Nary an opinion about this album goes written without mentioning the effect of Gang of Four on it – the attitude, the left-wing ideologies, the dance potential of the music: it’s all here. Au Pairs, though, manages to deliver a breed of songwriting that is still unique when analysed through the prism of ’80s Post-Punk tendencies: this is strong music with a strong message, delivered in a way that is the opposite of preachy or holier-than-thou.
I need to state one thing before I go on: I am not a big fan of the ideological content present here. Even so, I cannot resist the band’s approach to delivering it: with topics ranging from open relationships (“We’re So Cool”) to orgasm disparity (“Come Again”) and women prisoners in Ireland (“Armagh”), Au Pairs deals with some heavy stuff expertly, and that is through the use of sarcasm.
As such, I have to hand it to them: they made things that are traditionally boring and serious into things that are fun to listen to AND analyze. Are they serious in “Come Again”, considering that hilarious/genius dialogue part? It’s one of the parts that sticks out the most – Lesley (lead vocals) and Paul (backing vocals) exchanging frustrated sex talk (“Am I doing it right?”, “Are you loving it?”, “Is your finger aching?”) which manages to both make fun of as well as trivialize something as taboo as sex. And sex and love are topics greatly explored on here, with the idea this album leaves in its wake being that then-contemporary sexual politics were dumb. On the closer, “It’s Obvious”, the unique approach of the band is shown through the repeated “You’re equal/But different” couplet which, through the vocal delivery, is transformed from a simple message into something ambiguous. Is the message real? Is it not? Does the band believe in it? Who cares, this is some pretty entertaining shit.
Onto the music: Au Pairs differs from Gang of Four through its bigger emphasis on Bass and drums which provide the music the same degree of groove and dance-ability. There isn’t that much crazy energy going on here, with the Post being more emphasized than the Punk, but what we get instead is loads of jagged, angular guitar riffs, funky bass and some of the best drums I’ve heard. The songs can be alert, such as the opener “We’re So Cool” and “Unfinished Business” or slower/long-form (“Headache for Michelle”, “It’s Obvious”), but in both instances, the band manages to excel through providing a sound rhythm section. Side A of the album is immense: the first three tracks are a whirlwind of furious, ironic, conviction-filled post-punk, while “Repetition”, a David Bowie cover which perfectly suits Lesley’s voice, pushes it down a notch before “Headache for Michelle” grinds the first half of the LP to a halt with its incredible bass melody and extremely disciplined drums which, though not flashy in any sense, sound amazing in their simplicity (those hi-hats, my God). Out of the initial tracks, “Set-Up” is one of the best ones on the album with its palm-muted sections and swagger – the interplay between the drums and guitar is amazing and sets a dance mood like no other track on here. The second half of the song is also quite possibly the understated birth of Bloc Party, only without the production.
Side B is not as impressive, but it trails behind closely. “Come Again” jumps the shark a bit with its ending, as well as “Armagh” with its overly dramatic lyrics. Nonetheless, the style of the songs remains the same, until the closer “It’s Obvious” – a mirror song to “Headache for Michelle”, at least form-wise. This final track is the most experimental yet, with some nervous strings and horns thrown in at the end for the sake of it. The vocals have a static, hypnotic quality to them which is greatly contrasted by the bouncy bass. And so, the album ends on a great note.
This album also enjoys from having a perfect length which seems to breeze past in half the time it actually demands, and I think the sparse, bare-bones production is to credit for this as well. This album never sounds heavy, in spite of the heavy topics tackled by it, on account of the abundant humour involved and the funky, rhythmically light nature of the instrumentals which guarantee extended replay value. Being both self-aware AND interesting is a tricky thing to accomplish in music, but Au Pairs make it seem so ridiculously easy and sound so good while at it that it’s not even funny – it’s obvious.
Key Tracks: “We’re So Cool”, “Love Song”, “Set-Up”, “Repetition”, “Headache for Michelle”, “Come Again”, “Unfinished Business”, “It’s Obvious”
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When I’m not busy being a corporate drone, you’ll find me writing reviews and essays about music, video games, films and other nerd stuff encompassing all eras.
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