Friday, 13 November 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #30: Welcome To The Pleasuredome

Intrigue. That's one of the key things that has maintained my love of music all this time. Without it, I'd have lost interest long ago. There is very little intrigue in most music and artists, but those that possess it quite often lure me in. It is rare that maintaining this intrigue crosses over into commercial success, and even rarer that when it does, it is viewed as little more than a novelty. Bowie is one of those rarest of artists - someone who can maintain intrigue, enjoy huge success AND keep it all going for decades.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood weren't so lucky, but my god did they make an impact. They certainly did with me, a curious teenager who didn't seem to fit in properly anywhere. When Relax and Two Tribes took over the airwaves, I was transfixed. Those records, and the clever marketing around them, intrigued me. It dawned on me, perhaps for the first time, that not only was it OK to be different to everyone else, it was way fucking cooler to be so.

Even by today's standards, 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' is an audacious record. For a debut, it is possibly up there as one of the best of all time. Who else would have dared release this following three number one hits, mass crossover appeal and press adoration? They could have lost all that in one fell swoop. It is an album like very few others. It isn't 'safe'; it is imbued with odd snippets of controversy - sex, art and politics colliding like one big dirty weapon of mass destruction. It was a double album too. Like, WTF? As your debut? And with absolutely obscene artwork too? With AIDS the hot topic in 1984, and with FGTH featuring two openly gay members who often wore bondage gear, this brazen act of defiance could well have alienated many. Yet it all fell into place. 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' presented a bonafide phenomenon in all its seedy, sordid detail with a huge unashamed grin on its face.

If I'm going to be honest here, it's difficult to know exactly how much input the band themselves had in the finished product. Stories abounded that all their musical contributions were replaced with session musicians, but even if that was not true it cannot be denied that producer Trevor Horn had a massive hand in the record. Side one, for instance, was a 15-minute musical collage based around the title track which itself lasted about 5 minutes. Side two featured remixes of both smash hits and a b-side. Side three kicked off with a triplet of cover versions, including a rousing take on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and a surprisingly faithful rendition of Bacharach & David's eternal San Jose.

However, the final third is where the real delights are held. The Ballad of 32, the sound of a woman expressing her sexual pleasure over an instrumental backing track was actually not the flagrant display of Mary Whitehouse-baiting it might appear on the surface, but a soulful conclusion to side three that set us up for the explosion that was Krisco Kisses at the start of side four. This was the sound of the Frankie to come. No one spotted it at the time, but Krisco Kisses hinted at what direction the band would take on their second album. Black Night White Light probably stands out as the highlight of record two and again, would not have sounded that out of place on the follow-up.

The Power Of Love was probably the only song capable of closing the album, showing how the band could be tender and meaningful and create something that would be more endearing and longer-lasting than the rest of their legacy. It also sounded like nothing else on the album, another example of the intrigue Frankie held. What were they actually capable of achieving? How far could they take this? And more immediately - what was next? Well, the follow-up is far from as bad as it's made out to be, but it did spark the band's break-up. It was a more conventional rock album, and Holly Johnson decided he wanted to make dance music. After all, much of Frankie's dominance in the early days had been sustained by the clubs. Many say, stripped bare, it was clear FGTH was an explicit example of style over substance. I disagree, although I admit I was drawn into the hype in a big way. But 31 years later, I still rate 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' as one of the great British albums of all time. It also means a lot to me personally, something of an epiphany moment in my life.


  1. Food for thought, Robster. I only know a couple of the band's monster hits, and I will give these a go. I recently saw Holly on television performing at one of the rewind festivals. Happy to report he looked like he had taken care of himself better than most of the old-timers that graced the stage that day.

  2. Great article. While I completely agree with your appreciation of this unique album (BNWL has about 42 moments of sheer brilliance), I wouldn't call "Liverpool" a conventional rock album. It contains bewildering (but wonderful) things like "Maximum Joy" and the segue from track 1 into track 2 is one of the most intriguing transitions ever, if you ask me. Brilliant blog, by the way. - Michael