Fronted by the flamboyantly mysterious Vaughn Toulouse, Department S haunted the fringes of the new wave scene like a batty aunt, looking down its nose at the chaotic strivings of its peers, while the band, itself, managed a career of such controlled chaos that it was no surprise whatsoever to discover that its was originally conceived as a non-existent concept. By the time the parties responsible for that earlier jape finally picked up musical instruments and began to actually play, half the record companies in Britain were chasing them; "Is Vic There?" -- the band's so-memorable debut single -- still bristles with the excitement of the age, a new wave anthem that should have set them up for life. Instead, an album recorded for Stiff went unreleased and, while there were a couple of more singles, Department S had folded by 1982. It would be another decade -- and in the aftermath of Toulouse's death -- before the album was finally given a release, but it was instantly revealed as everything the band had ever promised. Even "Is Vic There?" is occasionally humbled by its highlights ("Somewhere Between Heaven and Tescos," "Age Concern"), while "Going Left Right" stands among the finest songs of the entire post-punk early '80s. Sub-Stance rounds up the entire Department S catalog, opening with the album and continuing with five live tracks, four forgotten B-sides (including a tremendous cover of T. Rex's "Solid Gold Easy Action"), and an early demo. The resulting 22-track anthology should go a long way toward re-establishing Department S as every bit the legend they once threatened to be.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson