Altered Images: Pinky Blue

CLARE GROGAN has this itsy little boop-be-doop of a voice, and she twists phrases into odd curlicues while her four-piece band plays zesty, danceable (mustn’t forget danceable) pop. That’s about it. But in the process, Altered Images manages to be both cloyingly modern and strangely reactionary – not the easiest trick to pull off – and to be a genuine summer-fall of ’82 artifact, with all that implies.

Take, for example, the oh-so-uninformative packaging. If you didn’t know, you couldn’t really tell whether Pinky Blue is the name of the band or the album. Nothing gives the slightest clue as to who the musicians are, or what they play (the only reason I was able to identify the lead singer up there at the start of this review was because, on the way to work, I happened to pass the Lincoln Plaza, where she is a featured player in the charming film Gregory’s Girl, and I can read a one-sheet as well as the next pedestrian). The only billing on the LP is given to (surprise!!) the Producer, who in this case is the inventive fellow who took the Human League to the exalted point where their most famous intro is now used as atmosphere-setting music in the promos for the baseball championship playoffs (quite an achievement). So you might take a look at the label, where a fivesome listed as “C. Grogan; A. McDaid; J. McElhone; M. Anderson; J. McKinnon” is cited as the composing team of the majority of the tracks. Five faces on the cover (in a smallish box), five names: this must be the band. An in-touch colleague has informed me that this is their second album, and that the first one was a big hit in England. OK so far.

On to the music (and about time). If you have a nephew or niece, say toddler-to-six, this would make a nice introduction to mod-pop. Let him or her drive the parents nutty by chirping along with Grogan on such tunes as ‘Pinky Blue’, ‘Funny Funny Me’, ‘Jump Jump’, ‘Little Brown Head’, and especially Altered Images’ inspired demolition of ‘Song Sung Blue’, which, with the boys chanting along with Grogan’s giddy delivery, becomes an idiot’s march (“Tweedle-deedeedumdum!”). There is such a delirious, oblivious attitude to the whole thing that either of two reactions is possible, and defensible: take this record and melt it into a serving dish for cashews, or else succumb. The latter option would be more tempting were it not for another ’82 symptom that creeps into two of the better songs. ‘See Those Eyes’ and ‘I Could Be Happy’ both smack suspiciously of the dreaded Extended Dance Club Remix, that method whereby a perfectly swell pop song is mutated, elongated and thumped into a concoction that can drive ordinary men to commit irrational crimes. (Did you hear the story about the poor soul who was trapped in traffic in a taxi in which the radio dial was caught on the “new music” station at the precise moment when the “12 inch version” – records have not yet adopted the metric system of measurement – of ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was being broadcast? Bail was set at $200 and the charge was bargained down to “Justifiable Marconicide,” a misdemeanor in 14 states). The producer of Pinky Blue is an accomplished hand at such modern variations as the “Dub Version” (named after character actor Dub Taylor, no doubt) – what we fogeys used to call “Boring Filler” – but there is something sinister about the very idea of such doodling appearing on an actual album. Promotional 12″ discs are one thing; this is a tendency that must be nipped in the proverbial bud. (I think I have an ally in J. McKinnon, whoever he is. On both of these 5:40 cuts, his name is absent from the writers’ parentheses, the only group compositions from which he disassociates himself. Here, at least, is a man of principle!)

On top of all this, then, is the sound of Ms. Grogan, a female certainly above the age of consent, singing like a little girl bouncing on her daddy’s knee. The lyrics suggest, at times, a certain disorienting precosity (“I’d be not bad at all,” she states on ‘Forgotten’): a woman pretending to be a pre-nymphet acting flirtatious. That, it seems to this reporter, is taking their image-altering a bit far. Cute is cute, but trying to be silly and saucy, and keep that nu-beat, is locking Altered Images into what could turn out to be arrested development.

© Mitchell CohenCreem, January 1983

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