Thursday, 20 August 2009

1987 T'Pau: China In Your Hand

I confess to having quite a passionate dislike for this song back in 1987. Or rather, not so much for the song itself but by the way lead singer, Carol Decker, carried on every time the band promoted it on some pop show or other. Memorably dubbed 'the singing barmaid' by Q Magazine, Carol would screw up her eyes, curl up her lip and claw up her hands like the finest Victorian stage barnstormer with the sheer bloody passion of it all until her hair seemed to throb a fiercer shade of red everytime she gurned a high note. Which she does a lot on 'China In Your Hand'. An awful lot in fact. And what was the tale that warranted this performance? Well I could tell you, but I'll let the 'official website' do the talking:

"It may not be easy to tell, but the inspiration behind this song was actually Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Once again, the combination of Carol and TV proved significant in the history of the band. There happened to be a documentary about Shelley on TV that Carol was watching, and somehow she got the idea to write a cracking song about her. Thank goodness Carol wasn't watching what was on the other channels or we probably would have ended up with a song about gardening!"

So there we have it, it's about Frankenstein.

In truth, 'China In Your Hand' is a clunky metaphor to describe fragility - after all, I've seen stocky china milk jugs that would survive Godzilla's foot stomp Yes I know I'm probably being pedantic, and yes I know what they're getting at........or do I? While the 'Frankenstein' imagery pervades the verses in a remarkably direct narrative, the arms aloft chorus is aimed at everyman, not just the good doctor and it's here that things fall apart:
"Don't push too far your dreams are china in your hand. Don't wish too hard because they may come true and you can't help them.You don't know what you might have set upon yourself"

It's common knowledge that Dr Frankenstein came a cropper with his monster, but if your dreams come true then surely that's not the same as them breaking, no matter how badly they go awry? 'China In Your
Hand'has a very FM American sheen with a Bob Clearmountain-alike production, but what American artist recording in this genre would ever tell you to not push too far or live for your dreams? It would be like John Wayne advising we all vote Communist.

On one hand, 'China In Your
Hand' is ambiguous and unsatisfying, but in truth it matters not what Carol's on about; it's such an over the top power ballad (with the checklist low key opening of plucked violins giving way to crashing power chords and a squawking saxophone solo) that the verses are just so much baggage in between the appearances of that chorus. And it's a chorus that Carol shouts in your face with the conviction of one reading from tablets of stone until you can't help but believe every word to be the gospel truth. There's no small element of campness about the whole thing that has kept the song remarkable well preserved in comparison with other horrors from the decade. It may not be quite the 'cracking' song the website promises, but it has a 'guilty pleasure', karaoke pleasing status all of it's own. Just don't listen to it with any accompanying visuals.

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