When not playing guitar and keyboards in the Damned, the good Captain (Ray Burns to his parents) spent the early ’80s making lighthearted hit records with producer Tony Mansfield. His two best weird’n’wonderful chart-toppers — the joke-rapping “Wot” and “Happy Talk” (from the musical South Pacific) — are included on Women and Captains First, alongside other equally ridiculous concepts ranging from country-western to cabaret. Aided and abetted by such divergent talents as Robyn Hitchcock and female vocal trio Dolly Mixture, Sensible’s homely singing is ingratiating (if not always on key).
The Power of Love is less varied and novelty-filled, but nonetheless contains a few subtler gems: “It’s Hard to Believe I’m Not” and “Secrets,” both co-written with Hitchcock, “Stop the World” and “The Power of Love,” all distinguished by Sensible’s engaging vocals and silly/serious lyrics.
In a vain attempt to introduce Sensible to America, A Day in the Life compiles tracks from both English albums (plus a previously non-LP single) and has most of what you would want to hear by the lad. But you should also be aware of the seasonal EP, One Christmas Catalogue, which came complete with a plastic Santa beard and, amidst three great originals, Sensible’s puzzling nearly straight version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.” For completists, there’s also Sensible Singles, a thirteen-cut collection that largely overlaps the albums.
Resuming his solo career in the late ’80s, Sensible reached some sort of artistic peak on the excellent Revolution Now, an all-new album of originals (some co-written by Cleaner From Venus/Brotherhood of Lizards’ Martin Newell) recorded with such comrades as Rat Scabies, Henry Badowski and Paul Gray. Although hampered a bit by Sensible’s minimalist singing and the obvious use of synthesizers where real instruments would have sounded better, the record is still full of catchy melodies and nearly serious left-field lyrics. (Not to mention spoken-word TV bites that help express Sensible’s chagrin at modern consumerism.) There isn’t a bad song here, and the best ones — “Missing the Boat,” “The Toys Take Over,” “Revolution Now,” “Phone-In” — cover amazing stylistic ground with ease and flair.