Review: Bronski Beat – The Age Of Consent
This expanded version of Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville-showcasing hit 1984 album reveals a vital and politicised, yet upfliting, synth-pop triumph
“My purpose was truth,” said Jimmy Somerville recently, looking back 34 years to The Age Of Consent, his sole album as the singer of Bronski Beat. “I didn’t set out to be a ‘pop star’. I set out to be a troublemaker.”
It showed. The Age Of Consent was a fine, vibracious synth-pop album in its own right, but it was so much more besides. It was an agitated, militant, campaigning document, spurred on by the sheer unfairness and hypocrisy Somerville perceived in the world around him.
The tone was set by the album’s title, drawing attention to the fact that the age of consent for homosexual acts in Britain in 1983 was 21, a full five years higher than most European countries. The Age Of Consent articulated the passions triggered in the gay community by this bigotry: fear, insecurity, resentment and, mostly, anger.
Somerville was on a righteous mission and it helped that he had in his arsenal a unique, ferocious weapon: his fervent contra tenor vocal that could explode into soaring falsetto when a song and its message demanded it. Not everybody loved it but, for better and worse, it became Bronski Beat’s signature note.
It was certainly in evidence on The Age Of Consent’s opener, the tempestuous, hyperventilating Why?. Over a pulsing Moroder-esque throb, Somerville gasped as he assumed the role (one well known to him) of the victim of a homophobic assault: “Contempt in your eyes/ As I turn to kiss his lips… Blood on your fist/ Can you tell me why?”
It was a brave and audacious clarion call in a reactionary Britain that was lurching its way towards Clause 28, and the crusading Somerville maintained the message throughout the lyrical themes of The Age Of Consent. Screaming revisited his tortured adolescence; the stark, unforgettable Smalltown Boy captured a life so dark, the only option was to flee.
This expanded CD and vinyl reissue boasts 12″ single remixes, radio sessions and previously unavailable demos, including the never-before-heard The Other Side Of The Tracks. As mere polemic, the LP may have been unpalatable, but it was couched in high-octane, Hi-NRG, irresistible and – this was the key – joyous electro-pop. It made The Age Of Consent a surprisingly uplifting listen, given the harsh, unflinching nature of its subject matter; it sounds the same today. Jimmy Somerville was one effective troublemaker.
Written by Ian Gittins. Released on London Records.