Album #532 – Welcome to the Pleasuredome

Album #532

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, a band named after an article which told the story of Frank Sinatra’s arrival in L.A., burst on to the pop music scene in England in 1983. Their song Relax, became a mega hit. This is because of the song’s lyrics and the single’s picture sleeve, which were both explicitly sexual. The BBC banned the song because of this and it’s original erotic music video. But, that just drove the sales of the single up even more, shooting it straight to #1, proving that bad press and controversy can be a good thing. The album’s next single, Two Tribes, took the opposite extreme, a song about the dangers of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. In fact, the music video for that song was a wrestling match between the U.S. and Russia, pitting a Ronald Reagan look alike against a Chernenko look alike. That video was equally controversial but, didn’t raise as many eyebrows as the original video for Relax. This was the reputation that Frankie Goes To Hollywood had. Rooted in punk music, the group challenged the status quo. This made the group very successful in England and Europe but, not as successful in North America. Relax was a massive hit for the group on both sides of the Atlantic but, Two Tribes and follow-up single The Power of Love failed to crack the top 40. One magazine ad promoting the album in the UK, quoted the band as saying they were out to destroy teen idols like Duran Duran. Ironically, Duran Duran would continue to be mega stars in North America while Frankie Goes To Hollywood are remembered more for a T-shirt with the phrase “Frankie says Relax…” than any of their work. The album itself was controversial due to Trevor Horn’s production. Since Relax and Two Tribes were released months before the album, many felt the versions on Welcome to the Pleasuredome paled in comparison to the original versions released on 7 and 12 inch singles. Also, due to Horn’s perfectionism in the studio, the members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood did not play on many of the tracks. Instead, session musicians filled the gaps. Another criticism was the fact that cover tunes took up a quarter of the album. Where was the new material? Despite all of this, the album is crisp and clean and is a reflection of it’s times. Chris Barrie’s cunning impersonations of Ronald Reagan and Prince Charles add to the political tone of many of the album’s tracks. Vocalists always stand out for me and Holly Johnson is no exception. His voice is emotive, strong and typical of many male singers from the 80’s. But for the first time, the sexuality of Johnson and backing singer/dancer/keyboardist Paul Rutherford (not related to the guitarist/bassist for Genesis and Mike & The Mechanics, Mike Rutherford) was not hidden. In fact, Welcome to the Pleasuredome show cases their sexuality in a way that many other synth pop groups didn’t. The only exception being Soft Cell. Welcome to the Pleasuredome represents it’s times very well: a look at excess, decadence and political warfare. Nobody else would come close to capturing ALL three as well as they did. The group never were fully successful after this album’s release. The follow-up, featuring all the band’s members playing on every track, did very poorly and any attempts to reunite the original line-up were futile. But, the album stands as a testament to it’s times and is one of the best albums of the decade. Other highlights include: War, The Ballad of 32, Black Night White Light and the Power of Love (released as a single near Christmas 1984, the video featured a live nativity scene thus making the song a defacto Christmas staple even though it wasn’t a holiday song to begin with). Overall, I give Welcome to the Pleasuredome, 4 out of 5.

Next: Run-D.M.C. by Run-D.M.C.

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