To paraphrase Jane Austin, it is a truth universally acknowledged that The Monochrome Set are the most undervalued of all British pop/rock bands. They emerged at the end of the ‘70s, born from The B-Sides (their twin brother running off to a rise and fall and rise again as Adam Ant) and released a slew of singles and albums that rank as some of the best by any post-punk/alternative rock standards. If you haven’t heard the trilogy of LPs released from 1980 – 1982 (Strange Boutique, Love Zombies and Eligible Bachelors) then you haven’t heard a major influence on Morrissey and Marr to name but two notables. Yet major success deserted them, though they flirted with the mainstream with 1985’s The Lost Weekend; it was the failure of that release that eventually saw the first breakup of the band. The band re-formed in the ‘90s (their last great release, in my opinion, was 1990’s Dante’s Casino) releasing several albums on Cherry Red before again splitting. But now they are back with their first release in 17 years.
For Platinum Coils Bid is joined by original members Lester Square and Andy Warren (members of Bid’s other band Scarlet’s Well complete the 2012 version of The Monochrome Set). The cover artwork shows a drawing of Bid’s head with a plethora of weird and wonderful objects pouring forth; nothing could better illustrate Bid’s unique take on the world and his lyric writing. Themes covered on this album have been covered before by Bid (cowboys, food, drugs, moustaches) but mortality and death are also touched upon as Bid suffered a serious illness a while back that could have been fatal (platinum coils are used to treat aneurysms). Any fears that this brush with death could have subdued Bid are instantly blown away by the first track.
‘Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome’ is classic Monochrome Set: jangly guitars, a great hook and quirky lyrics (“There’s a kitten on my hip and it’s going on a trip/Up the river to my head where it’s purring). Originally, I thought we were in drug territory here, but my guess is the song is about treatment that Bid received in hospital. As the album goes on it feels good to be back with the Monochrome Set.
This is the best album they have released since Dante’s Casino and see’s a return to the brilliance of those first three albums. It is full of wonderful catchy tunes and impenetrable, sometimes laugh out loud lyrics. Bid has always looked at the world from a different angle than most people and when this vision is aligned with Lester Square’s wonderfully clean and 60’s retro guitar playing you have songs that will have you toe tapping and singing along straight away. That they have never had a hit is a complete anomaly. Listen to ‘I Can’t Control My Feet’ to see how effortlessly they appear to knock off a great party record. Then listen to ‘Waiting For Alberto’ and marvel at what a delight, or terror, it would be to spend an hour in Bid’s company.
The album closes with the instrumental ‘Brush With Death’. It’s a jaunty tune, mocking the title, which sounds like it should be played over a magic act. But the only magic here is that the Monochrome Set have pulled a cracker out of the hat 33 years after their first releases.
It is some bands lot in life to inspire others to success whilst never achieving it themselves. But, as in life, music should never be appraised merely by the vox populi and the musical landscape of Britain would have been a lot duller without the Monochrome Set.
Put a little colour in your ears today: listen to the Monochrome Set.
Platinum Coils is released on 1st April on the band’s own label, Disquo Bleu, and will, initially, only be available from their website http://www.themonochromeset.co.uk/ and for sale at gigs.
This review appeared on Louder Than War 17/03/2012: http://louderthanwar.com/monochrome-set-platinum-coils-album-review/