The title of Positive Noise’s second album signifies the drastic change that took place after the group’s debut LP as a result of the departure of Ross Middleton, the band’s singer/leader/lyricist who left in mid-1981 to form Leisure Process with saxophonist Gary Barnacle. The Scottish band began as a five-piece (including two other Middleton brothers who stuck it out to the end) and in late 1980 recorded Heart of Darkness, which is pretty dire — a badly produced mishmash of art-funk, Skids-like cheering, PiL noise and assorted pretentious nonsense. It suffers from indecisive direction as much as a lack of originality.
For Change of Heart, guitarist Russell Blackstock also assumed the vocal chores, and Positive Noise transmuted into a slick electronic dance machine, churning out precise rhythms with anxious, semi-melodic vocals. Gone is the audio clumsiness and uncertain footing of the first LP; Positive Noise’s niche is definitely in club music.
Produced by Dave Allen, Distant Fires finds the quintet trying to balance techno-dance sterility and coarse melodic pop. While the continued use of synthesizer leaves some of the uneven material sounding like a credible alternative to Human League or junior-league Ultravox, sturdy guitar-based arrangements and Blackstock’s rough singing make the soaring “When Lightning Strikes” (originally issued as a 1983 single) and “A Million Miles Away” distinctive and memorable.