So nice to have the great Róisín Murphy back after an eight-year gap since her last album. Even better to have her back in top form too because her new album Hairless Toys is terrific. It’s electronica with it’s feet tentatively on the dancefloor while it’s head and heart are somewhere stranger and more eclectic.
Not many bands have had a better year than the one Frankie Goes To Hollywood enjoyed in 1984. That year they became the first group since Gerry & the Pacemakers to have their first three singles all get to Number One, and at one point they occupied the top two charts spots — the first time that had been done since another little band from Liverpool called The Beatles. For a brief shining moment they were as big as the Fab Four and as thrillingly scandalous as the Sex Pistols. Even their t-shirts were a phenomenon.
But their story would be more perfect if they’d split up or all died in a car crash at the end of that year, because they had to go and spoil the ride by putting out an album that didn’t live up to the hype (how could it?), and they suddenly seemed like just another ordinary fallible pop group and not the fabulously provocative performance art piece they seemed in 1984. I guess the writing was on the wall when their fourth single was a dreadful flop that only got to number two in the chart. Still, it was great while it lasted.
I once saw Errol Brown coming out of the Gents in a trendy Soho bar in the late 1980s and, while thinking he was shorter than I’d imagined, I just gave him a very cool smile as he walked past me while inside I was all “FUCKING HELL, IT’S ERROL BROWN!” because here was the man behind so many beloved pop hits of my youth — which is why his death upset me more than I imagined it would. While they were only modestly successful elsewhere, Hot Chocolate were a pop institution in the UK, having at least one hit every year between 1970 and 1984. With his distinctive bald head, Brown was as familiar a face on Top of The Pops as the DJs, one of the few regular black singers on the show who wasn’t American.
Hot Chocolate were a difficult band to pin down. Their records contained elements of soul, pop, glam, funk, dub, and psychedelia — sometimes all at once thanks to the production magic of Mickie Most. What linked some of them together however was a surprising bleakness, singles like “Emma” and “Brother Louie” are pretty grim for pop hits your mum probably liked, and even a love song like “Put Your Love In Me” has an edge of dark desperation about it.
They were such a singles band they didn’t release their debut album Cicero Park until several years into their hit-making career in 1974, and shockingly it was a flop despite containing the hit “Emma” and being a terrific album in it’s own right. The title track in particular is a fabulous piece of moody Blaxploitation soul-funk. If Curtis Mayfield had made this record it would hailed as a classic.