Title: Welcome to the pleasuredome
Author: Piers Letcher
Source: Disco 45
Welcome to the pleasuredome
Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Autumn 1984
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan. A stately pleasure-dome decree…
Samual Taylor Coleridge, Summer 1797
Frankie Say Ha!
This is what the world has waited for, this is what breath has been bate for, this is the album with more than a million advance orders. And it’s a double. However, if you have the first two singles then you’ll find there’s only another three quarters of an hour of new material. But what a three quarter of an hour…
I knew you’d ask about Coleridge. Well, the title actually springs from his poem, Kubla Khan, which itself sprang from Purchas’s Progress (which sprang from a description of the Forbidden city of the Princess in Peking…). Can I move onto the vinyl now, with those three short sharps, before the record really starts?
Well… it’s an odd enough opening. Opera style vocals, crashing chords, a kind of living theme to Dante’s Inferno, and very very short. Moving , hastily on…
The World Is My Oyster
This time it’s a Holly vocal over a little guitar and synth, with just the spoken title, a “ha ha ha ha ha” and a long “yeeaaah” to finish things off. Yes, but where are the dance songs, the foot tapping rhythms?
Snatch of Fury (Stay)
Not here, that’s for sure. An aviary, birds surround you, a few synthesised noises on top, and so far very very bitty. (But after a dozen plays it all makes a kind of incoherent sense, you just see.) The line for this song (?) runs “Life goes on day after day after day after day after…, and the anticipation’s reaching breaking point.
Welcome To The Pleasure Dome
So, in comes the instantly familiar, instantly danceable, singable, lovable title track. In comes the all singing, all dancing huge production number, Frankie surfing on the crest of a wave. Dozens of different sounds vie for your attention, the beat cascades along, and HA! the stuff that dreams are made of is here. The HA! is probably the nearest that this extravagence gets to a trademark.
It adds the magic that sets your soul on fire. And that voice, what a voice…
The animals are winding me up…
In Xanadu did Khubla Khan pleasure dome erect…
Shooting stars never stop
Even when they reach the top
We’re a long way from home
Welcome to the pleasure dome
And its madnesses of sound, from punky chug a chug to those clear Pink Floyd guitar solos, to every synthesised sound under the sun. This song’s the crux of the LP, the song on which its reputation will be made. It runs and runs, several different versions of the same theme, with choral vocals of the principle lines, extra soul sounds, extra extra sounds thrown in, every trick in the book is used and, undeniably, works.
And then THAT voice slows down to epic film soundtrack proportions. THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER HA HA HA HA HA HA… WELCOME.
Nothing can stop them now.
Relax (Come Fighting) follows.
You know the song, but it’s the video version, with those brilliant echoes. Magnificence.
Don’t do it (do it)
When you want to come… (Come come come come…)
The come come come come dying fade runs into War (…and Hide). Oh No-ho, there’s got to be a better way. The twelve inch War (Hidden), with added Reaganspeak over the top. An interesting diversion, but we’ve heard it before.
Two Tribes (for the Victims of Ravishment) starts off so predictably. But none of the “This is the sound”, none of the “aw Ow Ow, Let’s GO!”. Instead a real HA!, a single mind focusing, delicious HA!. It’s the same song, remixed (again). Good as ever, loud, very loud, neighbour annoyingly loud so much to hear. And a little ditty at the end of the imponderables of sex, unrepeatable here… The first of the parental embarrassments.
Ferry (Go) is really just what you’d expect (just flip over Relax) and ends with this oft heard and intriguing conversation (read with a heavy Liverpool Liverpool accent):
HIM: I’m sorry I’ve left my card at home.
HER: Well you’re late as well. That’s three times on the run. If you’re late again the supervisor said we’re going to put you on daily signing.
And this vast and stylish HA! Is the intro to the new and well publicised cover versions. Born To Run is done on a loud and fast basis, and is, well, alright, considering I never like Springsteen’s original, but it doesn’t stand up when compared to the Relaxes and Two Tribes of the world. Nor does San Jose (The way), Bacharach’s most famous tune. Again, satisfying, but not inspiring.
So back then, to the Frankie magic, with Wish The Lads Were Here, though it fails to pack the punch that by now we’re used to. It takes Including The Ballad of 32 to give us something really new. It’s a rather strange sex orientated instrumental, with the inevitable accompanying noises. The sort of music which requires minimum light and maximum volume, and which leaves little room for doubt about what’s going on. Plenty of scope here for more parental embarrassment.
Krisco Kisses fails for some reason. Rattle drums, and shouting not singing will not win this game. It’s the track I’d have left out… Black Night White Light on the other hand is very Frankie, and very successful. Imagine Holly singing the title as chorus, and you can see it straight away. This, and the last real song The Power of Love would make a fine ending to these records, but in between the two comes The Only Star In Heaven, a rather ragged no direction song, with a rap and a punch me up boogie woogie piano break. Very odd.
By contrast The Power Of Love could be the song at any party, the last one they play for lovers at nightclubs, with huge strings and sadness ready supplied. That Johnson’s voice can work wonders, when it’s used to best effect.
As you might expect, it all ends with a Bang… which saves it from going out on a sensible note. Reagan says: Frankie Say… Frankie Say… Frankie Say… No More.
It’s a very unusual product, about sixty five minutes long and, in places, brilliant. It will run and run, and it will be on your lips from the day it arrives in your home. Welcome to the pleasure dome, but are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new Gods?