Fac. Dance 02 – Factory Records Rarities 1980-87
Thu 20th Sep, 2012 Music Reviewsin
Manchester in the 1980s was a city in decline in almost every respect: the mills stood derelict, the town centre was crumbling, and housing estates were rife with crime and rotting around their residents.
There was, however, one thing about Manchester that made it arguably the greatest city in England at the time, and that was its music scene. Manchester was home to some of the most talented song writers of their generation: ABC, The Smiths, The Fall, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, New Order, Happy Mondays and James. And for those independent acts that wanted to remain in Manchester to record and release music, the now legendary Factory Records run by the polarising Tony Wilson was their home.
Of course, not every act in Manchester found a home at Factory, even those who were fiercely independent. The film 24 hour Party People quoted God as saying to Tony Wilson, “It’s a pity you didn’t sign The Smiths, but you were right about Mick Hucknall. His music’s rubbish, and he’s a ginger.” Truer words were never spoken!
Whether this failure to sign one of Manchester’s greatest bands was due to Tony Wilson’s famous ego or his unusual taste isn’t clear. What is crystal clear, is that this album – a collection of electronic music released by Factory in the early 80s– includes disappointingly little of the brilliance that flourished in Manchester at that time.
The album opens brightly enough with a song by “post punk funk” outfit A Certain Ratio, called The Fox. There are definite echoes of Joy Division in the brief vocal arrangement, but the focus of the song is mainly instrumental experimentation. This is followed up by another funk-fuelled track called Moody which has an interesting musical arrangement but is destroyed by what must be one of the most annoying vocals ever conceived.
Thankfully, the memory of that song is quickly erased by one of the stronger, but shorter tracks on the album. Minny Pops’ Blue Roses has an electro sound that has stood the test of time remarkably well. The vocals aren’t spectacular, but at least they don’t detract from the song.
This pattern of an awful song followed by something noteworthy continues, as the brilliantly named Thick Pigeon brings us a song that is as spectacularly bad as their name is quirky. Yet this is followed by a Biting Tongues’ number which appears to have been written by people who were at least familiar with the instruments they were playing. In fact, it gets better with repeated listening and I have developed quite a fondness for it.
The reverse is true for Society by X-O-Dus: a reggae number that makes me feel somewhat nostalgic, but ultimately just reminds me how awful life was for the millions of unemployed people in Thatcher’s ‘brave new Britain’. Personally, I’d like to forget how grim things were back then, and this isn’t helping!
Have you ever wondered what the Happy Mondays might have sounded like before they actually learned to play their instruments and had attempted a poor impersonation of the Sex Pistols on valium? Then wonder no more, as the delightfully awful Section 25 bring us a song that’s so bad I love it – bless them.
The Human League came from Sheffield and not Manchester and they were very talented. But if you had a poor Mancunian facsimile, then they might end up sounding like Shark Vegas. You Hurt Me is actually an excellent example of the electro pop that was so popular in pubs, clubs and the charts at the time. It’s just that this song sounds as if it’s mimicking someone else. If I were Phil Oakey I’d be flattered, but I’m not so I’ll just make do with bemusement instead.
Up until this point, any real weaknesses on this release have been minimised by being sandwiched between far stronger songs – unfortunately for me and anyone else listening to this album, this strategy now comes to an end. The next three songs are so bad I’m amazed anyone actually bothered to write them down, let alone convince someone else to release them onto an unsuspecting world. Tony Wilson was known for his unusual tastes, but the utter dross that starts with the truly terrible N’sel Fik by Fadela is well beyond unusual.
Amazingly, not all is completely lost: this layer of fat sitting on the midriff of this album like musical cellulite, is about as bad as the album gets. There are still a few nice surprises that crop up from time-to-time, such as Fate by Nyam Nyam. It sounds like a hybrid between an 80’s cop film soundtrack and Ian Curtis on ecstasy, but I find that idea quite appealing!
Overall, in spite of the occasional decent song, the overwhelming feeling I get listening to this album is that it misses the mark. Yes, there are some interesting ideas and some innovative music that was probably a good idea in its time, but its time has long since passed and there isn’t enough high quality music here to make you want to keep on revisiting it. This is a shame as there was so much good music in Manchester at the time you have to wonder where it all went. Maybe these songs are rarities for a reason or maybe Factory are building up to Fac Dance 3 “songs you want to hear again”. If so, I will check out the next instalment to see if I’m right.