Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

TV21 - A Thin Red Line

TV21
A Thin Red Line


Released 1981 on Deram
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 09/05/2007ce


1. Waiting For The Drop
2. Ideal Way Of Life
3. This Is Zero
4. Ticking Away
5. It Feels Like It's Starting To Rain
6. Snakes And Ladders
7. What's Going On?
8. Something's Wrong
9. When I Scream
10. Tomorrow
11. Attention Span

TV21 were a superb group from Scotland who only were around long enough to issue this classic long player "A Thin Red Line" and a few 45's before disappearing into smoke. The last thing I remember hearing about them was that were appearing as a support group to the Rolling Stones on their "Tattoo You" tour dates in Scotland. TV21 issued a 45 in early 1982 "All Join Hands" then simply disappeared. This left me very frustrated because I thought they were a group with immense promise. At the time of the release of "A Thin Red Line" TV21 were hot property in the UK music press, I remember them having a full color cover feature in Melody Maker in 1981 and their album was greeted by glowing reviews. I went out and bought an import copy without ever having heard a note of their music. But as soon as I played it I was hooked and they became one of my favorite groups of that period.

"A Thin Red Line" was issued in the great year of 1981, this was the final good year in British rock before the dreaded New Romantic nonsense took hold and forced every UK band to stock up on hair gel and 12" dance re-mixes. During 1981 I seemed to buy a great album every week from the likes of The Undertones, The Barracudas, Robyn Hitchcock, The Comsat Angels, Wah! Heat, Teardrop Explodes, The Passions, Local Heroes SW9, The Sound, Echo & The Bunnymen and others. In November of 1981 I made a cassette of "A Thin Red Line" backed with Teardrop Explodes "Wilder" album and played it so much that I think I memorized every note. The winter of 1981-82 was brutal in the New England area where I was living. I was briefly involved in taking a golf course management course at UMASS and driving around the icy streets of Northampton, Mass. playing "A Thin Red Line." I spent more time going through the import racks at Main Street Records than I did designing golf course drainage ditches (oh by the way I flunked the course and never became a greenskeeper!)

But now enough of that and on to the music of TV21. I was initially attracted to the group because they were described as a cross between The Jam and The Teardrop Explodes (two of my favorite groups at the time), and looking back I would say that is a pretty accurate comparison. But in reality the group clearly had a sound of their own which was more than clearly demonstrated on this flawless debut album. The opening number "Waiting For The Drop" hits you immediately with it's Joy Division-ish bass line and Teardrop Explodes style horn section, this would have made a perfect single (but oddly it was never issued as such.) While I do think the Teardrop Explodes comparison is just, TV21 had a much more aggressive sound, highlighted by lead singer Norman Rodger's gruff vocals. The group reminded me a great deal of The Skids during their "Absolute Game" period.

"Ideal Way Of Life" goes the Paul Weller route in describing UK yuppie life circa 1981, this track is quite involved and goes through several musical changes, highlighted by the aggressive horn section that brings to mind the "Prehistoric Sounds" & "Eternally Yours" albums by The Saints and also The Saints offshoot group The Laughing Clowns. "This Is Zero" is a menacing dose of modern psychedelia with a surging bass line, ringing guitar phrases and a gut-busting lead vocal by Norman Rodger, this number occupies the same territory as Wah! Heat's brilliant debut album "The Art Of Bluff." Side one closes with 2 reflective and moving ballads in "Ticking Away" & "It Feels Like It's Starting To Rain" both of these pieces remind me of another underrated UK group of that time period The Sound.

Side two opens with "Snakes & Ladders" which is probably the album's most commercial track (it was in fact plucked for a UK 45 that came out as a double single with 3 excellent flipsides.) "Snakes" has an odd beat that reminds me a little of XTC, it also has a neat childlike chorus that is punctuated by rapid-fire trumpet blasts, this song had "hit" written all over it (but sadly never rocketed up the UK charts.) "What's Going On" has a somewhat experimental feel that combines the psychedelic throb of "154" era Wire with the sound of The Jam circa 1980. "When I Scream" is a slow brooding piece, that fuses a throbbing bass pattern and ringing guitar to a first class vocal by Norman Rodger.

"Something's Wrong" was the choice for the album's second single, this one is the direct opposite of "Snakes & Ladders" at least musically in that it goes directly in the territory of Joy Division with it's moody, atmospheric sound highlighted by it's ringing guitar line, propulsive bass and insistent percussion. "Tomorrow" brings with it the storming brass sound the group employed on "Ideal Way Of Life", this is the most Teardrop Explodes-like track on the record, bringing to mind "Books" from the Teardrops "Kilimanjaro" album. The record closes out with "Attention Span" which is a very interesting piece, it begins with a riff that sounds like a direct lift from Wire's "Our Swimmer" 45 along that way it features scratchy guitar chords and free-jazz trumpet phrases ala The Laughing Clowns, it's a somewhat subdued closer but it works very effectively. This is a very well put together record with a rich harvest of quality and varied material. It's easily one of the greatest debut albums I have ever heard. What happened to dissolve this promising group I do not know. But there appears to be good news on the horizon in that TV21 appear to be back in action after all these years with some excellent new material. The time is perfect for TV21 to finally get the attention they have long deserved.

If you enjoy this album I would also recommend:

1. Wah! Heat-The Art Of Bluff (Eternal 1981)
2. Doll By Doll-Gypsy Blood (Automatic 1979)
3. The Comsat Angels-Fiction (Polydor 1982)
4. The Laughing Clowns-The Laughing Clowns (Red Flame 1982)
5. The Triffids-Born Sandy Devotional (Hot 1986)
6. The Undertones-The Positive Touch (Ardeck 1981)
7. The Sound-Jeopardy (Korova 1980)
8. Empire-Expensive Sound (Dinosaur Discs 1981)
9. Echo & The Bunnymen-Heaven Up Here (Korova 1981)
10. Teardrop Explodes-Kilimanjaro (Mercury 1980)
11. Psychedelic Furs-Talk, Talk, Talk (CBS 1981)
12. Go Betweens-Before Hollywood (Rough Trade 1982)
13. The Sleepers-Painless Nights (Adolescent 1981)
14. The Saints-Out In The Jungle (New Rose 1982)
15. The Skids-The Absolute Game (Virgin 1980)


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