Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Two Tribes

After 'Relax' had laid waste to allcomers in the charts a few months previous there was tremendous anticipation as to what Frankie would do next - a viable concern or a one hit wonder? The jury was out. But not for long. Because for anyone keen to write them off as a one trick pony, 'Two Tribes' must have come as a swift kick in the nuts.

After 'doing' sex in 'Relax', FGTH now turned their attention to a war, though there was little original in that by itself. With Reagan and Chernenko presiding over world peace as if it were a game of chess, the eighties saw a number of artists turning cold war tension and the fear of nuclear attack into song. Nena had been there, done that (albeit obliquely) just a few weeks previous, and other bands (such as Young Marble Giants - 'Final Day' and the Television Personalities - 'A Sense Of Belonging') had already captured the feeling of morbid dread that prevailed.

With 'Two Tribes' though, FGTH abandoned the quiet anger proto indie template of the above in favour of a brash, in your face all out attack that recalled nothing less than Edwin Starr's 'War', with the iconic phrase 'War, what it is it good for?' replaced by the equally shoutable 'When two tribes go to war, A point is all you can score'.

Whereas 'Relax' thumped along with the subtlety of a metronomic sledgehammer, 'Two Tribes' opens with a creeping Eastern Bloc anthem of doom before grabbing your hand and pulling you headlong into an adrenalin rush of a fluid guitar riff that careers along at breakneck speed to the end, broken only by intermittently pounding drum fills. Like 'Relax' before it, Trevor Horn's watertight production is the true star here. From the off, 'Two Tribes' presents an almost solid body of sound that lets in no air, barely pauses for breath and yet is as flexible and rhythmical as the finest dance music.

Though it does not address East/West tensions directly, a memorable video of Regan and Chernenko look-alikes slugging it out toe to toe in a gravel pit left no doubt at the time as to what it was all about. And cleverly, like Starr's track before it, by avoiding directly mentioning any references to names and places, the song comes with no date stamp that links it to the Cold War (or Vietnam in Starr's case), making it is as applicable now as it was then.

'Two Tribes' came in a variety of original mixes, all of which are worth hearing (especially the 12" 'Annihilation' mix that samples Patrick Allen's post nuclear war public information film dialogue to memorably chilling effect) but the original single version is all you need. The seven inches of vinyl crams a hell of a lot into such a small space, a barnstorming three minute warning of a song that eschewed any fretful hand wringing to proclaim 'We're all going to die. Fuck it, let's dance'. And in 1984, everybody did.

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