Number Ones: #72


  • BLANCMANGE I Can See It (London)
  • Week Ending 24th May 1986
  • 1 Week At #1

Last seen atop my charts in the summer of 1984, with their cover of ABBA’s The Day Before You Came, pop had not shown much kindness to Blancmange thereafter.

The offbeat charm which saw them rack up a large handful of UK Top 40 hits between late-1982 and mid-1984 (Living On The Ceiling, Waves, Blind Vision, That’s Love That It Is, Don’t Tell Me) was suddenly out of favour in the post-Live Aid climate.

There was no room anymore for quirky, homegrown pop with surrealist tendencies. Pop was going big, brash and American. Some adapted, only a few really thrived. There was little left of the DIY-indie ethos that followed punk, and alternative pop’s brightest stars had long since been subsumed into the mainstream (Aztec Camera, The The, Scritti Politti, Orange Juice). The Smiths were the lone standard bearers for defiantly parochial British pop, at least as far as the charts were concerned.

It was a shame, because Blancmange were still making excellent records; their third album Believe You Me, released in October 1985, was every bit the equal of Happy Families and Mange Tout, but proved a surprise flop. The alarm bells which may have started to go off when lead single What’s Your Problem? only reached #40 were deafening by the time Believe You Me charted at a barely credible #54.

One of its most straightforwardly commercial tracks, Lose Your Love, deserved better than to miss the Top 75 completely, a situation aggravated by the video getting banned for being too violent (it encouraged wanton destruction of household items, or something). Lose Your Love bombed in November 1985, and that was that.

Or was it?

Several months later, long after Believe You Me had disappeared into the Bargain Bins,  a “new” Blancmange single appeared in the racks. No fanfare, no great publicity. I Can See It. What might this be?

Turns out, a heavily remixed/re-recorded version of the Believe You Me ballad Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone. Quite what prompted such a move isn’t clear, but it’s an interesting experiment in taking a low-key, doleful album track with dominant guitars and a more acoustic feel, and creating a bells-and-whistles upbeat pop single with beefy synths and all manner of studio trickery.

It was rather good. But it still tanked.

Then came the bombshell. Neil and Stephen were packing it in, and I Can See It was the final, slightly odd, hurrah to an all-too-brief career. Disillusioned, cast aside by the record-buying public, and no doubt unpopular with their label London after the failure of Believe You Me and its singles, Blancmange were no more.

(Many years later, we would get a sort-of postscript, with Blanc Burn in 2011 and then an indecent avalanche of further releases under the Blancmange banner that are really just Neil Arthur on his own or in collaboration with musicians other than Stephen Luscombe whose poor health very sadly precludes any further involvement. Some may not mind, but for me they are not true Blancmange projects…and we’ll leave it at that).


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