Penthouse & Pavement - Heaven 17 Album Review
I've got a confession to make - I didn't really warm to Heaven 17, I was more of a Leaguer. Yet some 5 years after its original release, I finally warmed to their debut "Penthouse & Pavement" after hearing their respectful cover of Buzzcock's "Are Everything" at a friend's birthday party by mistake - the 'DJ' was aiming for "I'm Your Money", the A-side to the 12" in question. Oddly, neither track appeared on the resultant album, but I bought it anyway.
Almost 30 years on, "Penthouse..." sounds remarkably fresh, none more so than within this excellent box-set version of a key album from the 'Thatcher Years'. It's hard to believe that none of the chosen singles from this benchmark set sold well - I had to check my Guinness Book of Hit Singles for confirmation of "Play To Win"'s total failure, but screw all that - this is a well-honed synth-pop album from the front to the back.
The key song that kicks it all off is "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang", a left-wing and left-field call to protest that strangely seems to ring true these days, given the current European unrest about immigration and the gradual unrest seeping into the social consciousness. It's also a clear-cut electro-funk classic, nuff said.
Provocation simmered below the surface throughout the 9 songs - "Let's All Make A Bomb", "Soul Warfare" and "The Height Of The Fighting" all hinted at the continued unrest throughout the continent, let alone Britain, dressed in polished pop-tones and sleek electro-disco beats. Aside from missing out the B-side "Honeymoon In New York", it's a perfectly tuned-up revisit of the 2005 reissue of the same album.
But it's the two extra discs that really present the story in glorious widescreen, presented as a CD of B.E.F. rarities (B.E.F. being the eclectic offshoot business-project of H17) and P&P alternate versions and demos, plus a DVD containing the making of "Penthouse & Pavement".
The DVD is every synth-pop fan's paradise, so let's listen to that extra CD. Tell you what - the demo mixes of "Penthouse & Pavement" and "Play To Win" are deserving of a 12" release all on their own, sounding far more up to date than the finished mixes, while the rest is a varying array of the Sheffield trio dabbling with initial ideas and sketches from an imaginary electro-scrapbook. I found it rather compelling, especially since the sleeve-notes hint at a shocked unveiling in the 'vaults'.
This excellent package is topped off by a poster and 12" sleeve-image cards - a work of art indeed.
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