Visage

Visage

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With apologies to Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, and even Duran Duran, this is the music that best represents the short-lived but always underrated new romantic movement. That's fitting, because Visage's frontman, Steve Strange, was the colorfully painted face of the movement, just as this album was its sound. Warming up Kraftwerk's icy Teutonic electronics with a Bowie-esque flair for fashion, Strange and the new romantics created a clubland oasis far removed from the drabness of England's early-'80s reality -- and the brutality of the punk response to it. And no one conjured up that Eurodisco fantasyland better than Visage, whose "Fade to Grey" became the anthem of the outlandishly decked-out Blitz Kids congregated at Strange's club nights. With its evocative French female vocals, distant sirens and pulsing layers of synthesizers, "Fade to Grey" is genuinely haunting, the definite high point for Visage and their followers. But the band's self-titled debut is a consistently fine creation, alternating between tunes that share the eerie ambience of "Fade to Grey" ("Mind of a Toy," "Blocks on Blocks") and others that show off a more muscular brand of dance-rock (the title track, filled with thundering electronic tom-tom fills, and the sax-packed instrumental "The Dancer"). Strange and drummer/nightclub partner Rusty Egan had wisely surrounded themselves with top-level talent, primarily drawn from the bands Ultravox and Magazine, and the excellent playing of contributors like guitarists Midge Ure and John McGeoch, bassist Barry Adamson, synthesist Dave Formula, and, especially, electric violinist Billy Currie, all of whom give the album a depth unmatched by most contemporaneous techno-pop. And despite the group's frequently dramatic pose, Strange and his bandmates were hardly humorless; the first single, "Tar," is a witty anti-smoking advertisement, while the Eastwood homage "Malpaso Man" adds some incongruous cowboy twang to the dance beats. Only the closing track, the instrumental "The Steps," is inconsequential -- the rest of Visage proves the new romantics left a legacy that transcends their costumes and makeup. [Note to collectors: The 1997 One Way reissue of the album adds a bonus track, the longer (and far superior) dance mix of "Fade to Grey." Opening with the tune's arresting synth-bass riff, and featuring a extended fade marked by exploding backbeats, it heightens the song's moody atmosphere, and is the way this club classic was meant to be heard.]

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