One of the synth-pop era’s more individual and original duos, Stephen Luscombe and Neil Arthur mixed dominant percussion with bizarre, often exotic seasonings to create tracks with abundant personality and enormous dance potential. The one major drawback is Arthur’s voice: a rough, unpleasant instrument which becomes riddled with melodrama when he gets excited.
On Happy Families, Blancmange offer typically eccentric concepts — “God’s Kitchen,” “Living on the Ceiling” — in varied settings that fall into two general styles: (1) Loud, rhythmic and derivative of Talking Heads. These tunes, especially “Feel Me,” suffer from extreme monochromatic tediousness. (2) Delicate and reserved. “I’ve Seen the Word” and others are quite lovely, resembling the spare grace of mid-period Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Mange Tout (a brilliant bilingual pun) is simultaneously a bit sillier and grander overall, using more horns, woodwinds and strings than before. Largely neglecting option 2 but not sounding much like the Heads either, Blancmange opt to let the beat send the message, while thankfully maintaining better song quality and, thus, less boredom. The four major tracks — “Don’t Tell Me,” “My Baby,” “Blind Vision” and “That’s Love That It Is” — all offer different levels of melodiousness (most pretty high) with Arthur’s vocals, though improved, still an occasional stumbling block.
Believe You Me is an ambitious undertaking, recorded in seven different studios with four producers and zillions of guest musicians. The results are hardly as inconsistent as they might have been; in fact, the restrained album is quite agreeable, reasonably free of the overzealousness, busyness and absurdity that diminished some of the duo’s prior work. The songs aren’t consistently wonderful, but simplicity and understatement make inquisitive tracks like “Don’t You Love It All” (with flugelhorn played by Hugh Masekela), “What’s Your Problem?” and “Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone?” pleasant, if not immediately memorable.
Second Helpings is a straightforward (albeit incomplete) compilation of UK chart singles — from 1982’s “God’s Kitchen” through 1985’s “What’s Your Problem?” — that pretty much covers the high points of Blancmange’s recording career. But considering that all ten tracks (including two B-sides) come from the band’s three albums, fans can skip this serving with impunity.
Following Blancmange’s 1986 split, Luscombe devoted himself to the poly-cultural West India Company, an experimental trio whose 1984 vinyl debut employed the voice of famed Bombay film singer Asha Bhosle. Created as the performance soundtrack for a show by Montreal avant-dance company La La La Human Steps (who were part of Bowie’s ’90 tour), New Demons alternates vocal selections and instrumentals, putting traditional Indian music (and other sources) through a sympathetic British art wringer. Despite the similarity of their basic components, the decidedly non-pop WIC bears no resemblance to Monsoon; the trio’s rich and cerebral blend — both in terms of instrumentation and presentation — is quite original.