liverpool was more overtly serious, something reflected in the black and white Anton Corbijn shots of the band. The day-glo colours and the sense of fun and mischief at the heart of their debut had disappeared, replaced by an often monochromatic vision, a seething anger and a raw sense of injustice. This wasn’t the Frankie we expected…’
And when Liverpool arrived? There were shoulder shrugs, indifferent chart placings and writings off of a band which, 2 years before, had the Pop world at their feet.
The Album: Liverpool
Liverpool wasn’t produced by Trevor Horn. The ZTT label chief, former Bugle and Yes frontman and sought-after producer of such gems as ABC’s ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and, ahem, The Art Of Noise, but it was kept in the stable.
Horn’s engineer, Stephen Lipson, took on production duties, apparently encouraging Frankie Goes To Hollywood to record with their own instruments – it was thought or alleged that Horn had used session musicians during the making of ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’.
That created a harder sound, perhaps. The debut album didn’t seem to have a genre, it made its own space on the back of the insistent thrum of a plucked bass.
And that signature sound was so important; it’s nowhere here, perhaps one track but even then hardly a pushed to the front feature.
Whilst the debut seemed like a compendium of the hits, ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Relax’ and others covers, scraps of songs and a beautiful ballad, ‘The Power Of Love’, Liverpool seemed like it was made of more fully realised songs. But lots disliked it.
Let’s admit this, ‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’ is not a good opener. Opening tracks need to kick the doors in, this one knocks, pushes its head around the door and asks if it’s OK to come in.
It has the quiet, considered narration that Holly Johnson does so well, a chorus which just seems to segue and a short, spiteful solo which is nevertheless nicely modulated.
That can’t be said about the single ‘Rage Hard’. This one had aspirations to be something, among the synth parps and gang shout chorus.
When the synth takes steps up, it almost sounds like a James Bond theme – after all, 1986 saw the angular synth jabs of AHA’s theme for ‘The Living Daylights’; this is good driving Pop with confidence to perhaps show where they wanted to go.
That signature bass sound is part of ‘Lunar Bay’, but among the synth Pop propulsion and parping is an ominous moment floating oddness. And the smoky sax of ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ is entirely on keeping with the big night out club entertainment vocal and synth pulse with the vocal on a different track to work against it.
Shimmering Pop song ‘Maximum Joy’ doesn’t really go anywhere, but with the blocky feel and sweet vocal, who wants to go anywhere?
And then the pushy clarion call keyboards and bright Pop feel sounds of ‘Watching The Wildlife’ like the It Bites debut ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ – that’s a good thing, by the way.
There’s even an attempt at a ‘Power Of Love’ – style ballad, ‘Is Anybody Out There’ which doesn’t get close to the size and variety entertainment capacity of the earlier track, but almost matches its sweetness.
Liverpool had no chance. Make a sound like a debut and be accused of copying. Change the sound and risk disappointment and discontent. Liverpool has been overlooked.
It could stand a reappraisal; this album shows a willingness to move on and grow. Frankie Goes To Hollywood is back for Eurovision, 80’s Art Pop is back in the charts – the time seems to be right.