Lifestyles of the rich and famous
…that’s the inspiration behind Act, a meeting of minds, melody and gold lame entertainment from those nice people at ZTT.
What’s the most decadent thing they’ve ever done?
Claudia couldn’t say. And Thomas wouldn’t want it printed.
I’ve forgotten the title of the first Act single. It’s something like ‘Elegance And Dismay’, but whatever it’s called, it’s only pretending. Number 28 in ZTT’s Action Series is, you might say, an act of gross titillation.
’Decadence And Disarray’, or whatever, is a comic turn which revolves around ideas of ritzy high-living and vulgar, glam-American showbusiness. Part parody and part celebration of gold lame entertainment, it’s a silver coil of rigid Synclavier disco, produced to the nines with traditional ZTT gusto. A B-side dips fittingly into middle-aged staginess, with a version of ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ from ‘Evita’.
You listen to the 12 inch mega-mix of ‘Aristocracy And Disdain’ (no, that’s not it), and little chandeliers start tinkling in your ears. Your face turns TV pancake make-up perfect and pâté de foie gras starts to swell up in your stomach. You might be sick, or you might start laughing.
Claudia: “The whole idea was based on a programme called ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous’. That was when we discovered how much we wanted to write about that idea and what a great introduction it would be for Thomas and me to have a duet as a first single. Two characters talking about that whole thing.”
Thomas: “It also seemed to fit the feeling of the times. Everything has come to that point, where you have the yuppie generation on the one hand, and the unemployed on the other.”
Claudia and Thomas got their Act together quite naturally. Propaganda’s demise was due in part to the ‘boys’ in the band resisting Claudia’s desire to write, and Thomas had reached the point where he’d written enough about himself. The acquaintances found that their ideas coalesced, and the double act was quickly born.
Thomas: “What people don’t seem to realize about ZTT is that the big difference between them and major labels is if you’ve got ideas, you can realise them.”
Claudia: “It’s a bit like absurdist theatre.” (Eh? Ed)
We’re talking TV connoisseur art jiggery-pokery here. ZTT provides the stage and the Morley household TV supplies the gags.
Claudia: “In Germany I would have written about other matters, I’m sure. So here, I just have a lot of books I read to get used to the language and I just take everything. I take from television from advertising, just anything I can get.”
Thomas: “It’s kind of like gathering all the media we can soak up, and a large part of that comes from television ‘cause that’s the real medium now.”
Or the hyper-real medium, depending on whether you’re watching ‘Opportunity Knocks’ or ‘Dynasty’. As with many a thin-skinned European observer, it’s the slick-cash confidence and the boldness of US TV that shoulder pads its way to the forefront of Act’s thinking. There’s even a ‘Moonlighting’ mix for the single.
With Claudia dipping into ‘serious literature’ for her songs (a dash of Rimbaud here, a touch of Henry Miller there), and Morley chipping in with the patented ZTT art-joke packaging, the end result is a playfully preposterous image pile-up. As Claudia explains: “We kind of like the idea of making it a bit complicated.” Or as Thomas has it: “A lot of it is very abstract.”
You might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of it is preposterously pretentious, too.
Claudia: “I think the whole business is a big pretend, and that’s what it’s about.”
Thomas: “Everybody in the music business is a big pretentious, from Mel & Kim upwards, and we’re just being a bit more intelligent about it; a bit more fun about it.”
Claudia: “Pretentious is a very badly used word. I think, just with us calling ourselves ‘Act’, it’s there already.”
Thomas: “And more what we’re about is blowing up the pretence, which is why we’re interested in ‘Moonlighting’. It’s the only TV programme that blows the whole pretence up. They’ll talk to the camera for a minute, and then they’ll get back into the act.
“We try to do that musically, casting aside to the listener. There’s a little ‘Dallas’ theme here, a little bit there, and saying ‘this is what we think’ but ‘we don’t really’. On the other hand, it’s just a pop record.”
It’s just pretending. The first vinyl Act (what’s it called? ‘Opulence And Decline’? ‘Caviar And Sprouts’?) might have Claudia and Thomas singing list Vogue meets the Pet Shop Boys in Las Vegas and dancing like a gold Amex Heaven 17… But in the next scene could involve a complete costume change. The album, they assure me, will have a much harder edge.
So if the ‘Champagne ‘N’ Cabaret’ mega-mix of Act One turns your stomach, don’t leave your seat yet. There might be a belly laugh in Act Two.
Claudia: “People should give us some time, and wait before they really can’t stand us.”
Thomas: “I’ll be quite happy if they do. I mean, we have to accept a bit of flack because we’re throwing the cat amongst the pigeons… We do want to stir it up a bit, otherwise it’s boring, isn’t it? Let’s have a bit more snappiness, a bit more ass-kicking going on in the business.”
A bit more snobbery, and a bit less decay. Oh yes… that’s what the single’s called. ‘Snobbery And Decay’. Play for today.