The Writing’s On The Wall: The Dying Days Of Bucks Fizz

The final gasp of the British pop darlings and Eurovision champions explored.

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of record label executives, but I wouldn’t have thought that there was a big enough fan base for Eurovision winners and briefly successful British pop sensations Bucks Fizz to justify the re-release of any of their albums in double disc extended collector versions – especially not this final gasp effort from 1986 that was a bomb at the time of release and ultimately led to the band… erm…. fizzling out. But what do I know? My own interest in Bucks Fizz was entirely restricted to the time when Jay Aston began channelling her inner glamour model and as you might expect, it certainly didn’t stretch to actually listening to their music, all of which was far removed from my tastes of the time and – with the notable exception of single When We Were Young – seemed entirely awful. Admittedly, I haven’t returned to it since and it may well be worthy of reassessment from a more mature perspective. Given that Aston had quit the group by the time of this recording – replaced by the rather more wholesome and forgettable Shelly Preston, deliberately presented as a less sexualised performer and so far less likely to be the fantasy figure of any teenage dream – the signs were not good, and the album title proved all too prophetic. This proved to be the last studio album from the band’s original run and while they struggled on for a few more years, before long they had split to enjoy legal battles, celebrity TV appearances, Butlins gigs by two competing versions and the inevitable, misguided reunions.

The album opens with the single New Beginning, which proved to be the final hit for the band. A cover version (one of several on the album), the song actually isn’t that bad – it has a pseudo-African feel, solid harmonies and a strong pop sensibility that make it quite agreeable, and it’s the sort of thing you could see still scoring today. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from then on.

Whatever goodwill that might’ve been built up by the opening track is immediately crushed by a truly unforgivable version of Stephen Stills’ Love the One You’re With, turning the chilled-out hippy ‘do your own thing’ number into a ghastly slice of over-produced Eighties faux funk. It’s one thing to murder a classic song – but this version drags it into an alleyway to violate and torture it first. Compared to this, the following version of Albert Hammond’s cod-reggae Give a Little Love is hardly worse than the original song, which is pretty foul in its own right. But you can see where the album is going – three songs in and it is all cover versions – hardly the sign of a band at their peak. Bucks Fizz were never exactly cutting edge but at least they used to perform original numbers – even if they were the product of assorted music factory writers.

Don’t Turn Back is, at least, an original number (co-written by band member Bobby Gee no less) and one that you suspect might have been a decent – if unremarkable – pop song if it was not drowned by the awful production. The album, notably, had different producers for different tracks, which suggests that it was a pieced-together affair – but they all have one thing in common, seeming to have been caught up in the prevailing sound of the time. Fashionable Eighties pop really hasn’t aged well at all, with the excessive bombast, brass sections, drum machines, fretless bass, parping Fairlight effects and the rest making it sound horribly desperate and dated, entirely of its time while music from the previous and subsequent decades sounds a lot more current. And this production overkill continues throughout the album, destroying whatever musical potential that it might have had. After all, it’s not like there are not talented people involved – songwriters like Pete Sinfield (whose journey from King Crimson to here is a fascinating one) ensure that tracks like Love in a World Gone Mad are not entirely horrible – in theory at least. But whatever qualities they might have are lost in the calculated and (as sales would attest) entirely misguided attempt to be commercial, immediate, unthreatening MOR pop.

The production is bad to begin with but things are not helped by the fact that the tracks all tend to go for a ‘wall of sound’ approach – perhaps understandable for a group made up of four singers, but hardly conducive to musical subtlety. It’s notable that the only times this album seems to show any signs of life are in the all-too-brief moments when one of the two female singers takes a solo spot. On the other hand, Bobby Gee’s solo spot on I Need Your Love is depressingly Michael Bolton-like – and who on earth needs that?

There are moments. In Your Eyes is a decent enough slab of Eighties pop – but it’s too little, too late. On the whole, apart from the opening track there’s nothing here that comes close to the quality of any of the more famous Bucks Fizz tracks you might know – and that’s not exactly a high wall to climb.

Disc One – the original 1986 album – winds up with extended 12-inch versions of the various singles, which doesn’t help much. These are typical 1980s 12-inch remixes that seemingly exist only to justify the singles being released on that format and are ‘dance’ versions only in a world where people dance as though being shocked by a taser. And then it’s onto Disc Two, which opens up with a third version of Love the One You’re With – hardly an auspicious start, you might think. Yet this alternative mix is a decided improvement. Stripping away the embarrassing white boy reggae and replacing it with guitars, it’s a more solid version – still not in any way great or even good, but ironically less dated than the ‘official version’.

The rest of the tracks on the supplementary CD are a mix of singles, outtakes, demos and alternate takes, sometimes with lead vocals from different singers than were featured on the final version. Some of this is stuff from 1988 that never saw release. In all honesty, they probably wouldn’t have propelled the band back into the big time. Shelly Preston’s version of Love in a World Gone Mad seems better than the final version, maybe because it’s less overtly produced. Don Black’s What’s One Lonely Woman – presented as a ‘laid back mix’ is a decent enough ballad that (just) manages to avoid becoming overblown. It’s not exactly classic Don Black, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that. There are also a couple of forgettable Bobby Gee solo tracks, and two utterly shameful and spectacularly clueless live medleys – one of Motown songs and the other, astonishingly, of Rolling Stones numbers. It goes without saying that both medleys strip the songs of their original passion – though there is some perverse pleasure to be had from hearing Bucks Fizz performing Jumping Jack Flash with absolutely no idea of what the original song meant. I wonder if anyone involved beyond the puppet masters behind the group even knew who the Stones were. Nevertheless,  the audience, bless ‘em, seem to be absolutely loving it. There’s no accounting for taste or the easily-pleased nature of the middle-aged pop fan I suppose. And that, more than anything, might be the reason that this double-disc edition exists. The very people who ignored this LP when it was originally released will now be gobbling this sort of thing up, desperate to relive a past that they now only remember through the lens of artificially created memories through TV ads and multi-band reunion tours where everything, no matter what it was, is not repackaged as the best time of your life.


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