As gaps between albums go a quarter of a century is pretty impressive. I don’t think it’s the biggest gap (where’s Norris McWhirter when you need him eh?) but, hell’s teeth, 25 years! To be fair to Neil and Stephen (the main ingredients in this particular Blancmange) the band split up in 1987 and they’ve obviously been doing their own thing over the years but now, seemingly out of the blue, they’re back with Blanc Burn (a pun on Neil's hometown, Blackburn).
The first thing you notice about the album is the cover art. Reminiscent of their earlier records (in particular the Happy Families album and Blind Vision single) it looks a little like one of those ads from the 1930’s...apart from the fly sat on one of the oranges that is. Listening to the album a few times you get the distinct impression that Neil's happiest being a glass half empty kind of guy and the fly's a neat little visual reference to this...a blot on an otherwise perfect world.
Wisely resisting the temptation to go all dubstep on us, the sound of the album’s as familiar as the cover. There’s old school synths, a welcome dash or two of Asian spice and the kind of blunt, down to earth lyricism that made the band such a breath of fresh air back in the 80’s. Take opener ‘By the Bus Stop @ Woolies’ for instance, with Neil Arthur singing down the line about ‘t’kiosks’, ‘t’bandstand’ and ‘some o ‘ lads’ against a laidback groove and the occasional sound of a beeping payphone...telling the story of those dim and distant days when arranging to meet up with a lass took the kind of planning now reserved for space missions. It’s a low key way to kick things off but it’s also a nice nod to their past – lest we forget this was the band that sang “I’m up the bloody tree” in a broad Lancastrian accent. You wouldn’t get that from Jessie J.
If you’re looking for a classic like ‘Living On The Ceiling’ make a beeline for ‘The Western’. Bringing the band’s trademark fusion of synth pop and Asian percussion well and truly out of retirement (courtesy of their original spice boy Pandit Dinesh) it’s a surefire single and the album’s undisputed highlight. Expect to hear it on a Berocca ad sometime around 2032.
Elsewhere you can almost imagine Neil pottering around the house singing some of these tracks, with Stephen sitting in the kitchen surrounded by vintage synths held together with sticky tape. It’s got a delightfully homespun feel to it in places. “I’m not really one for doing the dusting, and all the curtains can stay drawn” sings Neil dolefully on ‘I’m Having A Coffee’ “The fuse has bust on the plug on the telly, there’s something strange at the bottom of the fridge”. Truly the ‘maiden aunts of electronic music’ (as Daniel Miller, Mute supremo, dubbed them) are back...and there’s no time for housework. Similarly ‘Don’t Forget Your Teeth’ has a bedroom recording vibe, matching the minimalistic lyrics...sample “You take the goldfish, I’ll take the piss”. Perhaps on this track they are, but that’s part of the joy of it all, a joy that harks back to the glory days of Top Of The Pops, Smash Hits and Woolies...a less conscious time when pop was fun...pure and simple. The sound of a band that’s remarkably still in the pink after all these years.
Blanc Burn is out on Proper Records on March 7th and the band’s on tour from Sunday 6th March. Get yer tickets 'ere!