Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Photos-S/T

When I first came across this album from 1980, I was excited to discover a power-pop band that I have never previously before encountered.  What was further intriguing was that the band was led by a woman who went by the stage name of Wendy Wu (not the Homecoming Warrior).  Groups that were female-fronted and supported by male backing musicians were surprisingly rare in the new wave-era despite the runaway commercial and critical success of Blondie and the Pretenders.  Moreover, a band featuring a female lead singer with an assumed Chinese surname of Wu was certainly striking during this angular time.  My initial impression was that the band was originally from somewhere like St. Louis before moving their impossible dreams to N.Y. or L.A.

The British Blondie?
The Photos actually hailed from Evesham-a civil parish between London and Birmingham and instantly expressed their chagrin when pegged as the British Blondie.  This is one band that accurately sounds like their graphic design while being fortunately directly inspired by Blondie despite their frequent denials. Songs like the dashing "Irene" would have sounded perfect on Rhino's Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s or their DIY series from 1993. “Friends,” a standout slower number building on Spector's wall of sound, could have been the closing number on the Valley Girl Soundtrack. Their stellar rendition of Bacharach-David’s "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" fittingly concludes the proper album.  It also sounds like a highlight from an old episode of Rock Over London before being taped over and existing only in memory.

Developing their Sound
Overall, the songs are straight to the slanted point aesthetic of power-pop with some cuts wearing a splash of reggae-which humidified the UK air at the time.  The layered and large production is able to achieve the tricky balance of offering taunt and tough guitars within songs that sweep and even soar at times. Perhaps the only shortcoming holding the Photos back was Wu’s voice.  While her voice was certainly proficient with pronounced Debbie Harry inflections, it is not in the same distinctive league of her model or Chrissie Hynde. In brief moments her voice slips into that dreadful office worker-Diet Coke metallic shrillness that would later be heard coating the hoopla of Grace Slick's Starship.  Along with Sheena and the Rokkets (Fukuoka, Japan), the Shivvers (Milwaukee) and the MnM's (Los Angeles), the Photos seem somewhat overlooked in the stack between the trailblazers that came before (Blondie and the Pretenders) and those who came successfully after (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Katrina and the Waves) in the video era. By happenstance, the Photos bring another perspective on the new wave movement to light.

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