Beginning with a series of arty rock singles, this amusingly suave and sarcastic London quartet fronted by Bid (vocals), Lester Square (guitar) and Andy Warren (bass) —all of whom had played with Adam Ant in obscure early bands—took a sharp sardonic swing towards lightweight pop when they reached album format. Aided by producer Bob Sargeant on keyboards, the Set mixed uncommon source material (polkas, etc.) into cabaret material (à la Village Green Preservation Society Kinks) on Strange Boutique. Fortunately, the highly controlled results are untainted by seriousness; even without much to say, the arch Set says it well.
Love Zombies expands the cabaret stylings while limiting the bizarre material, producing a smoother and more accessible sound. The melodies are stronger, and Bid’s vocals are brought up to spotlight lyrics that take sharp, light jabs at emotional traps and social mores.
With a new drummer in the lineup, Eligible Bachelors strips the music down to essential elements—clean, bouncy melodies and gently satirical verse, performed with deceptive facility. Songs like “March of the Eligible Bachelors,” “The Jet Set Junta” and “The Great Barrier Riff” typify the band’s witty intelligence.
Another lineup revision left Bid and bassist Warren the only remaining original members. Leading off with the suave pop of “Jacob’s Ladder,” The Lost Weekend has such a light touch that it threatens to float away. Nostalgic recollections of the ’30s, ’50s and ’60s color the songs, variously suggesting “When I’m 64” crossed with XTC and a bikini beach movie soundtrack. Clever and entertaining, although only the second side is truly compelling.
Volume, Contrast, Brilliance compiles early singles and significant album tracks. Fin is a compilation of live recordings dating from 1979 to 1985. Although presented as a supposed French film soundtrack, the strangely compiled Westminster Affair (with four repeats from Volume, Contrast, Brilliance) actually contains half of Eligible Bachelors, a song from The Lost Weekend and some singles; the CD appends four more. Colour Transmission is a straight one- disc repackage of Strange Boutique plus Love Zombies.
Augmented by a keyboard-playing second guitarist, the original core trio reunited around the end of the decade and recorded the all-new Dante’s Casino with a guest drummer. Still sounding very much like XTC’s upper-class city cousins, the Monochrome Set picks up the reins of attractive pop oddity with ease, filling the disc with such typically airy and clever charmers as “Bella Morte,” “Hate Male” and “House of God,” which bizarrely borrows a melody from Slade’s “Gudbuy t’Jane” and sets it to an acid-house beat.