As introduced on Michael & Miranda, the Passions (most of whom had been in a London punk band called the Derelicts) appeared to be part of the post-punk movement. The record is characterized by spare arrangements, stark vocals and fairly unmelodic — though lyrically interesting — songs. Subjects like unhappy love (“Oh No, It’s You”) and frustrated attempts at relationships and communication (“Palava”), along with “Obsession,” “Suspicion,” fear (“Man on the Tube”) and neuroses (“Absentee”), make the world of Michael & Miranda a particularly anxious one.
Thirty Thousand Feet Over China is less bleak, though still tainted with anger, deceit and suspicion. With a new producer, Nigel Gray, and a new bass player, the quartet sounds smoother and more melodic (as on “Someone Special,” “Runaway” and the nicely poppy “Bachelor Girls”). Lyrics are as sharp and offbeat as ever — check the clever, almost tongue-in-cheek “I’m in Love with a German Film Star.”
Between Thirty Thousand Feet and Sanctuary, the Passions released a single, “Africa Mine,” arguably their best song. A pretty, haunting, bitter and impassioned condemnation of colonialist exploitation, it could really be applied to greed by any name. “Africa Mine” foreshadowed the sound of Sanctuary, which is smooth without being bland, sophisticated without being smug, and pretty without being soppy. Barbara Gogan shows growing confidence as a singer; her new expressiveness and the addition of a synthesizer serve to fill in and soften what used to be rough edges. The soaring title track is especially memorable.
Before the Passions, guitarist Clive Timperley was in the 101ers. After the Passions, in the late ’80s, Barbara Gogan turned up in New York, playing acoustic solo shows and often included the Passions’ “Sanctuary” along with her new songs. She has since lived in Russia and Paris, where she has done ambient work with Hector Zazou.