Notwithstanding singer Dale Bozzio’s outrageous auto-sexploitation and the overall commercial-record-industry-hype packaging that permeated the group, Missing Persons were one positive manifestation of the ’80s accommodation between new and old in rock. Designed to shift product but retaining high musical standards and an adventurous outlook, Missing Persons fell between genres, simultaneously offending and intriguing intelligent sensibilities.
Originally built on the core of Bozzio, her then husband — drummer/keyboardist Terry (once a Zappa employee and a member of would-be supergroup U.K.) — plus ex-Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, Missing Persons changed their name from U.S. Drag and were given a boost by producer Ken Scott who recorded and released their debut EP on 7-inch; it became a hit when picked up and reissued as a 12-inch by Capitol. In the latter form, it contained both “Words” and “Destination Unknown,” idiosyncratic songs that also turned up on the first LP.
Spring Session M (an anagram of the band’s name) is slick, clever modern rock, using synthesizers and guitars in a hybrid style that came to be very familiar in the ’80s. What sets Missing Persons apart from other state-of-the-arters, however, is Bozzio’s non-clichéd singing — tough/smart with a bemused, occasionally philosophical outlook, and a characteristic hiccup hitch that recalls Lene Lovich’s early vocal gymnastics. Especially impressive for a debut album, Bozzio’s voice exudes confidence to spare and enough personality to invest the band’s novel tunes with an appropriate attitude as required.
Continue to suspend your disbelief for a few lines more: although it takes a while to become accustomed, Rhyme & Reason is an equally fine record. The lyrics of “Give,” in what weirdly became a minor pop music trend, amount to an ethical exhortation to selflessness, attached to dynamic rock backing. Elsewhere, “Right Now” and “Surrender Your Heart” address romance with a little sensitivity, attractive melodies and sophisticated, full-blooded instrumentation. Bozzio sings with less affectation but consistent skill and subtlety. At its worst, the album offers appealing vacuity. Ignore the trappings and enjoy the music.
Bernard Edwards produced Color in Your Life, pumping up the volume with horns and funk rhythms on the Motown-based “Flash of Love” and “I Can’t Think About Dancin’,” one of the few rock songs ever to use the word “pretentious.” Elsewhere, the dancebeat of “Boy I Say to You” sells this once-provocative band extremely short. While the inviting title track could fit on any of the band’s albums, the cloying keyboards and messy arrangements here compete with Bozzio’s vocals to no one’s benefit. The misconceived stylistic overhaul proved a total disaster; despite a couple of worthwhile tunes, this LP is a must to avoid.
With that, Missing Persons split up, something Dale and Terry had already done. Capitol issued a comprehensive retrospective, Cuccurullo joined Duran Duran and Dale signed on the dotted line with Prince’s label. Her first solo record is a joint project with producer Robert Brookins, who wrote most of the songs and played drums and keyboards on a lot of them. Although Prince’s instrumental sound permeates the LP, it is nowhere so evident as on his contribution, “So Strong.” The commercial dance music on Riot in English plays up the flexibility of Dale’s voice, but the pre-fab cookie-cutter material and arrangements come as quite a disappointment after the stylistic invention of her former group.
Since Missing Persons, bassist/keyboardist Patrick O’Hearn (another Zappa alumnus and member of the 1980 Group 87 with Mark Isham and Terry Bozzio) has been making nicely textured instrumental albums for Private Music.