Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Song A Day: Rexy, "Perfect Day"

MAY 31, 2017




In 1980 or so, Vic Martin, a veteran of the early 70s British blues/rock scene who had played with Gary Moore, went “digital.” He joined Eurythmics as a keyboard player and began writing songs for a new project using synthesizers, drum machines, and post-disco tempos. Always looking for the ‘next’ thing, he began infiltrating some of the post-punk fringes of London.

He met some people active in the “new romantic” scene, a group of fancy dressers reacting against both hippies and the no-exit of punk. Martin was taken with “Rex” Nayman, a stylish, funny art student, and asked her if she would sing on his new songs despite her complete lack of performing experience. She thought, “Why not?”

Chris Burne co-wrote a couple of songs and Mike Anscombe provided some drums, but most of the instrumental work was Martin’s.

Having a Cockney-accented girl sing about police brutality, sexism, and class struggle was a very punk/post-punk thing to do. Wrapping socially conscious lyrics in a lo-fi dance beat, however, was daring and brilliant.

Oddly, despite the pretensions inherent in the new romantic movement, Rexy’s songs are fun, danceable, and almost entirely without affectation. The album of these sessions, Running out of Time, was released in 1981.

The entire album has a loopy quality to it that speaks to its out-of-the-mainstream quality. It’s not the new-romantic style of early Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet; it’s not the dark psychedelic world of the early Eurythmics. It’s fresh, bright, funny, and quite odd, a collision of spontaneity and rehearsal, technology and street, old and new, male and female.

Covers of rock and roll standards “Johnny B. Goode” and “Heartbreak Hotel” feel like album filler, and perhaps they are, but their arrangements (utter deconstruction) and Rex’s vocal capabilities (over-the-top funny) render them especially nutty.

As is so often the case with pioneers, nothing happened with the album when it was released. It took 30 years and a few devoted record diggers to make the album better known. Singer Samantha Urbani heard the record, loved it, and in 2016 reissued it on her URU label. Thanks to renewed interest in the album, Martin and Nayman, who hadn’t spoken for decades, decided to work together again.

The album’s opener, “Perfect Day,” is a sardonic nod at holiday travel for the rich. In this nightmarish setting—set, of course, to a super-catchy arrangement—the latrine abuts the dining room, local disease is widespread, and all you get is a photograph to remind you of the misery. It’s the audio equivalent of “My parents went to Vladivostok and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

The instrumental coda, which rises into the sonic stratosphere, is worth the cost alone. Thanks, Rexy, and thanks DJCB for hipping me.

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