Visage

The Anvil

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When they recorded the follow-up to their surprisingly successful debut, the members of Visage appeared to be dealing from a position of strength. But the dance club-fueled, style-obsessed new romantic movement that had propelled the group to success in England was already crumbling, and frontman Steve Strange had begun to take his role as the movement's figurehead a little too seriously. The Anvil, rumored to be the subject of a multi-million dollar feature film (a project that never materialized), emphasizes Strange's penchant for melancholy and melodrama. Where the band's debut undercut such pretensions with humorous tracks like the twangy "Malpaso Man," only one tune here -- "Night Train," with a rubbery bassline and blasts of brass backing a tongue-in-cheek tale of intrigue -- dares to take liberties with Visage's moody image. Still, with backing from the same core of post-punk all-stars (Ultravox's Midge Ure -- who co-produced the album -- and violinist Billy Currie, as well as Magazine keyboardist Dave Formula), Strange and drummer Rusty Egan sound just as good as before, and despite once again closing an album with a forgettable instrumental ("Whispers"), almost all the band's efforts on The Anvil are extremely well-crafted synth pop. Two, in fact, are essential new wave artifacts. The title track takes a despairing look around clubland, setting Strange's best-ever lyric to a grim parody of a hit in the meatmarket disco it describes; it suggests he'd become disillusioned with the scene that had spawned Visage. "The Damned Don't Cry," meanwhile, is even better, a ghostly groove that comes closer than anyone would have thought possible to recapturing the haunted magnificence of "Fade to Grey," the band's signature hit. [Note to collectors: The 1997 One Way reissue appends two bonus tracks to the running order. Welcome is the rocked-up remix of "We Move," one of Visage's best singles. The dance mix of "Frequency 7," a bleeping and buzzing electro-instrumental, is fun but nonessential.]

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