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Monday, February 11, 2008

"Yesterday's shattered / tomorrow's don't matter..."

Hiccupy. Chipry. Helium-powered. Chipmunk.

All those descriptors have been applied to the singing voice of Altered Images' Clare Grogan, and for the most part, they're pretty accurate. While Altered Images scored quite a few hits in the U.K. with their particular brand of Martin Rushnet-sheened new wave pop, it took Dale Bozzio and Cyndi Lauper a few years later to make such vocal histrionics suitable for American chart success.

MTV showed some Altered Images love by putting early hits like "Happy Birthday" and "I Could Be Happy" into light rotation, but outside of "Happy" peaking at #45 on Billboard's Club Play Chart, America wasn't biting. So, Clare and their label, Portrait, decided to bite instead.


Altered Images' third album, "Bite", was a stab at "maturity," complete with a total image overhaul, ditching the campy pop-art dayglo and "fun" presentation for a sophisticated, glossy Altered Image. Just check out that cover. This is the same chick who two years earlier was running from a guy in a lion costume across a Warhol landscape in her video.

Tossed to the dumpster along with their old Image was longtime producer Martin Rushnet, this time around was replaced by two winning veterans, none other than Tony Visconti and Mike Chapman, who split the album nearly in half. The resulting album was a respectable attempt at grown-up disco at a time when the word "disco" was pop poison. Put Clare's somewhat limited chirps and squeals over it and you had an appealing, but utlimately destined to fail record.

Visconti seemed to embrace the new wave bent of the band a little more, and it shows in the tracks he produced, most notably "Now That You're Here," which tones down Clare a bit and creates a nice, orchestral dance groove.

Mike Chapman, though, obviously missed his most successful muse, Debbie Harry and Blondie, so each of his tracks seeks to recreate that sound. "Don't Talk To Me About Love" is the song from this album that had the most impact, hitting the Top Ten in the U.K., probably because it was a carefully constructed tribute to "Heart of Glass," a song Chapman played no small part in creating. On this side of the pond, MTV played it a bit, then it sadly disappeared, along with the band soon after. A year later, Cyndi Lauper released "She's So Unusual" and when I first heard "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," my first thought was "Clare?!?"

Clare Grogan went on to be an actress and has even toured the U.K. lately in a few 80s revival packages. The entire Altered Images catalog has been remastered with bonus tracks and comes highly recommended, although I prefer the single mix of "Don't Talk to Me About Love" which is included on a couple "Best of" comps, but left off "Bite."

"Bite" failed to chart.
"Don't Talk to Me About Love" failed to chart.


posted by John, 2:53 PM