Black- ‘Wonderful Life’ (Universal)

Black- ‘Wonderful Life’ (Universal)

After several false starts over a number of years, Colin Vearncombe, depressed from the lack of engagement from listeners, finally caught people’s attention with the miserable pop classic, ‘Wonderful Life’. Even now, 28 year’s years after release, the mournful synths, almost samba-ish atmospherics and Vearncombe’s velvety croon are incredibly enticing.

It took another single from the long player of the same name to break through two years later. Again, using the same template, ‘Sweetest Smile’ is a weird juxtaposition of something hugely dark but uplifting at the same time. Synths, fretless bass and clarinets bring in some of the saddest lyrics this side of The Smiths release of the same year, ‘Last Night I dreamt somebody loved me’.

“I think my heart must be made of clay, cos everyone said it would be broken some day and now I’ve come to that fateful day, so I sit on the floor, with my head in my hands”, it’s lump at the back of the throat material.

At times ‘Wonderful Life’ stinks of record label interference, Vearncombe’s subsequent material as Black and under his own name has never been as bad as several of the tracks here. ‘Finder’ uses what at the time would have been described as ‘black music’ drums and truly horrific, soulless backing vocals by some women who should have stuck to stacking shelves, while ‘I’m not afraid’s parping horns and more ghastly backing vocals make the white guy singing the funk feel even worse than it is.

These are gripes, ‘Wonderful Life contains some beautiful songs. ‘Paradise’ and the gorgeous ‘I just grew tired’ are more contemporary sounding now than they were at the time. ‘Paradise’ in particular emerges from the gloom with a triumphant chorus which soars higher than stars. It’s the kind of material Hurts would kill to have the ability to write, the true quality of the song writing doesn’t allow the aged production values to get in the way whereas ‘Ravel in the rain’ is late night, low of mood jazz laden pop, it’s indicative of the kind of ‘suave’ sounds being peddled by bands at the time, Johnny would have hated this stuff.

For all its faults, the screeching guitars and truly awful wailing backing vocals and processed drums, it’s a worthy re-issue. The second cd is a collection of b-sides and mixes most of which are instantly forgettable but as a re-release, it’s nice to see it back out there, people would definitely benefit bending an ear round it.

It’s bizarre to think almost thirty years later something this strange was classed as pop music and hurtled up to the higher parts of the top ten. It just goes to show that as the years go on, the blandification of music is something which seems to be the way pop tarts seem to want it these days…their loss. 7/10
Chris Todd

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Black- ‘Wonderful Life’ (Universal)