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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Curling smoke climbs upward slowly past my troubling face..."

Talk about DIY – when club promoter and all-around Paris-Hilton-famous-for-merely-being-famous trailblazer Steven Strange didn’t like that there weren’t enough good songs to play on his club night, he grabbed some friends, some synths and made his own.

Under the name Visage, Strange, alongside a few former Magazine members and a couple of future Ultravox members including Midge Ure, created the template for the New Romantic movement of the early ‘80s – moody chords, high-hat heavy automated percussion and lyrics about fashion, clubbing and nightlife. They scored a club hit with their first few singles, “Tar”, a remake of “In The Year 2525” and of course, “Fade to Grey”, which ended up going to the Top Ten of the pop charts in the U.K.

Then came follow up time.

Mind Of A Toy

Luckily, Visage’s debut album was pretty strong from front to back, so culling a few more singles wasn’t a problem. In fact, “Mind of a Toy” is one of the better songs on the album, an ode from the point of view of a discarded toy, campy to the extreme, especially when Steven spits out “spiteful girl, hateful boy” during the chorus. I still laugh every time, 25 years later. A nouveaux classique, to turn a phrase.

When it came time for album #2, dubbed “The Anvil” after the notorious NYC leather bar, things started to fall apart. There are still some great tunes, but the album as a whole was nowhere as strong as their first. Standouts were the title track, “We Move” and the first single, “The Damned Don’t Cry”, which instead of merely emulating “Fade to Grey’s” sound and success, built upon it. There’s a little less humor, a little more struggle for depth, unfortunately, the boys just weren’t good enough to pull it off completely. Reviews were scathing…I can’t find it anywhere online, but I remember Rolling Stone eviscerating “The Anvil”, awarding it a measly one star and proclaiming it “fashion over music.” That’s when I knew I had to own it.

Damned Don't Cry 12

After “The Anvil”, Ure and most of the musical braintrust left, leaving Strange to wobble on with new backing for one final album until giving up. Strange later went on to a smack habit, culminating in an arrest in London for attempting to shoplift a Teletubbie. He’s apparently clean now and fronting a new version of Visage that was on tap to remix Kelly Osbourne’s last single “One Word”, a song that more than liberally borrows from “Fade to Grey”. That remix has yet to surface.

Listening to both albums today, I find they both hold up a lot better than works by Visage’s contemporaries, including Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan. Visage sort of became the bridge between Morodor-era Donna Summer and more commercial new wave that came after Visage’s time in the spotlight, sort of an über-disco.

“The Anvil” is currently out of print, having its most recent reissue in 1997 by One Way Records, but you can still get Visage's first album fairly cheaply on Amazon as a import.

Download "Mind of a Toy"
Download "The Damned Don't Cry (Dance Mix)".

Neither single charted in the U.S.
posted by John, 2:54 PM