The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Stock, Aitken and Waterman always seemed to reserve their hardest-hitting stuff for Mel and Kim. Even in the context of what else they were doing in the latter half of the ‘80s, be it Astley or Bananarama or Kylie, M&K seemed to come from a different planet. Certainly as far as their singles were concerned.

“FLM (Fun, Love and Money)” may have been the title of their sole album (Mel Appleby contracted cancer soon afterwards and died in 1989) and on the surface they may simply have been marketed as two sassy London girls who Know What They Want and How To Get It, but there was always an undertow of melancholy, an awareness that this was an illusion. Thus, the vox pop samples in the middle of the song “FLM” may say “boyfriends are boring…wait ‘till the right one comes along…independence,” but this is far more Ms Dynamite than Destiny’s Child. “Sitting on the sidelines…just want to be free…I can see blue skies where others see grey.” It’s a dream which they know is unlikely to be fulfilled.

See also their debut single, “Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)” which is about getting dressed and made up to go out and find the Other, though the latter’s function is spelled out in the middle-eight “If it’s the man’s hand that pays the price/Then he’ll belong to me” (beautifully harmonised, incidentally, bringing back memories of Linx half a decade previously). No other reason; it’s the same desperation which underlies Gwen Guthrie’s contemporaneous “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent.” “Independence” is almost the last thing on their minds here. It is also a British companion piece to Sheila E’s “The Glamorous Life,” but instead of the latter’s luxuriant swooning embraces of sensuality, “Showing Out” is pitiless, remorseless, realistic.

But musically it is the reverse. Hard as hell, with an obvious ear to Chicago House but a less obvious one to Euro-industrial. The involvement of mixmasters Phil Harding and Pete Hammond are crucial here; 16 years later, this production remains astonishingly brutal, percussion ramming into every corner as if to block every route of escape for the girls. Somehow it comes closer to Test Dept (see especially the latter’s “Fuckhead”) than Marshall Jefferson.

If that was hard, then “Respectable,” a number one in the spring of 1987, managed even to outdo it. Quite possibly the most sonically extreme record ever to get to #1, certainly the most avant-garde record in which Waterman was ever involved (unless you count the planned avantness of “Plug Myself In” by DOSE and Mark E Smith). “We can look after ourselves all right!” sneer the Applebys over a thunderous roar. They barely manage to hold on to the pre-chorus rollercoaster of “tay tay tay tay, taytaytaytaytay tay tay” (the train careering off the Tay Bridge?). It is ecstatically asympathetic; it is the ‘80s encapsulated; it has to be listened to in tandem with Nitzer Ebb’s “Join In The Chant” recorded in the same studios at the same time and mixed by Harding and Hammond.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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