Wednesday, 16 September 2009

LEISURE PROCESS INTERNATIONAL: A Way You'll Never Be


Listen to words like “She looks so cold and splendid” and look at that cover and then talk about attendant irony. I knew the second half of 1982 wasn’t quite going as it should have done when Leisure Process failed to conquer the charts (at least the national ones; all four of their singles did pretty good business back home in Scotland). If “Love Cascade” from the beginning of that year suggested a Human League with Howard Devoto as lead singer, then their second single took the funk from the Ultratheque and transformed it into rolling, petulant waves of water.

Much of the success of “A Way You’ll Never Me” can be ascribed to the friendly tug of war which persists throughout the record – and the 12” version is absolutely vital to find – between singer Ross Middleton’s imperiously detached lectern and the juice into which the rest of the musicians are squashing his pronouncements. Middleton sounds aggrieved, more than mildly excited, during the verses (“B-b-baby’s got a brrrrrrrand new toy/She’s-a-cracracracracrackin’ up theeggshell boys”), before switching to solemn, Sunlight washing up liquid hymnals for the slowly mounting chorus. “Just contemplate her beauty/She sees through you and me.” He could be singing about a Green Gartside comma-inverted Ideal Girl, or about Thatcher, or about New York, but it is the disparity between his soaring ambition and the rambling ramraid of the music behind and beside him that makes this song work so well.

Middleton raps midway through and sounds like a 14-year-old (as he should, and as the song demands). “Someone young just gave to me/The gift of synchronicity” he announces, a year ahead of Sting, before Gary Barnacle – the other half of LP – breaks in with a moderately inflamed Davey Payne-esque R&B/skronk alto solo. After a final, frantic octave leap on “SPLENDID!” Middleton settles into a long, grumbling fade – why CAN’T you be like her/it/them? Producer Martin Rushent does his characteristic stereoscopic 1964 Linn drumkit thing and keeps the song’s spaces as wide open as the Hudson.

But the medals here go to the guest rhythm section, Mark King and Phil Gould, on loan from Level 42, then not quite having broken through to the mainstream and still being described by Morley as “pop ECM” (hear 1981’s “Turn It On” and argue otherwise), but with experience under their belts with “M” man Robin Scott, so they were quite accustomed and attuned to New Pop tactics. Gould’s drums throb throughout like a patient migraine while King gives one of his finest recorded performances, his bass banding rubbers around the track like an exploding Durex machine, the song’s tricky 11/8 rhythm admirably steered. Just four nigh-perfect singles – “Cashflow” and “Anxiety” followed in 1983 – and that was it; no album, no CD compilation (as yet – hint hint), and the enterprise petered out. Barnacle has continued to blow sax for just about everyone in British pop over the subsequent quarter century, and I’m not too sure what happened to Ross Middleton – there was a bit of “where has he gone?” hopeful enigma in the music press at the time but my guess is he went off and got a Proper Job – but this vivid quatrain is as valid and great a New Pop quartet as the Dollar/Horn tetraology.