Talk about DIY â€“ when club promoter and all-around Paris-Hilton-famous-for-merely-being-famous trailblazer Steven Strange didnâ€™t like that there werenâ€™t enough good songs to play on his club night, he grabbed some friends, some synths and made his own.
Under the name Visage, Strange, alongside a few former Magazine members and a couple of future Ultravox members including Midge Ure, created the template for the New Romantic movement of the early â€˜80s â€“ moody chords, high-hat heavy automated percussion and lyrics about fashion, clubbing and nightlife. They scored a club hit with their first few singles, â€œTarâ€, a remake of â€œIn The Year 2525â€ and of course, â€œFade to Greyâ€, which ended up going to the Top Ten of the pop charts in the U.K.
Then came follow up time.
Luckily, Visageâ€™s debut album was pretty strong from front to back, so culling a few more singles wasnâ€™t a problem. In fact, â€œMind of a Toyâ€ is one of the better songs on the album, an ode from the point of view of a discarded toy, campy to the extreme, especially when Steven spits out â€œspiteful girl, hateful boyâ€ during the chorus. I still laugh every time, 25 years later. A nouveaux classique, to turn a phrase.
When it came time for album #2, dubbed â€œThe Anvilâ€ after the notorious NYC leather bar, things started to fall apart. There are still some great tunes, but the album as a whole was nowhere as strong as their first. Standouts were the title track, â€œWe Moveâ€ and the first single, â€œThe Damned Donâ€™t Cryâ€, which instead of merely emulating â€œFade to Greyâ€™sâ€ sound and success, built upon it. Thereâ€™s a little less humor, a little more struggle for depth, unfortunately, the boys just werenâ€™t good enough to pull it off completely. Reviews were scathingâ€¦I canâ€™t find it anywhere online, but I remember Rolling Stone eviscerating â€œThe Anvilâ€, awarding it a measly one star and proclaiming it â€œfashion over music.â€ Thatâ€™s when I knew I had to own it.
After â€œThe Anvilâ€, Ure and most of the musical braintrust left, leaving Strange to wobble on with new backing for one final album until giving up. Strange later went on to a smack habit, culminating in an arrest in London for attempting to shoplift a Teletubbie. Heâ€™s apparently clean now and fronting a new version of Visage that was on tap to remix Kelly Osbourneâ€™s last single â€œOne Wordâ€, a song that more than liberally borrows from â€œFade to Greyâ€. That remix has yet to surface.
Listening to both albums today, I find they both hold up a lot better than works by Visageâ€™s contemporaries, including Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan. Visage sort of became the bridge between Morodor-era Donna Summer and more commercial new wave that came after Visageâ€™s time in the spotlight, sort of an Ã¼ber-disco.
â€œThe Anvilâ€ is currently out of print, having its most recent reissue in 1997 by One Way Records, but you can still get Visage’s first album fairly cheaply on Amazon as a import.
Neither single charted in the U.S.