The Monochrome Set - 1979-1985: Complete Recordings

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-09
The Monochrome Set - 1979-1985: Complete Recordings
The Monochrome Set - 1979-1985: Complete Recordings

I recently reviewed The Monochrome Set’s new album Maisieworld. It’s really nice to hear the band still making vital rock music.

But just so you know, on my first day of teaching, a really long time ago, I was nervous and told my class everything I knew in about nine minutes. I pretty much figured I was losing the kids’ attention when I told them to “never take candy from strangers in a car.”

I feel the same way about this six-disc set, 1979-1985: Complete Recordings, that covers the group’s early career. And, just like that first teaching moment, I pretty much said everything I knew about the band in that earlier write-up.

So, check that review; or just read the following summation, which is sort of like the Sparks Notes with everything needed to know without actually reading the novel, guaranteed shortcut to passing a pop quiz that my students probably used to, well, pass the daily pop quizzes.

Main Characters:

Bid  real name Ganesh Seshadri, main songwriter, lead vocalist, guitar player, still in the band

Lester Square  real name Thomas Hardy, songwriter, lead guitarist, exited band after third album and rejoined for a while, then left again

Andy Warren bass player, still with the band


  1. The Monochrome Set were a post-punk band that sounded like no other post-punk band.
  2. Their lyrics were odd, absurd, and at times rather sinister.
  3. They conjure Something Else or Village Green Preservation Society vintage Kinks because they write melodies that aren’t really rock ‘n’ roll melodies, yet, somehow, are actually great rock ‘n’ roll melodies.
  4. Guitarist Lester Square is brilliant.
  5. Their music combines British music hall, pseudo Caribbean sounds, surf music, and a lot of other stuff.
  6. This is arty music in a very non-arty way.
  7. Bid is a great rock vocalist, even though, he never sounds like a rock vocalist.
  8. To tell the truth, I totally missed The Velvet Underground influence in the initial review, but that’s alright because you’re probably reading this shortcut, rather than that other review in which The Velvet Underground influence isn’t mentioned.
  9. They were a clever, but very odd band.
  10. Their first album, Strange Boutique, was listed as the 5,4596th greatest album of all time on another website.

So, to continue, this box, The Monochrome Set 1979-1985: Complete Recordings, makes everything from that period available from various labels like Rough Trade, DinDisc, Cherry Red, and Blanco y Negro. It’s a six-disc set that includes the first four albums—Strange Boutique, Love Zombies, Eligible Bachelors, and Lost Weekend--plus two discs filled with various singles recorded between 1979-1985.

The first album, Strange Boutique, begins with tribal drums, jungle noises, and the band’s theme song. Nothing wrong with that. It was par for the new wave golf course. But then a funny thing happens: The music suddenly veers into Bid world—brisk chords and surf music with extremely catchy melodies that were not found in, say, anything on PIL’s Metal Box or a Cabaret Voltaire record.

This music evokes Hollywood’s westerns, big-screen soundtracks, folk music, campy theater, absurd brilliance, and rock ‘n’ roll. Two tunes, “Martians Go Home” and “Love Goes Down the Drain,” exemplify this sound. They are irresistible pop tunes that should never be irresistible pop tunes. And they are followed by the ethereal “Ici Les Enfants.” Then “The Etcetera Stroll” is almost country picking, and that’s followed by the dramatic folk of “Good Bye Joe.” This is, indeed, a Strange Boutique, an odd shop that would never stock the Genesis single “Misunderstanding,” or for that matter, “Safe European Home” by The Clash.

Then a second album, Love Zombies, happened. This is even more non-rock for lovers of rock. It’s truly beyond clever. The problem is simple: It doesn’t sound like new wave. Well, it doesn’t sound like Wire, The Gang of Four, Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, or Joy Division. It’s too quirky and way too happy. This album has cult status etched in its run-off groove. John Mendelssohn, in his book The Kinks Kronikles, quotes Rolling Stone scribe Paul Williams’ comment about Ray Davies & Company, “I mean, it’s not just some rock group. It’s more like a taste for fine wines from a certain valley or devotion to a particular breed of cocker spaniel.” And The Monochrome Set pretty much wear a similar bow tie. The opening (and title) cut does everything it can to discourage the expectant ears of an Echo and the Bunnymen fan as the music swirls with a circus themed and grandiose movie soundtrack. These guys were too happy. They just weren’t the types to hang around in forest at night with serious sullen faces. But the album rocks in a weird way. Listen to “Adeste Fideles” (O come All Ye Faithful), “Apocalypso,” and “The Man with the Black Moustache.” This is a great forgotten record.

Eligible Bachelors begins with a wild American West whistle and then proceeds through eleven songs that define great pop rock music. “The Jet Set Junta” apparently got itself banned for political reasons. But it’s a great catchy song. Then “I’ll Scry Instead” ups the tune smith ante. But the album’s toppermost of the poppemost moment comes with “The Matching Game,” a song with an irresistible melody and rather naughty lyrics. This one is a pop masterpiece.

Then Lester Square left the band.

Enter James ‘Foz’ Foster (and back-up singers aplenty) for the final album of issue in this box set. Lost Weekend has a hit single of sorts, “Jacob’s Ladder,” which adds gospel to the usual music hall, pseudo Caribbean sounds, and surf music palette. Cargo” has a great lyric, and a few guitar notes borrowed from The Beatles’ song “And I Love Her.” “Letter from Viola” is vintage rock ‘n’ roll. All the melodies are much less angular. Bid’s vocals are greasy and sublime. “Starry Nowhere” is drop dead gorgeous. This album inhabits more of a warm fifties hamburger malt shop juke box selection than the other records, but it’s still pretty great.

And Morrissey loved this band. So, Smiths fans, take heed.

Well, William Blake said, “Enough!  or Too much.” Yeah, this is probably “too much.” By now, the astute reader will have guessed my feelings about this band. If not, I suppose, that not so much astute reader should find some Spark Notes explanation of this review. Beyond that, the final two discs are littered with all the band’s singles like “He’s Frank,” “Eine Symphonie Des Grauens,” and its obscure flip “Lester Leaps In.” There’s “Mr Bizarro,” “Cast Your Shadow,” and my favorite, “Ten Don’ts for Honeymooners” with its flip side, “Straits of Malacca.” Yeah, everything from those early years is here. It’s the kitchen sink—sort of like the band itself--which is sort of like rock ‘n’ roll itself.

The Beatles have a song called “Here, There and Everywhere.” And The Monochrome Set are pretty much just that—here, there and everywhere…and every place in between. Their records are scatter shots into the many bullseyes of rock ‘n’ roll. It might be luck, but they have quite a bit to say; and to the best of my knowledge, they never lost their muse and told a bunch of students to never take candy from a stranger in a car. But if they had done that, and I truly believe this, it would have been in the clever guise of a great bit of a rock ‘n’ roll song. The kids deserve it. And some bands can just do that sort of thing.



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