1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#97: Captain Sensible – Happy Talk (1982)
MATT KELLY has something to say about a punk icon making music softer than a pillowcase stuffed with whipped cream.
From Everybody’s Free to Swagger Jagger, to Ladbaby to Ladbaby to Ladbaby, the UK has its share of Number One hits that seem inexplicable. And boy oh boy is this one of them. Captain Sensible, eccentric beret-wearing bassist turned guitarist and keyboardist from punk pioneers turned gothic art-rockers The Damned, covering an old show tune from the 1949 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific is odd enough, but for it to get to Number One? Especially when it’s godawful to boot.
It is in fact the worst thing on his debut solo LP Women And Captains First, no small feat when you consider this album also contains ‘Wot’, five minutes of Sensible bumbling his way through a ‘Rapper’s Delight’ rip-off, his rapping at ‘Standing In The Spotlight’ levels of shitness and bloody Dolly Mixture on backing vocals vying to be even more annoying than the weirdly panned synths.
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But we’re not here to shit on ‘Wot’. We’re here to shit on the even worse ‘Happy Talk’. There are shades of Sid Vicious covering ‘My Way’ here in that it’s a punk icon taking on an incongruously square song, only Sensible plays it straight. I’ve seen the argument that this was itself punk – giving an audience that expected Anti-Pope a song their gran would like is something of a middle finger. Well if he wanted to troll his audience he succeeded: ‘Happy Talk’ sends me into a rage.
The definition of insipid, the production here is a bunch of naff ’70s fairground keyboard sounds, inclusive of cloying chimes and horrendous synthesized flute, without any of the verve Sensible brought to his Damned performances. The fact that he sings like Ian Curtis on Valium seals the deal and in the bit where it slows down for a syrupy beat-free focus on Sensible’s “singing”, it sounded so wonky I genuinely thought there was something wrong with the audio.
While the rest of The Damned laboured over how to follow up the ambitious triple-sided art-punk extravaganza of The Black Album, The Captain was pratting about making a music video where he does ‘Where’s Wally’ cosplay and bothers a parrot, set to music softer than a pillowcase stuffed with whipped-cream filled marshmallows. Terrible.