The Church Of Me
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Gardening. There’s a good way for a pop star to – well, not to end, but to, shall we say, develop. There are far worse ways to end. That is what Kim Wilde now essentially does for a living. She continues to participate in ‘80s revival tours, sadly, and really should not need to do so. One needs to justify one’s existence continuously. I would expect that a 52-year-old Peter Laughner would be more than content with gardening. Or a 53-year-old Lester Bangs while he’s at it.

Her eponymously-titled first album from 1981 was certainly needed – at least by RAK Records. Having more or less sleepwalked through punk with the dubious assets of Smokie and Racey at its helm, and more or less being kept afloat by Hot Chocolate, Mickie Most needed to justify RAK anew. And to do it, he turned to the family Wilde.

Marty Wilde, when you think about it, was smartly on the case, much more so in many ways than his contemporary Cliff. He had first attempted to kickstart the next Wilde generation with son Ricky, who had a single out on RAK in 1974 – “Teen Wave,” a glorious noise of a record on which Andrew WK appears to have based his entire career. Alas, despite being a Radio Luxembourg PowerPlay, it failed to trouble the scorers; that, coupled with Ricky’s sadly premature thinning out at the top, put a stop to that. Not to be defeated, Ricky retreated to the backroom, and he and his dad waited patiently for daughter Kim to come of age.

She did so in 1981, with almost over-impeccable timing; with Blondie’s Autoamerican demonstrating them to be on the descent, the gap was there to be filled, yet (as is often the case with Brits) a new gap was inadvertently created instead. Her debut single, “Kids in America,” was punctum-packed throughout; commencing with Eno-esque atonal synth stabs from which Wilde’s voice emerges, almost reluctantly, “looking out a dirty old window.” The vocal range, though not great, was exactly malleable enough to deal with the sublime pop which her folks provided for her. A great piece of power pop, with the double advantage of not having to labour under a banner of “power pop,” it deservedly shot up to #2 in the charts, prevented from reaching the top only by Shakin’ Stevens’ “This Old House” (and before we start sneering at poor old Shaky, by the way, he was still hip at the time; the NME applauded him getting to the top, after a decade of hard gigging, Communist party benefit gigs, and so on. Unimaginable now).

A superb start, then, but amazingly excelled by her follow-up and greatest single, the immortal “Chequered Love,” in which she achieved the sort of magic of which the likes of the Photos could only dream about enviously; the song moves with determined decisiveness, the guitar thrash competing with the excitable string synth to get to the end of the song first. And note the mid-section with its ascending line suspiciously reminiscent of Magazine’s “Shot By Both Sides” (and a more or less identical rhythm track) – indeed, Wilde, surprisingly (or perhaps not) a Devoto devotee, cheerfully admitted as much to Paul Morley in an NME interview at the time. The ecstatic doubling up of the riff by glockenspiel and guitar at the song’s climax is near-orgasmic.

And her debut album, black cover with spaced-out white lettering, Kim and the band dressed likewise, is full of exceptionally smart power pop, cheerful yet knowingly propulsive – “Water on Glass” and “Boys” for two, and even an element of angst creeping in on the song “Our Town” in which Kim defiantly swears to stay in the town she knows, even as her house is torn down in front of her and billboards erected in their place. One could perhaps do without the attempt at ska, “2-6-5-8-0,” or the can-we-be-the-Police adult oriented dubby dubbings of “Everything is Wrong,” but there’s a fantastic reading of “You’ll Never Be So Wrong” (Hot Chocolate had recently released their version as a single) – Kim trying to reassure the hurt girl that break-up doesn’t mean the end of love or life, but can’t quite convince her; the tangible frustration mounting up in the chorus, all set against a regretful guitar backing which recalls nothing so much as a prototype for 10,000 Maniacs (though Ms Merchant never got anywhere near to pop).

After this, Kim’s singles over the following year became increasingly remote and disturbed, and they remain profoundly uneasy listening. First, “Cambodia,” a #12 hit in that disturbed winter of 1981; I always assumed this to be a song about a wracked war veteran coming back to his home and family and unable to recognise or connect with either, but the vocal is slightly detached as if she is only singing to herself, almost engulfed by the now wholly electro backing.

And what about “View From A Bridge” from the shiny yellow spring of ’82? A song about suicide, in which she ends by jumping off the bridge “into space.” One would have been forgiven to be concerned about exactly what kind of stuff her dad and brother were giving her to sing. Amazingly, it still managed to climb to #16 (a lot harder to do 20 years ago, let us not forget, than it is now). Near Nordic in its angst, it precedes the much more overt anxieties of A-Ha three years hence.

Were that not enough, she then followed this death wish up with the most disturbing record she ever made, “Child Come Away.” Essentially about the aftermath of life for a rape victim, the song is sung almost dispassionately, the vocal mixed well back, almost as though the singer has already died and is communicating through a mechanical fog. Gary Barnacle’s alto sax floats in and out of the mix, at one brief point exploding in your face with Evan Parker-type tempestuous squawking. The song grinds mechanically to a halt, as if that is all Kim Wilde will ever have to say, before starting up again to accommodate Barnacle’s closing, inarticulable screams. This was finally a bridge too far for her fans, and the song managed a peak of only #43 in the autumn of 1982; her first single to miss the top 20. No wonder the Wildes back-pedalled after that, played safe with corny pastiches like “Love Blonde,” and that Kim eventually fled to MCA for a further, probably more commercially successful but artistically nondescript, series of hits throughout the latter part of the ‘80s. There is, however, one further track worth salvaging from her later RAK period; “Stay Awhile” is a heartbreaking plea to the Other to “tell me who you are,” to provide some degree (if not illusion) of permanence to her life, set against a canyon of poignant chord changes and synth lines which were later to resurface unexpectedly in the realms of the Aphex Twin’s SAW2 and I Care Because You Do albums. It destroys the listener and should have been a single.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

. . .