Blessed with an extraordinary falsetto, diminutive Glaswegian Jimmy Somerville has wrapped his powerful pipes around an impressive array of original tunes and well-chosen covers since striking out on his own in 1989. His solo career neatly dovetails with the most distinctive aspects of his two previous ensembles, the strident gay politicism of Bronski Beat (a trio) and the glitzy disco show business of the two-man Communards. Though the two might seem at odds, Somerville embodies the dichotomy known to many urban gay men, for whom ecstatic dancing and AIDS activism often command equal time and energy.
Working with a mixed bag of producers (including Pascal Gabriel and Stephen Hague), Read My Lips is a confident, coherent solo debut. As in the Communards, the singles — covers of Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and Françoise Hardy’s “Comment Te Dire Adieu” (a duet with June Miles Kingston, included in two mixes) — downplay the politics, but cuts like “And You Never Thought That This Could Happen to You” and the fierce “Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough)” capture the late-’80s rage of activist groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation. In “Perfect Day,” “Heaven Here on Earth (With Your Love),” Somerville tempers the tone with romance.
The well-programmed eighteen-song singles collection issued in 1990 recapitulates Somerville’s career to date, beginning with the Bronskis’ groundbreaking 1984 single, “Smalltown Boy,” and adding a new reggae-tinged cover of the Bee Gees’ old “To Love Somebody.”
Somerville recorded little over the next four years, although he did perform a lot. The few cuts he did unleash — an electro-pop “From This Moment On” (incorporating “I Feel Love,” a leitmotif throughout his career) for the Red Hot + Blue AIDS awareness project and contributions to the soundtracks of Orlando and Postcards From America — showed the artist maturing, especially on his chest-voice rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s “So Long Babe.” Without straying far from proven formulae, Dare to Love fulfills that promise, as Somerville exhibits increased control over his instrument. The sentimental numbers outweigh the overtly political ones, but the single (“Heartbeat”) is an uplifting house anthem and the covers fit the overall aesthetic (a needless reworking of the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together”). Tellingly, the double whammy of the erotic reverie “Alright” and the uncomfortable “Too Much of a Good Thing” suggests that Somerville, like many gay men, has begun to find the fun/fight dichotomy exhausting.