Although it's their endlessly repackaged 1982-1985 stint at Cherry Red records that gave the Monochrome Set their most notoriety, the band's two finest albums were their two 1980 releases on the Virgin subsidiary Dindisc records. Strange Boutique and Love Zombies were exceedingly clever, archly witty, and more often than not wildly catchy art-school pop that sounded like an ironic art-schooled cross of Roxy Music and XTC. Strange Boutique is the more manic of the two albums, with the appropriately careening "Expresso" and the hyperactive title track among their most jittery songs. However, the album slows down for the dreamy "Tomorrow Will Be Too Long" and "Ici les Enfants." The highlight is the tensely quiet "Goodbye Joe," a song the group recorded several times; this is the best take, incorporating a spooky snatch of carnival music in the increasingly fragmentary phased guitar solo before snapping right back to the disturbingly dismissive final verse. It's a post-punk masterpiece, and arguably the group's career high point. Love Zombies foreshadows the increasing cutesiness of the band's Cherry Red era, with singer/songwriter Bid paying tribute to himself in the amusing "B-I-D Spells Bid" and namechecking the band's unofficial sixth member, filmmaker and lighting specialist Tony Potts, in a tuneful instrumental. (Meanwhile, "RSVP" is a list of unrelated rhyming French phrases.) The rest of the album is a bit darker than the debut, with a certain gloom permeating songs like "Adeste Fideles" and the skittering waltz-time title track. That said, it might have a slight edge, as the songwriting is a bit stronger than the debut's, with fewer songs that smack slightly of filler. This nicely packaged CD, with both albums in full, is the best way to discover the Monochrome Set.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason