Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
The Body Electric
There were high expectations in 1983 when one of only very few electronic groups in NZ, The Body Electric, released its debut album. Those expectations were dashed. When singer Garry Smith read his old school-chum’s review, he reportedly smashed a shop window in Manners Mall right next to the Chelsea record store.
The Body Electric – Presentation & Reality (Jayrem) LP review
One very frustrating facet of a reviewer’s task when confronted with artifice minus art, or ass minus aesthetics, is that the enjoyability quotient of such material – such horrible populist scam shams – is often quite high. But, of course, we cannot admit it. Shit can smell like roses thanks to the wonders of modern science. And in a wonderfully roundabout way, The Body Electric are proof of this profundity.
Well, I’m going to come clean. I told my friends that when the man from the record company slipped this into my little Walkman I immediately went back to my Howlin’ Wolf tape. I lied. In fact, I turned it right up loud and ambled my way down Courtenay Place actually enjoying The Body Electric’s Presentation & Reality.
I still, however, do not think it’s a very good record. Aesthetically, that is (of course)!
Let’s be positive for a minute though, and look at the good points. First, it has a luxury gatefold sleeve. When you actually get down to listening to the record, you immediately appreciate the state-of-the-art production and sound quality, which simply has to be amongst the best to come out of a New Zealand studio (Marmalade, in this case). The other good thing about Presentation & Reality is the synthesiser melodies that play as under/overcurrents in many of the songs. ‘Babies On Parade’, for instance, has a deep synth bit straight from some long-forgotten TV horror theme; ‘Zanzibar’ is another, this time with a squiggly little number which is half the time hidden in the mix but which subconsciously seduces the listener with its attractive repetition. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention the earth-shattering synth-bass in the otherwise not-so-compelling ‘Compelling’, the very last track and an instrumental.
Essentially, though, there’s little here that hasn’t been done better before by less populist stars like Kraftwerk. Real turn-offs include lyrics which sound forced and read embarrassing; several half-hearted attempts at songs with nothing to say and even less to emote (‘Night Pictures’, ‘Dreaming In A Life’); Garry Smith’s recent decision to mimic the pseudo-operatic vocal stylisations from silly old Blighty.
Aside from everything else, what worries me about The Body Electric is this: They have (are considered to have) mucho commercial potential. Now this in itself is fine. But consider two NZ groups of three years ago – Mi-sex and The Knobz. Okay, forget The Knobz! Consider Mi-sex. The Body Electric may lack the guitars and drums, and the whole ridiculous rock and roll macho charade, but, like Mi-sex, what they have to offer is a little too close to being a gimmick for lasting value. Computer Crimes obviously had its merits at the time, but where does that leave the band in 1983?
I wish The Body Electric every success. I do, under the circumstances, find it hard to believe that Garry Smith was at one time a big Pere Ubu fan. If only The Body Electric had a little of David Thomas’s crazy random spirit about them. And yeah, ain’t the title just a little too close for comfort to Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark’s Architecture & Morality? GARY STEEL
Note from the author: I probably sold this album at Sylvio’s second hand shop just week after I wrote this review. Now, I wish I had it to assess whether I was just talking out of my prodigious ass in 1983. When The Body Electric first appeared with the hilarious and danceable ‘Pulsing’, I loved them, but I always thought they were taking the piss. The album may have been deeply humorous too – maybe it was just too subtle for my young self! And yes, that Mi-sex album title mistake was intentional. Who knows why? The main musical component of The Body Electric was, of course, Alan Jansen, formerly of The Steroids, who went on to become a hit-making producer, a particular highlight being his work on OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’. I’m reliably informed that The Body Electric vocalist, Garry Smith, these days is the operations manager for the NZSO, and is married to Radio New Zealand Concert host Eva Radich.
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.