Vinyl Review: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Inside The Pleasuredome

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Let’s make a list, if my nightmare of a Facebook feed is any indication, the Internet goes gaga for lists.

Top Ten Albums of the 80s. All genres, hit or no hit, anything that came out between 1980 and 1989. Here’s mine:

  1. Prince – Purple Rain
  2. Game Theory – Lolita Nation
  3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome
  4. Michael Jackson – Bad
  5. Bruce Springsteen – Born In The U.S.A.
  6. The Stone Roses – s/t
  7. Sisters Of Mercy – Floodland
  8. Def Leppard – Hysteria
  9. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
  10. The Pointer Sisters – Break Out

Yeah, that’s right, the Pointer Sisters, but that’s a discussion for another day.

That’s my list. Of course, ask me tomorrow and I might substitute Madonna’s Like A Prayer for Bad. Ask me again and I might remove Sisters of Mercy and slide in some Yellow Magic Orchestra. Get me on a grunge kick and I’ll probably replace a couple of the albums in there for Nirvana’s Bleach and at least one Pixies record. And Daydream Nation would probably go in there a least a few days of the week too.

It’s a nebulous list, but the top three will never change. Prince’s Purple Rain is the greatest album of the 80s, and I don’t think that’s an opinion that would garner me much flack. Lolita Nation is a strong number two, and while it’s not a popular choice, I know of some critics that have declared that record to be one of the greatest of all time, not just the 80s, so I know I’m not alone there either.

But Welcome To The Pleasuredome is probably an odd choice to most people, especially to any Americans who view Frankie as nothing more than a cheesy one-hit wonder ala Kajagoogoo or A Flock of Seagulls, but they’re wrong. The truth is that Welcome To The Pleasuredome isn’t just one of the greatest albums of the 80s, it is, without question, one of the most accurate documents about what living in the early 80s was all about.

There is no greater example of 1984 than Welcome To The Pleasuredome. On face value, it’s an exultation chronicling the joys of unbridled hedonism and excess – unprotected sex, drugs, sex, sex and more sex. What’s more 80s than that? But even the most casual listen exposes it to be far more than the early impressions may suggest. With its surprisingly emotional cover of “War,” and the equally ferocious “Two Tribes,” the album is just as much an attack on Cold War politics and a commentary on living in constant paranoia of nuclear annihilation.

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Wrapped in that context, the more ribald tracks such as the title number and the infamous “Relax” take on a much more substantial meaning than just “let’s fuck because fucking is fun.” It’s more of a “let’s fuck because when we’re not fucking we have to face the unflinching reality that at any second we could be vaporized into dust for reasons we’ll never know.”

But it quickly moves on from even that. Fucking will only get you so far when you’re staring death in the eye. Eventually you need love. With that in mind, even their surprisingly effective cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” becomes more emotional and meaningful.  The lyric “I want to know that love is wild, I want to know that love is real” rings even truer. Bruce was just singing about two lovers trapped in a dead end town, but here the context is that all the world is a dead end, all the anonymous sex on Earth isn’t going to give you solace when faced with nuclear destruction, which gives the lyric “I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss,” a much more literal meaning; one can imagine the streets filled with light from the blast of an ICBM as the lovers embrace. And the coda of “The Power Of Love” just re-affirms that belief, adding onto it the hopeless and hopelessly romantic ideals of love conquering all, defeating the villains in a world that is filled to the brim with them.

All that plus some of the most perfectly produced synthpop ever and you have an album that’s more than worthy of an over-the-top super-deluxe special edition. And while the recently-released Inside The Pleasuredome doesn’t really fit that bill, it’s still proven itself to be worthy of its exorbitant price tag thanks to its fascinating look inside the making of the album.

Including the album proper, Inside The Pleasuredome features over 40 tracks. And of those, 20 are never before released. They are as follows:

  • One September Monday (Bit 1) – 1:43
  • One September Monday (Bit 2) – 0:42
  • The Only Star In Heaven (29.08.84: ’Gary’s Mix’ with Keys and BD) – 3:27
  • The Only Star In Heaven (29.08.84: ’Gary’s Mix’ Dub Bits) – 2:22
  • Relax (04.09.83: Rough Mix) – 4:09
  • Relax (10.09.83: CMI Backing Track) – 3:13
  • Relax (Bit 2) – 1:10
  • Relax (Video Version) – 4:23
  • Relax (Bit 1) – 0:54
  • Relax (Bit 3) – 0:44
  • Two Tribes (04.10.84: Bit 4) – 0:29
  • Two Tribes (31.05.84: Rough 12” Mix) – 4:27
  • Two Tribes (01:06:84: Rough 12” Mix) – 6:32
  • War (04.10.84: Man Has a Sense for the Discovery of Beauty) – 8:35
  • War (17.05.84: ‘War! III’) – 10:19
  • Welcome To The Pleasuredome (10.08.84: ‘Pleasuredome II’) – 9:44

Additionally, the DVD has four instrumentals:

  • War (Hide Yourself!, Voiceless) – 4:14
  • Two Tribes (Carnage 7”, Voiceless) -3:21
  • Relax (Come Fighting, Voiceless) – 3:55
  • The Power Of Love (Voiceless) – 5:28

Granted, some of those are tripe. The minute-long “bits” of Relax are especially worthless as they’re mostly just sections from the songs and nothing more. Who the hell cares? But pretty much everything else is spot-on. While the “CMI Backing Track” of “Relax” might not sound that interesting, it’s actually a fascinating selection, and sounds like a missing Art of Noise cover of the tune. The epic-length takes of “War” are also great, as are the two rough 12″ versions of “Two Tribes,” a brilliant track that sounds great no matter how its mixed apparently.

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The DVD also features all the videos from the album (including all the versions of the “Relax” video) and there’s a fantastic book with dozens of scans from promotional materials and singles from the era. I’m usually not a fan of box sets being padded with print material, but in this case I feel as the book really does add to the overall package. It’s really a interesting collection and well worth the look see for Frankie fans.

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What is missing from the box set, however, are any CDs of any sort at all. The album is presented on two 180 gram LPs (which sound fine), while the bonus cuts are divided across three 10″ singles and a bloody cassette tape. It looks great, and yes, vinyl is rad, but would it have really killed them to include this stuff on CD? It’s great that they give a download code for all the tracks, but considering how much this box cost, the lack of a CD is really a massive oversight.

And cassette tapes suck.

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Honestly, as a super deluxe edition of the album, this is kind of a let-down, but that’s why I think this was called Inside The Pleasuredome and not Welcome To The Pleasuredome: Super Deluxe Edition; it’s not really a deluxe version. “Inside” fits the bill, it’s a look inside the creation of that album, with its focus being more on rough and unreleased material than proper rarities. As a die-hard fan of the LP and everything possibly associated with it, I’m okay with that, but I could see how others would be slightly annoyed – especially when you consider the price of it all. And while it is an interesting collection, and I’m glad I bought it, it just makes me yearn for a proper massive box set all the more.

Maybe one day.

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