Blancmange - Unfurnished Rooms (Cargo Records)

Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms (Cargo Records)

They were always a bit different, were Blancmange. Whilst they followed the usual Bowie-punk-art school route of most of their 80s synthpop cohorts, they were also touted by Mark E Smith and had their first airplay on John Peel, neither of whom were renowned for their love of the genre. Lacking the pretty boy looks of Depeche Mode, the sleaziness of Soft Cell or the vocal pyrotechnics of Yazoo, the ‘Mange mixed synthpop with sitars, prog and Bonzo Dog whimsy to create a very unique, very English sound that, strange though it may seem today, parachuted them onto TOTP and Smash Hits.

Three decades on and Blancmange are still with us, now a Neil Arthur solo act due to partner Stephen Luscombe’s serious illness. However any hopes Arthur might do an OMD on us and return the band to their former glories are somewhat optimistic, as Unfurnished Rooms is a bit of a damp squib. It’s a bleak, melancholy listen but also one that, considering the emotion audible in Arthur’s often quivering voice, sounds as if it wants to shut out the listener, like a grumpy widower alone with his grief.

The title track, which features Arthur searching for solitude, is, like far too many tracks here, set to plodding, unremarkable analogue synth-pop. ‘What’s the Time?‘ asks the listener various unrelated questions (“What’s the best dog you’ve ever had?“) with no discernible point; ‘Anna Dine‘ comes up with a bad pun and leaves it at that.

There is a bit of gold to be found amongst the murk though. ‘We Are the Chemicals‘ starts off like some dystopian sci-fi thriller (“There’s been a chemical spillage on a trading estate near Altrincham…“) before working the old humans-as-pollutants theme to wonderfully evocative effect. The minimal, XX-inspired ballad ‘Wiping the Chair‘ is a heartbreaking reminiscence of an old friend or lover (“You used to wipe your chair before you sat down…do you still do that?“). And the Bowie-like ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong‘, featuring big ‘Mange fan John Grant on piano & backing vocals, ramps up the nostalgia even further (“You look so well…in your online profile…“) and, at least, closes the album on a high note.

Some engaging moments then, but overall an album that’s strictly for the converted. Hang on, I’m one of the converted. Ah well.


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