Dead or Alive

Sophisticated Boom Boom

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Whether or not Dead or Alive was the first synth-goth band in history is a bit open to debate, but they were unquestionably in on the ground floor somewhere. Burns and his crew created a weird sort of landmark with Sophisticated Boom Boom, though ultimately it's a bit more memorable as being the dry run for later successes as opposed to being fully notable on its own. By this time, the murky gloom of earlier singles was starting to give way to a more freely mainstream approach, though the combination of Burns' outrageous appearances and his utterly over-dramatic singing style helped ensure they never went down totally easy on the charts. Pretty much everything on the album came from somewhere else: the squiggly early-'80s keyboards/beat neo-disco production, the occasional blasts of clattering drums, the gang shout choruses, and the overall air of sex, sex, and more sex. If anything was the role model, clearly Duran Duran's massive success had gone to Burns' head, from the dry slap-bass to the synth melodies. The end result was nicely assembled, though, and the help of the Kick Horns on brass, Zeus B. Held's production, and Tim Palmer's engineering resulted in a nice sounding package. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best effort comes via the cover of "That's the Way (I Like It)," even though the end result is unforgivably stiff in comparison to the original. Burns himself, meanwhile, is the understandable centerpiece to everything, rolling his "r"'s, hyping himself just by breathing, and finding ever more ways to project and project again. As for what it's all about, the song titles make that much clear: "What I Want," "Do It," "You Make We Wanna." It's terribly amusing in context to hear Wayne Hussey's guitar playing crop up, as on "Misty Circles" -- the eventual feel of his work in both the Sisters of Mercy and the Mission is there, just in a quite different setting.

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