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It is hard to picture the 1980s without the orchestral stab of Two Tribes or the bombastic overture of Relax. Yet ask the person on the street, and it would be hard for them to name another track, begging the question: What happened to the band whose tracks helped define a decade? Well, in 1986, The group released their second album, one that marked a different sound, a different direction, and unfortunately the end of their partnership. On the album Liverpool.
The 8 tracks provided in Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s sophomoric offering marks a significant change in tone from the recognisable repertoire. To clarify, the album is a darker affair, more gritty and concrete, than the neon aura that Welcome to the Pleasuredome radiates. The album starts with Rage Hard, and sandwiches Is Anybody Out There between Warriors of the Wasteland. Liverpool then moves on to tracks like Kill The Pain and Maximum Joy, before culminating into synth-heavy Lunar bay. Although this change in style could be felt in synthpop with contemporaries. With Depeche Mode putting out Darker albums like Black Celebration, and Music For The Masses, Duran Duran’s Notorious and Grunge just on the horizon, maybe Frankie Goes To Hollywood could sense the change in the air as music was evolving.
There is certainly a moodier tone that emanates across this album instead of the flashier Welcome to the PleasureDome, though that doesn’t mean you do not get a little variety. Johnson’s vocals remain strong, whatever the context, from the balladry Is Anybody Out There, to the rockier Kill The Pain. Yet, they feel like they’re more submerged in the mix, with greater focus placed on the instrumentals. Returning producer Trevor Horn wanted the band to play their instruments on this release instead of their debut. I can see how this would be a win for a band wanting to prove they’re not two-hit wonders, and the craft certainly permeates the album.
It would be difficult to say, that the tracks are showstoppers like Relax (the chart data would confirm this) with Liverpool’s singles having more of a growing quality than standout hits. Rage Hard works as an opening track, and Watching the Wildlife pizzicato and piano plodding feels in contrast to the band’s previous efforts. Surprisingly not made to coincide with a new Mad Max film, but inspired by one. Warriors of the Wasteland remains a track that starts rather inauspiciously before culminating into a pounding anthem. Liverpool is an album of surprises, you’re never too sure what you’re going to get when each track starts.
While Holly Johnson would go on to sing about Pepsi and Oreos, legal nightmares would cease the group’s trip to Hollywood. The sophomoric (and ultimate entry) Liverpool marks a peculiar transition, from recognisable pop anthems to a grittier rock sound. Unfortunately, successes didn’t follow this transition. If the group persevered, you can see how both Welcome to the Pleasuredome and Liverpool would have fuelled future endeavours, especially when compared to the upcoming dance craze of the time. Speculation aside, their album, named after their home town, remains a tribute, both to their legacy, and what could have been.
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