Rose McDowall - Cut With the Cake Knfe

by Jeff Penczak Rating:10 Release Date:2015-09-23

Nearly 35 years ago, Glaswegians McDowell and Jill Bryson burst on the scene as candy-coated, polka-dotted goth babes, Strawberry Switchblade, copping their name from an ill-fated fanzine, itself named after a James Kirk (from Orange Juice) song. Several bubblegummy synth 45s and an eponymous album followed, after which the girls split.

Bryson appeared on a few Julian Cope tracks (her husband was briefly in his band), while McDowell provided backing vocals to numerous recordings from the likes of Coil, Current 93, Felt, Death in June, Nurse With Wound, and Psychic TV, amongst many others. But right after the Switchblade dissolved (1986-88), she recorded a number of demos under the name Sunflower, which she self-released on Bad Fairy in a limited edition of 500 back in 2004 as Cut With The Cake Knife. This reissue appends a subsequent EP, featuring a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ c/w a revamped version of album highlight 'Crystal Nights' retitled 'Crystal Days'.

           The set kicks off with the bubbly ‘Tibet’, which, intentionally or not, finds McDowall effecting an Oriental vocal style that sounds like those vocalists you hear in the Muzak system of a Chinese restaurant, albeit backed by a bouncy synth. Returning to her more familiar cuddly cooing on ‘Sunboy’, the song’s demo quality detracts from what could certainly’ve been a hit if she had the chance to finish it with a complete band. The tinny production and “piped in” guitar solo feel like they were recorded at different times and spliced together, but there’s no denying its alluring melody.

           A drum machine keeps things hopping throughout ‘Wings of Heaven’, and a second vocalist (or McDowall’s overdubbing) lend a fuller sound to another early highlight that also anticipates the vibrantly melodic dance music that Saint Etienne would explore in a few years. Other tracks, like ‘Sixty Cowboys’ would sound heavenly in the hands of the current female-fronted pop sounds emanating out of the Elefant stable (The Yearning, The School, The Primitives, et.al.), and if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that Bananarama copped the riff and arrangement for ‘Robert DeNiro’s Wiating’ straight out of the middle break of ‘On The Sun’!

           Other tracks like ‘Crystal Nights’ (and its sister track, 'Crystal Days') could’ve easily been hit singles with the New Wave/MTV crowd that devoured the similar sounding Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, et. al.  Even McDowall's frothy arrangement of Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ fits in perfectly! So, it’s a shame McDowall couldn’t find any takers to release this back when it was recorded. Subsequent twee acts and labels (e.g., Sarah) owe their sound to its effervescent energy and sprightly beats, and it would have found favour amongst fans of any number of bouncy dance bands of the day (Bananarama, Kim Wilde, Cyndi Lauper, The Belle Stars, The Mo-Dettes, et. al.). But now you can dive in and relive the wonderfully giddy days and sweaty nights on the dancefloors of those glorious 80’s! Although not released at the time, it captures the energy and free-flowing pop beat better than some of the contemporary albums. I'd even say it's one of the best 80's albums you never heard, so grab your copy today and break out the day-glo spandex and spike up your hair and let your freak flag fly. 

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