In this cynical and suspicious era, criminals — including politicians, preachers, murderers and swindlers of all persuasions — have found it easy to get away with the most outrageous transgressions by being up-front about their sins. Nothing succeeds these days like the profession of sincerity: most people, it seems, prefer a known felon to a possible liar. No matter how indefensible one’s actions may be, a confident pre-emptive announcement or tearful apology evidently wipes away all evil.
Spurred no doubt by former Generation X bandmate Billy Idol’s solo stardom (and possibly the successful no-music-necessary starmaking machinery of Frankie Goes to Hollywood), bassist/producer Tony James formed this colorful and sweeping multi-media hype as a post-everything adaptation of Malcolm McLaren’s great rock’n’roll swindle. But instead of trying to manipulate the record industry and music-consuming public with cagey behind-the-scenes machinations, Sigue Sigue Sputnik confronted the challenge with total frankness, blithely acknowledging the naked crassness of their intentions. The sextet proved exceedingly adept at outrageous style-mongering, attracting press coverage (much of it highly unfavorable), self-marketing and favorable deal-making. Creating and selling records, however, was another matter.
Prior to the release of Flaunt It, SSS debuted with a three-version 12-inch of “Love Missile F1-11” — a ticking bass sequencer with a simple vocal, shards of guitar and piles of unpredictable sound effects, goosed with wild production tricks into a mixed trashcan of trivia that’s amusing enough but bears only the scantiest relationship to music. The album, also produced by Giorgio Moroder, proffers another version of “Love Missile,” following it with an utterly useless program of near-identical assemblages and other likeminded tripe that attempts to replicate the T. Rex glam-pop atmosphere with meaningless slogans and ultra-simple hooks. (Besides the obvious Bolanisms, SSS tangentially acknowledges a massive debt to Suicide with occasional cries of “Rocket USA,” not-so-cleverly disguised as “Rock It Miss USA.”) Despite spectacular Japanese-styled art and the distinction of being the first rock record to contain paid audio advertisements, Flaunt It doesn’t got it.
The notation “This time it’s music” on the front cover of Dress for Excess is almost touching, but hardly supported by the repetitive trivia contained in the grooves. Dispensing with sponsorship and toning down the samples (except on “Hey Jayne Mansfield Superstar!,” which has to be a first LP outtake, “Super Crook Blues” and the armageddon fantasy, “M*A*D”), Sigue Sigue roots around its songwriting closet in search of something worthwhile to dress up, but what gets simple ’50s-by-way-of-guitars’n’synths treatment here is totally worthless and forgettable. (There isn’t even an attempt at originality in “Rio Rocks!,” which puts cribbed lyrics to “La Bamba.”)
The utterly redundant First Generation retrieves the complete Flaunt It 4-track demos (essentially the same LP, with wicked amounts of echo and none of the sonic window dressing, plus “Jayne Mansfield”) and sticks on three 1990 recordings and a limp live rendition of “Rebel Rebel.” At that point, neck-deep in a rising sewer, James went off and joined the Sisters of Mercy.