All-Time Albums: #50

Blancmange_Mange_tout

BLANCMANGE Mange Tout
(1984)

1 Don’t Tell Me 3:31 (UK single, #8)
Game Above My Head 3:59
Blind Vision 3:51 (UK single, #10)
4 Time Became The Tide 4:49
That’s Love That It Is 4:22 (UK single, #33)
6 Murder 5:58
7 See The Train 2:05
8 All Things Are Nice 5:00
9 My Baby 3:59
10 The Day Before You Came 5:57 (UK single remixed, #22)

 

Mange Tout was easily the highest-charting of the duo’s albums, debuting inside the Top 10 and hanging around on the UK chart for 4 months. In a sign of how trends in pop music change, no fewer than 3 of its tracks had already been released as singles by the time of its appearance in May 1984, and two of them (“Blind Vision”, “Don’t Tell Me”) went as far as the Top 10. In effect, the period of summer ’83 to summer ’84 was Blancmange’s commercial apex; they were a quirky, catchy, extremely British strand of Smash Hits-friendly pop.

This second LP found them at their least introspective, or at least on the surface that is how it would seem. The warm visual textures of the album sleeve, the bubbly and exotic sounds on the hits, the grinning-fools shtick of their TV appearances of the era….all tend to hide Mange Tout’s moodier, darker aspects.

1982’s Happy Families had laid the groundwork, getting the band known to Top 40 chartwatchers via Living on the Ceiling and Waves. Mange Tout saw them cash in, albeit briefly, as by the time of their next album in late 1985 the pop world had moved on, and Blancmange’s quirky, catchy, extremely British strand of Smash Hits-friendly pop was most definitely off the menu.

It’s a tough call between this and Happy Families. Song for song, track for track, maybe the latter album is the superior record. But it was just before my time (of being really into pop music), whereas Mange Tout was the second (vinyl) album I ever bought, and so I have quite a strong affinity with it. Obviously it helps that most of my favourite Blancmange moments are on this LP; Game Above My Head, That’s Love That It Is, Don’t Tell Me and the relentless Blind Vision.

The production’s sharper and richer this time around, too. There’s a warmth and depth to the arrangements which is lacking on Happy Families (bigger budgets and better studios no doubt played a part). Side One (in old money) is flawless; three singles, one B-side (that could have been a single itself) and a grand string-laden ballad in the Waves vein. Things get a bit weird on Side Two, Neil and Stephen indulging themselves with the sample-heavy experiments of Murder and All Things Are Nice, the brief acapella See The Train and closing with a none-more-doleful cover of ABBA’s The Day Before You Came (remixed for single release to better effect). My Baby could have easily been yet another hit, with its typically idiosyncratic refrain of “my baby’s got a face like a long wet Sunday”.

I loved Blancmange. They were the most curious and curiously fascinating of the mid-Eighties synth acts; funny without being a novelty, affecting without being morose, inventive yet always commercial. The recent spate of renewed activity, which is basically a solo Neil making best use of the brand new and reputation, is something of a shame because Blancmange were a duo and best remembered for their excellent albums between 1982 and 1986.

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