In one of rock’s most spectacular hypes (certainly the greatest since Malcolm McLaren first perpetrated the Pistols swindle), Frankie Goes to Hollywood — a minor hi-NRG dance outfit with genealogically fascinating origins in the ’70s Liverpool scene — became a highly controversial and enormously successful UK chart phenomenon in 1984, thanks to the combined talents of producer Trevor Horn and critic-turned-propagandist Paul Morley, via their ZTT label. The blatant homoerotica of “Relax” got Frankie banned on English radio while the leather-bar setting of its accompanying video earned them similar turndowns on television. “Two Tribes,” an inchoate condemnation of the nuclear threat, complete with thundering dancebeat, continued the band’s phenomenal rise. Having reached dizzying heights via what seemed like dozens of remixes of the two songs, all that remained for the icon of a million clever T-shirts was to record an album. And (thanks to the uncredited musical skills of former Ian Dury sidemen, it was later revealed) make one — or, precisely, two — they did.
Welcome to the Pleasuredome has four sides of the Frankies in all their artificial/superficial glory. From the hits (the two pre-LP singles plus “War” and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”) to the pits (“Ferry Cross the Mersey,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “The Power of Love”), Frankie say, “We may not be able to do it ourselves, but when you care enough you get the very best to cover for us.” A brilliant load of bullshit, served with as much panache — marketing and musical — as the 1980s could muster.
It proved increasingly difficult for the pseudo-group to even appear to work together harmoniously, and the prospects of a second album seemed remote. Nonetheless, Liverpool was eventually cobbled together and issued: eight long songs that mimic the sound but possess none of the Oz-like glory that was Frankie. With the golden goose laying nothing but plastic, the group collapsed in 1987.
After surviving an altogether embarrassing legal altercation with his former label, lead singer Holly Johnson began a solo career, issuing the bland-as-beans Blast with no residual Frankieness (other than a few vocal gimmicks). Clearly more skilled as a songwriter than he will ever be as a vocalist, Johnson provides himself with goodnatured soul-pop-dance tunes (produced by Dan Hartman and others) but lacks the talent and personality to personalize them on record. If David Bowie ever decides to remake Young Americans, he should ask Johnson to return some of these stylistic borrowings. Hollelujah contains half a dozen remixes.
Frankie’s other vocalist, Paul Rutherford, shaved off his moustache and stepped into the dance club spotlight with a slick series of shallow neo-soul and house singles, some produced/performed by ABC. A compilation of UK hits and more, Oh World is a routine dance record that reveals Rutherford to have a personably plain voice and no special aptitude for this sort of music.