Memorable Musical Excess
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 06/24/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"With the band's name referencing Frank Sinatra's decision to make films, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD consisted of five men from Liverpool's punk scene who suddenly found themselves on the cutting edge of New Wave: Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Peter Gill, Mark O'Toole and Brian Nash, a club band that attracted the attention of record producer Trevor Horn with the blantantly sexual song "Relax."
The result was WELCOME TO THE PLEASURE DOME, and released with tremendous hype the record leaped to the top of the English charts with the singles "Relax," "When Two Tribes Go To War," and "The Power of Love." The band was soon popular in the USA as well, and t-shirts proclaiming "Frankie Says Relax" were suddenly ubiquitious.
FRANKIE's time in the public eye equated to Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame; their second release was a flop, singer Holly Johnson left, and the band fell apart. But somewhat oddly, WELCOME TO THE PLEASURE DOME has left an unexpected afterglow: both singles and remixes have remained very popular in dance clubs, and remixes of "Relax" and "The Power of Love" actually returned to the English charts in 1993--nine years after the songs first debuted.
In many ways the recording is indicative of 1980s excess. At least two of the band members were openly gay and the band tended to present itself as an exercise in homosexual hedonism; the lyrics to "Relax" were so explicit that it was among the most often banned-from-radio songs of it era, and the video that accompanied it was so hot that it too was banned and a much tamer substitute video was created in order to get MTV airplay. Listening to PLEASURE DOME today one finds it no less explicit than it was twenty years ago. One also finds just as strange as it was when it first exploded onto the charts.
Much of the recording might best be described as musical collage. One song seques into another with odd bits and pieces coloring in the lines between each cut; there are bird sounds; narrative readings; and a host of other oddities. "Well," "The World Is My Oyster," "Snatch of Fury," and the title "Welcome To The Pleasure Dome" feel like one extend piece, bouncing from blunt to sharp. "Relax," the song for which FRANKIE was and is still best known, remains as intense, pulsing, and sexually hot as ever; and "Two Tribes" has considerable power and sharpness. "The Power of Love," one of the few ballad-like pieces the band did, is also very memorable.
The album as a whole--well, let's put it this way. You really have to be in the mood. Holly Johnson does nice covers of "Ferry Cross The Mersey," "Born to Run," and "Do You Know The Way to San Jose," but I wouldn't describe any of these as besting the originals so much as being new takes on old favorites. Some of the pieces are basically fluff filler expertly performed, with "Krisco Kisses," "Black Night White Light," and "The Only Star in Heaven" cases in point. Even so, it is hard to dismiss FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD as purely style over substance, as some have done; in many ways, it is as fresh today as it was when it first came out.
There are two versions of WELCOME TO THE PLEASURE DOME. This particular edition includes seventeen tracks and is essentially the recording as it was first released; a later version includes expanded tracks but, at least according to friends who have heard it, does so at the expense of the "bleed" between tracks. Both, however, seem to include what most people think of the essential three: "Relax," "Two Tribes," and "The Power of Love."
It's an odd recording, glitchy, strange, and one people seem to either really like or completely loathe. But the musicianship, production, and Holly Johnson's vocals are uniquely powerful and appealing. Flawed, absolutely; recommended just the same.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"