Reissue Review: Blancmange – The Blanc Tapes
Never viewed as A-listers, Blancmange rarely feature in lists of the crème de la crème of 1980s electropop pioneers alongside sacred trailblazers such as New Order, The Human League and Soft Cell. Yet Moby has a strong case when he argues, as he did recently, that they are “probably the most underrated electronic act of all time”.
Originally out as a 9CD set in 2017, The Blanc Tapes now reappears as a slimmed-down 6LP limited-edition black-vinyl box of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe’s finest moments. It is a neat collection of sharp, intelligent, nuanced synth-pop, possibly handicapped by the duo’s eternal inability to take themselves remotely seriously.
It collects Blancmange’s first three albums and 1982’s Happy Families was a lucid statement of intent. Sad Day, the piquant instrumental that graced Stevo’s label-launching 1981 Some Bizarre Album alongside Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and The The, was an exquisite sorrowful hum: twitchy debut single God’s Kitchen (“God ain’t anywhere I’ve been – I think we’re doomed!”) hyperventilated like Talking Heads.
The album’s standout was the Top 10 hit Living On The Ceiling, but its comedic quirkiness (Arthur’s exaggerated Lancastrian vowels as he declared himself ‘up the bloody tree’!) established a reputation for flippancy that Blancmange quite never shook off. It was a shame, as tracks such as the elegiac Waves were hugely moving.
They remained on fine form on 1984’s Top 10 follow-up Mange Tout, where Don’t Tell Me was a cerebral, bubbling stew of kinetic synth-pop rhythms and Blind Vision electro-funked its way onto Top Of The Pops. Even better, their faithful cover of ABBA’s The Day Before You Came recognised the droll ache at the heart of the song.
Musical times had changed and the tide was against Blancmange by 1985’s Believe You Me, lending tracks like Lose Your Love and Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? a fatalistic sheen. It was a guarded, measured album that lacked its predecessors’ joie de vivre: tracks like 22339 and Don’t You Love It All trod water, going nowhere fast.
Each album comes with a bonus disc of B-sides, demos and remixes and The Blanc Tapes is a fitting testimonial to a slyly inventive synth-pop duo. If Blancmange are not the most underrated electronic act of all time, they are certainly in the running.