Bow Wow Wow may have been easily dismissed by some as rock entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren’s cynical creation, but the band deserved better. Combining musicians lured away from Adam and the Ants (with whom McLaren had briefly worked) with 15-year-old singer Annabella Lwin, the ever-provocative McLaren formed the band, launching their career via a 45, “C-30, C-60, C-90 Go,” which espoused the virtues of home taping at a time when the band’s record company (and virtually all others) were beginning to frantically oppose it. True to McLaren’s precepts (although it should be noted that tapes at that time were not as commonly copied as discs), Your Cassette Pet is a tape-only collection of eight songs. Except for “I Want My Baby on Mars” and a painful rendition of “Fools Rush In,” the material is marked by Annabella’s breathless ranting and incessant drumming style “borrowed” from the African Burundi tribe. The results are cheerful if smarmy.
The first full-length album, See Jungle! See Jungle!, isn’t as wound up as Cassette Pet, but does show artistic growth. By downplaying the leering football chants, Bow Wow Wow is able to investigate subtler lyrics and rhythms. And fueled by drummer Dave Barbarossa, they pack quite a wallop.
Last of the Mohicans is a four-song EP whose producer (Kenny Laguna, of Joan Jett fame) and lead-off track (the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy”) were chosen presumably for their American commercial potential. If nothing else, the sound is cleaner than before.
The discographical plot thickens with I Want Candy, released in two distinctly different versions. The American LP is comprised of the Mohicans EP, four tracks from See Jungle! (three of them remixed) and two new cuts. The UK album of the same title makes Your Cassette Pet available on vinyl, except for “Louis Quatorze.” It also includes a few British single sides and the US-only EP, with its re-recorded “Louis Quatorze.” Got that?
Not to be outdone, EMI’s American affiliate issued Twelve Original Recordings. This is essentially the British I Want Candy LP minus several tracks. Pay your money and take your choice.
McLaren and Bow Wow Wow parted company in 1982 and the all-new When the Going Gets Tough was recorded free of his machinations. On their final album, Bow Wow Wow delivered much the same musical barrage as before, but without any of the propagandistic pretense. The band subsequently ejected Annabella and regrouped as the Chiefs of Relief. The Best of Bow Wow Wow neatly compresses Bow Wow Wow’s entire career — with hits and album selections from Your Cassette Pet through When the Going Gets Tough — onto a single sixteen-track album.
Having outgrown her traumatic youth, Annabella’s solo album is basically high-gloss rubbish, despite the efforts of six very different producers (including Slade’s Jim Lea, hip-hop heavy John Robie and Zeus B. Held). It’s not that Annabella can’t sing, it’s just that she’s foundering here without purpose or personality. Even a cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” goes appallingly wrong.
Opening his mouth, Bow Wow Wow guitarist Matthew Ashman formed the Chiefs of Relief as the post-Annabella version of that band, but it took a few years before anything came of it. By that time, he had teamed with ex-Pistols/Professionals drummer Paul Cook and, joined by a bassist and keyboard player, begun playing a pop-safe hybrid of rap, beatbox funk and loud rock. At times resembling a tamer Big Audio Dynamite (a bit too closely), the Chiefs are nonetheless an agreeable dance-powered outfit that draws on the varied experiences of its creative team to kick the songs into fun gear. Richard Gottehrer’s production accommodates the assorted directions handily, making Chiefs of Relief an easy pill to swallow.