Dead or Alive’s cross-dressing poseur/leader/singer Pete Burns can claim historical credit in the second Liverpool explosion — he was in a brief but seminal band with Julian Cope and Pete (Wah!) Wylie before founding Nightmares in Wax, the developmental predecessor to Dead or Alive. The early EP finds him searching for meaning and truth while attempting to appropriate Jim Morrison’s vocal style; it’s murky, to say the least.
Sophisticated Boom Boom includes a totally horrible and gratuitous remake of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It)” — and that’s as good as the album gets. Burns sings as if his atavistic urges (“What I Want,” “You Make Me Wanna,” “I’d Do Anything”) were the stuff of Shakespearian drama; the backing is slickly competent dance-rock bereft of personality. (Of possible interest to fact fans: Mission founder Wayne Hussey was a onetime Dead or Alive member and co-wrote much of the album’s material.)
Burns’ bunch subsequently issued a couple of better 45s, including “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” that cut a lot of the crap and substituted a kinetic, catchy pop sensibility. Produced by the frighteningly shallow but super-successful Stock, Aitken and Waterman team, Youthquake contains “You Spin Me Round,” as well as the equally appealing “Lover Come Back to Me” and a few others that show how much fun Dead or Alive can be. On the other hand, the record has its bad patches, proving the impossibility of pinning Burns down to any steady style or quality level.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know employs the same hitmaking mechanics to conjure up a consistent — extremely consistent — synthesized pop-dance groove which is easy to grasp and hard to hold. That the pulsing sequencer patterns on the nine lengthy soundalikes vary little may be seen as either a functional advantage or a mark of limited creative effort. “Brand New Lover” is giddily hummable for the first three or four minutes but then gets dead boring; the rest of this shoddy effort isn’t as catchy.
For Rip It Up, Dead or Alive selected eight songs (which means all of the good ones — and then some) from the two preceding albums and gave them a new coat of studio paint, adding and subtracting bits to make the originals more dancer-friendly. Leaving that apt monument to the S-A-W hit factory, Burns took control and produced Nude with drummer Steve Coy. In step with the disco times, the album’s percolating hi-NRG songs acknowledge both house music and glib techno-soul, downplaying Burns’ more melodic pop instincts for a peppy, unchallenging dance record.