Be-Bop Deluxe—
Drastic Plastic

Released 1978 on Harvest
The Seth Man, June 2000ce
Whereas their three previous studio outings “Futurama,” “Sunburst Finish,” and “Modern Music” were all highly-produced, Cocteau-inspired romantic poetics shot through with Bill Nelson’s finessed guitar runs, “Drastic Plastic” was even more streamlined and electronic-based. In the past, Bill Nelson had used futuristic/romantics as the basis for most of his songwriting, but it was based on the future as it was once envisioned in the past -- more “Flash Gordon” or “Metropolis” than “Future Shock.” And this album both embraces and criticises the technological landscape of electronic devices and consumer appliances in a clean, precise, synthetically charged sparse production. The whole sonic field is swept clean and kept to the center as synthesizer runs surround and cajole like small electric gremlins. “Drastic Plastic” IS drastic: few bands that fell into the catchall category of ‘new wave’ were this original, and fewer still incorporated the synthesizer as deftly into the songs as Andy Clark does here. Side one slowly fades into the steady and treated drum pattern that dominates “Electrical Language” with twittering synthesizers over Nelson’s rock and roll guitar. The pace quickens with “New Precision,” and the drumming is the drumming on Bowie’s 1980 hit, “Fashion,” but two years earlier. A piano/drums/bass slow tempo march keeps going as Nelson delivers more compact, burn-down solos with synth lines burbling in and out. “Let’s walk into the sea,” intones Nelson with ever-quavering vocals, and he repeats it as the bubbling increases over tight military snares with more Nelson assured riffing as the drowning lyrics are eventually taken over by the electronics. “New Mysteries” clangs in with strident bell-of-cymbal riding by Simon Fox (whose drumming is minimal as it is muscular and well-placed throughout “Drastic Plastic”) over more quavering Nelson vocalising and screeching, ominous guitar ray-gun rhythms that shoot out until the solo, as burning a lead as he ever did play, I swear. A creepoid piano flurry enters, evocative of ‘The Night Gallery’ as Nelson whispers the song title over and over as synthesizer flutters. The song continues into a brief, electro-funk workout with more guitar screech ominosity and Charlie Tumahai’s boss bass work. It fades into the chirpy, psycho “Surreal Estate,” all treated pianos and glockenspiels and a whistling chorus Peter Gabriel pillaged for his 1980 hit, “Games Without Frontiers.” It’s a toy town sensibility akin to “Talking Heads 77” that mask mysterious, horrific going-ons. A strange coda ensues with percussive bass and Nelson’s melodic guitar fade as the whistling now goes into a creepy Christmas jingle with more glockenspiel, bells, horns and the Le Voom Voom Whistlers work overtime until the tape jerks the whole strange winter wonderland gone wrong to a dead stop. “Love In Flames” is perhaps the most rocked out Be-Bop Deluxe track ever. More so than “Maid In Heaven,” “Bring Back The Spark” or even their epic glamming on “Axe Victim” and these are SERIOUS rock and rollers. But “Love In Flames” is off-the-Richter scale ’78 punk with a hilariously overbearing and near-constant Vox Continental organ cheez riff as Nelson goes for it over and over with phased-out, distorted and thick guitar runs. Nelson’s abandons his trademark gentle vocals for something closer to “Pink Flag” or “Are You Receiving Me” by XTC with a raspy delivery:

“I wanna be your mystic
I wanna be your gypsy
I wanna be your target
Every time you wanna hit me...!”

Yeah, it’s out of hand. Especially on the finale, where they’re all racing to the finish line of side one and Bill Nelson becomes a 21st Century Chuck Berry on amphetamines. It all breaks down to chaotic drums, cymbals and organs swirls that all get super-phased out as BUMP -- it halts into dead air.

“Panic In My World” is musically and lyrically a loosely-based “Heroes” theme with lovers escaping a doomed, collapsing world. And when Blondie recorded a live version of Bowie’s “Heroes” with Robert Fripp on guitar for their 1981 “Atomic” 12-incher, it was this song they completely ripped off. Bill Nelson, man: even HIS rip offs got ripped off, they were so well crafted. “Dangerous Stranger” follows, a re-tooled “Summertime Blues” with the low senator’s voice replaced by the mysterious stranger’s evil Lurch voice. It then plunges immediately into the evil/humourous and fantastically-titled “Superenigmatix (Lethal Appliances For The Home With Everything).” It’s paranoid and skittish, and synthesizer runs dance gleefully all over the track and Nelson’s fretful night’s sleep, ending about as abrupt and jerky as “Options R.” “Japan” follows, a blissful ode to the country whose production of electronic consumer devices was established in the decade this album was released, and total Nipponese electronic pop that probably made The Plastics jealous as hell (The British version of “Drastic Plastic” substituted this track for “Visions of Endless Hopes,” keeping “Japan” available as a single only.) “Possession” follows, a jerky, stop and start frenzy piece that once again cuts off like Wire’s 1978 B-side, “Options R.” But the crazy helter skelter of edgy, electronic new wave leaves “Drastic Plastic” to end on a serene note with “Islands Of The Dead.” It’s slow and romantic, like the fleeing couple from “Panic In The World” have found peace at last, in a relaxed environment far from the crumbling techno world of 1978.