Altered Images – The Epic Years review
They’re oft-overlooked, but what a brilliant band Altered Images were. And now you can appreciate them in their entirety, because this box features all three of their studio albums – Happy Birthday (1981), Pinky Blue (1982) and Bite (1983) – plus a disc of extended edits from the halcyon days of the remix/remodel.
It comes with a booklet featuring detailed liner notes and illustrations of all their singles: Altered Images were a great singles band while also creating three superb albums that did what every act’s catalogue should do: evince progress.
“These days, lead singer Clare Grogan frequents those Absolute 80s-style package tours, which highlight AI’s cuddly, bubbly accessibility, but really they emerged from the indie shadows at the dawn of the 80s, when their spikier qualities were more to the fore.” – Paul Lester
Their debut album was produced by Steve Severin of Siouxsie & The Banshees, except for the title track, which was given a giddy rush by Martin Rushent. Happy Birthday spent over five months in the UK album charts, peaking at No.26 and bequeathing, in the title track, a No.2 hit. But it flattered to deceive: Love And Kisses is cute with menace, Real Toys is like Joy Division with a sprinkling of candy pop.
Idols has scything guitar and a dark bassline redolent of The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds. A Day’s Wait is a Banshees miniature, the kid sister of Happy House. As for Happy Birthday itself, it still startles, the subversive essence of new pop, the way it both captured and satirised the dizziness of the milieu. Pinky Blue (No.12 with a fluffy bullet) was a bouncy reiteration of the debut’s poppier moments, including hit singles I Could Be Happy, See Those Eyes and the title track.
There is more reverb and pop gloss on this Rushent- helmed affair, but already there was a sense of the band, and Grogan in particular, indulging in juvenile dementia, veering perilously close to manic, gleeful self-parody on Forgotten, Little Brown Head and See You Later. The cover of Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue is pointless, but I Could Be Happy remains a classic.
That difficult third album, which reached No.16, was actually their best by far. And also their most ‘grown- up’. Grogan – portrayed as Audrey Hepburn circa Breakfast At Tiffany’s on the sleeve – dispensed with the hiccupy chirrups for a more dignified sob and a series of disquisitions on love and loss.
Meanwhile, the band, directed by Mike Chapman and Tony Visconti, produced smooth, polished, sophisticated dance-pop. Change Of Heart was a brief reprise of their earlier exuberance, but Bring Me Closer was sheer disco revisited. Don’t Talk To Me About Love, their last Top 10 hit, was one of spring 1983’s defining (Scots-pop) singles along with Orange Juice’s Rip It Up and Aztec Camera’s Oblivious.
And Love To Stay and Thinking About You were languorous summer standbys. From ebullience to ennui in three short years. Like we say: brilliant.