For all their pained self-consciousness, those who have crossed the line from writing about rock to playing it have not, in general, disgraced themselves. Sure, there have been plenty of non-starters and dabblers strapping guitars on just for a giggle, but the serious post-scribe nation — think Chrissie Hynde, Ira Kaplan, Neil Tennant, Bob Geldof — have all made journalism’s loss music’s gain. Add another name to the list — onetime Face/Mojo contributor Cliff Jones, singer/guitarist of England’s provocatively named Gay Dad.
Equally obliged to Cockney Rebel, David Bowie and Neu!, Leisure Noise is a marvel of attitude, imagination and ambience, a literate album of magnificently played guitar glam-pop that seems to have sprung whole from a parallel world. Pretentious as hell but all the more winning for its cocky ambition, Leisure Noise is a powderkeg packed with knowing culture references (“Dateline” offers a brief personal history with a zinger of a spazz-guitar solo that could almost be a tribute to Roxy Music), so in thrall to irony that Jones can declare, with equal evident sincerity (or lack thereof), that “Jesus Christ saved my life” (in “Jesus Christ,” a gentle ballad which ends the album on a quizzical note) and “Aerosmith rules!” (in “To Earth With Love,” a smashing pre-album single gamely over-produced by Tony Visconti). Otherwise produced by Chris Hughes (of Adam Ant’s 1980 brain trust, when he was known as Merrick), the unsurprising eclecticism of Jones’ enthusiasms mount a colorful parade down various avenues of style — antiseptic Neu! austerity (“Black Ghost”), rubbery dance grooves (“Joy!), wide-screen pop extravagance (also “Joy!”), dreamy kineticism (“Dimstar”), whispered intimacy (“My Son Mystic”) — which all lead somewhere good.
Gay Dad’s cloaked motives evidently got on people’s nerves — there was some talk at the outset that Jones was merely floating a sardonic experiment just to make a point, another Bill Drummond character thumbing his nose at the manipulable predictability of British pop consumers — but on Leisure Noise there’s no denying the appeal of the surface beneath which they lurk.
After two years of the obligatory personnel turmoil and trouble-laden US tour, Gay Dad returned in 2001 with Transmission, a less potent and purposeful album that cuts down on the wiseacre wit, production gloss, energy and stylistic diversity. It’s not a bad album, but it is a disappointment in comparison to the debut. While “Plane Going Down” and “Keep It Heavy” have the melodic and structural elements to easily be leftovers from Leisure Noise, and the title track is a solid single, little else here leaps out, and the net effect is far from spectacular. Actually, the unpunctuated liner notes (“you are not original are we post skill do we get the culture we deserve do you really need it what do you stand for is there anything you would die for are you a joke do you have a good punch line … fuck nostalgia the past was not better”) are more thoughtful and compelling than most of the songs. Gay Dad broke up without making another record.