cutouts gone wild!: t’pau, “the promise”

Written by Music


T’Pau – The Promise (1991)
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They’re barely remembered today, at least outside the British club circuit, but T’Pau, in its brief existence as a major-label act, actually managed to leave the world with two things that will always stand the test of time. The first is a rock & roll maxim; specifically, that if you name your band after a Star Trek character, you are automatically setting the timer on your fame at 15:00. T’Pau’s second enduring gift to the world is the terrifying, all-powerful earworm that is “Heart and Soul,” a song that was so pervasive on Top 40 radio in 1987 that you were literally left with no choice but to like it, even if only for a few minutes.

“Heart and Soul.” Shit, I hate that song. I won’t even listen to it for the purposes of writing this post. But like I always say, it isn’t the song’s fault it was overplayed, and really, from a pop mechanics standpoint, “Heart and Soul” is damn near flawless. Doctor Frankenstein couldn’t have assembled a more perfect radio monster for ‘87. You’d have thought the band would have gotten at least another shot or two at duplicating its success.

But then a funny thing happened: T’Pau’s second album, 1988’s Rage, wasn’t even released in the United States. The first record was issued via some sort of weird alliance with Virgin, Siren, and — if memory serves correctly — Atlantic, so I guess it’s possible that Rage slipped through the cracks somehow. But still. T’Pau (or, as it was called overseas, Bridge of Spies) must have sold in the millions — you’d think labels would have been lining up to handle the followup.

Eh. Anyway, for whatever reason, the band didn’t get around to putting out its third album until the summer of 1991. Its new label? Charisma Records.

I feel the need to stop here and point out that when I dump on Charisma, I’m not really talking about the legendary label that broke Genesis in the ’70s, nor am I trying to impugn Tony Stratton-Smith, a legend in his own right. I’m talking about the Charisma Records of the late ’80s and early ’90s, a label which — at least from my vantage point as a lowly music critic — served the same purpose as Reprise for Warner Bros. and, later, A&M for Universal Def Whateverthefuckthatconglomerateiscallednow: A logo, a name that traded in on past glories, and a dumping ground for releases that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Case in point: My contact at Charisma didn’t even want to talk about T’Pau when The Promise came out. She said it was being released “as a favor” and was much more interested in pushing the label’s major project for the summer of ‘91. (The album in question was .38 Special’s Bone Against Steel, and don’t worry, we’ll get there in due time.)

It’s unfortunate, because The Promise really isn’t a bad album. I expected to goof on it, was pleasantly surprised, and, listening to it now, still can’t quite believe nothing here stuck at Top 40. It’s glossy as hell and extremely corporate, but that’s no surprise; hell, “Heart and Soul” found its way to hit status via a jeans commercial. Still, these are well-written songs, and in vocalist Carol Decker, the band had a singer with a set of pipes even more impressive than her cheekbones. If their band-naming chops had been half as impressive as their way with pop hooks, who knows? They might still be making music today.

Ah well. There’s always Aamer Haleem and Bands Reunited. In the meantime, dig out your old Hypercolor shirt and listen to “Whenever You Need Me” (download), “Only A Heartbeat” (download), “Walk on Air” (download), and the title track (download).