Doctors of Madness

  • Doctors of Madness
  • Figments of Emancipation (UK Polydor) 1976 
  • Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms (UK Polydor) 1976 
  • Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms/Figments of Emancipation (UA) 1978 
  • Sons of Survival (UK Polydor) 1978 
  • Revisionism 1975-1978 (UK Polydor) 1981 
  • Richard Strange
  • The Live Rise of Richard Strange (ZE/PVC) 1980 
  • The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange (UK Virgin) 1981 
  • Richard Strange and the Engine Room
  • Going — Gone (Ger. Side) 1987  (UK Nightshift) 1988 

The Doctors of Madness was an odd excuse for a rock group. Essentially the warped musical vision of Kid (Richard) Strange, it was realized in posh, over-the-top pretentious style by a manager who spent scads of money in an unsuccessful attempt to make the glammed-out Britons the Next Big (Ultra-Outrageous) Thing. Although the blue hair, silly theatrical gear and transparent pose were awfully out-of-step with the younger and faster safety-pinned hordes who stole their thunder, the Doctors did possess a unique style, thanks in large part to one Urban Blitz’s eerie and atmospheric violin work, an unlikely instrument in a band hoping to be perceived as Bowie’s post-Ziggy disciples. (To go along with that goofy name, the drummer was called Peter DiLemma.)

Late Night Movies (released in the US only as a double-record set with Figments of Emancipation) is the wildest and freshest of the group’s three albums, going all out to be — or at least seem — weird and exciting. It’s hard to take seriously, but there is something worth hearing in terms of the creepy ambience, substantial songs and subtle musical shadings. Sons of Survival and Figments refine the approach but lack the gonzo originality of the first record.

After a stint that saw Dave Vanian (on furlough during one of the Damned’s countless collapses) serving as a member, British public response — a mixture of apathy and ridicule — proved terminal. Whatever the verdict on the Doctors of Madness while they were in business, the fact that the new romantics later shouldered the same mantle of narcissism, costumes and stage names — as did American hair metalers like Mötley Crüe — proves the Doctors were indeed ahead of their time. Revisionism is an adequate career summary.

On his own in 1980 and 1981, Strange drew two albums out of one project, which was thematically similar in concept to the rise and fall of a demagogue chronicled by the Kinks in Preservation Act 2 but less meticulously plotted and more thoughtful in content. Only the vocals on Live Rise were recorded onstage at Hurrah in New York; the backing tracks had been cut previously and were played back for the performance.

Aside from the obvious sound/production quality upgrade, the all-studio second version drops three numbers and adds five to flesh out the concept. It also sports beefier back-up (stronger guitar plus some super sax work courtesy of ex-Secret Affair Dave Winthrop). Strange emerges as a significant artist in the vein of Ziggy-era Bowie, but tougher and minus the androgyny.

The record that marked Strange’s return after a number of years is more than welcome, and more than worthwhile. Originally issued in Germany and then remixed and released by a Scottish label, Going-Gone was evidently recorded over quite some time in half a dozen studios. Half of the ten tracks were produced by Dave Allen (Cure, Sisters of Mercy, etc.). Keyboardist James T. Ford co-wrote all but two tracks, co-produced (with Strange) a pair and handled “electronic hardware” on all but one. The 53 minutes of music covers quite a range, including middle-Eastern intrigue (“Damascus”), Poe-ish theatrics (“Fall of the House of ‘U'”), sentimental pop (“Dominoes”) and ominous, churning dance-rock (“Fear Is the Engine”). The inner sleeve bears, with no elaboration, the legend “recalled to life.” No kidding.

[Ira Robbins]