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VertigoXpress | USA | 01/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the breakout album which represented a new direction for the fledgling band Thompson Twins, who already had two albums in the UK under their belts and seemed to be finally coming into their own in the United States. When they had a surprise hit with the throwaway track "In the Name of Love" off of their second album, "Set", they realized they were onto something. The track had been written by Tom Bailey, so they jettisoned four members of the formerly seven-piece outfit, leaving only Bailey, his girlfriend Alannah Currie, and Joe Leeway. Now a trio, the three forged forward in an unconventional way: Bailey was in charge of the music, while Currie handled the visual element of the band and Leeway designed their live shows.
"Side Kicks" represents the first effort of their new partnership, and remains one of the definitive albums of the 1980s. Although the music generally gets pigeonholed as "synthpop", that's not what makes it unique. The Human League were already doing that, and had hit pop music gold with "Don't You Want Me" two years before "Side Kicks" was even conceived. What the Thompson Twins brought to the table was a human warmth that was missing up until that point. Tom Bailey and producer Alex Sadkin married the synthesizer with warm analog bass sounds and percussion that veered away from being overtly robotic. Cymbals, timbales, tambourines, and other sounds figured into the mix. It made tracks such as "Love On Your Side" and "Judy Do" sound utterly different than the other "synthpop" records that were coming out at the time.
Adding to the intrigue was a dark undercurrent that manifested itself on tracks like "Tears", with its droning synth buzz that seems to be suggested by Soft Cell's "Memorabilia"; and the gorgeous "Kamikaze", as well as "Love On Your Side", too. The songs sounded as if they'd been written from someone who'd been deceived and hurt rather than lucky in love. Only "We Are Detective" was truly silly, and yet, when was the last time you remember a tango as a pop song?
In keeping with the increasingly visual element of 80s pop, the sleeve for "Side Kicks" had images of the band members with wild haircuts and odd clothes, images that were carried over into their videos. It was slick commercial packaging, but also at the time it was fresh and unusual.
The Thompson Twins would continue the relationship with Alex Sadkin on their next album, the equally brilliant "Into the Gap", and it would be those two albums that represented the pinnacle of their commercial career."