Bram Tchaikovsky

Strange Men, Changed Men: The Complete Recordings 1978-1981

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As a member of the Motors, Bram Tchaikovsky was responsible for one of the finest non-punk albums of the punk era with 1977's Motors 1. When he left the band, he formed an eponymous group that hit the charts with the 1979 album Strange Man, Changed Man and its timeless power pop single, "Girl of My Dreams." That record, plus the two follow-ups, 1980's The Russians Are Coming and 1981's Funland, form the backbone of Cherry Red's 2018 collection Strange Men, Changed Men: The Complete Recordings 1978-1981. Along with the albums, it also includes non-LP tracks, live songs, and 1978's 12" single Sarah Smiles. The collection does a fine job of paying tribute to a fine rock & roll band. Tchaikovsky and the band's bassist, Micky Broadbent, are good vocalists, the guitars are whip-smart, the tunes are strong, and the band can work up a head of steam when it gets going. Strange Man, Changed Man is Bram Tchaikovsky's best work; it jumps with the energy of a young band out to prove itself. "Girl of My Dreams" is the highlight, but the rest of the record is loads of fun. Whether rocking out powerfully ("Robber"), offering up moody power pop gems ("Nobody Knows"), or ripping through a Monkees cover ("I'm a Believer"), Bram Tchaikovsky sound like they'd be a real hoot to see live and the album holds up well. They spent a lot of time in the U.S. promoting the album, opening for the Cars in stadiums, and by the time they recorded The Russians Are Coming, their sound had grown a little tougher. Tracks like the propulsive "Let's Dance" and the horn-driven knees-up "Pressure" are designed to get feet moving, "New York Paranoia" has a nasty edge that was missing on their debut, and the title track has a loping, sing-along quality that might have made it a hit if it weren't about Russians at the height of the '80s Cold War. Along with these crowd-pleasers, the band also wrote some calmer, purely pop songs, like "Missfortune" and "Heartache," and delivered them with a light touch. The record may not have made the impact of the debut, but the improved production, strong songs, and dedicated performances make it the sleeper hit of Bram Tchaikovsky's short career. By the time of 1981's Funland, they were in need of a hit and the label convinced them to go for a slicker, synth-filled sound that didn't do them any favors. While there are still good songs, the stiff and overcooked production lets them down. They also seemed a bit at loose ends, as they tried out new sounds like rockabilly, country-pop, and novelty songs. It's worth hearing once just to hear how really good bands can be sunk by bad production and indecision, but the other two albums, and especially "Girl of My Dreams," are the ones listeners will find themselves going back to when they need some rockin' good power pop.

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