Quite unlike most of the groups emerging from Manchester in the late ’80s, Swing Out Sister follow the path of such neo-smoothies as Everything but the Girl and Sade: jazzy, horn-colored pop that puts an ’80s techno veneer to the smoky aroma of late-’50s nightclubs. The first album introduces the trio: Martin Jackson (Magazine’s original drummer and a later member of the Chameleons), keyboardist Andy Connell (formerly of A Certain Ratio) and Corrine Drewery (ex-Working Week). Drewery’s cool, dry vocals perfectly suit such appealing, uptempo creations as “Breakout,” “Fooled by a Smile” and “Twilight World.” Unfortunately, the songwriting is inconsistent: if all the material were of the same quality, It’s Better to Travel would be an out-and-out joy. (Another Non-Stop Sister matches three new tunes with five remixed album tracks.)
Recording the second album as a duo (although Jackson did some drum programming, he’s out of the band), Connell and Drewery revealed their Jimmy Webb jones. Interestingly, while they got the real McCoy in to arrange and conduct the orchestra for two songs, those aren’t the tracks that most resemble the 5th Dimension or “MacArthur Park.” (“You on My Mind” wins that award; Webb’s work on “Precious Words” sounds more like Burt Bacharach.) By employing Webb’s approach but cutting down the syrupy excess, Swing Out Sister reinterpret a corner of ’60s pop without any sour aftertaste. Indicating one stylistic formula SOS should abandon, “Waiting Game” mixes electronic dance percussion with strings. The arrangement ill suits Drewery’s voice — despite a passing visual resemblance, Lisa Stansfield she’s not.