Virgin Records, released 11th May 1985
Bought: Our Price Putney 1988?
In the UK, China Crisis have always had what you might call an image problem – they’ve never quite been able to shake off an almost imperceptible naffness.
Is it because of their name? Because their first hit was the extremely wimpy ‘Christian’? Because they were neither doomy enough for the post-punk crowd nor cosmopolitan enough for the New Romantics?
Or maybe because they had the dubious honour of being playlisted by Alan Partridge? (Actually, they were played by Partridge’s nemesis Dave Clifton, Ed.)
Steely Dan co-conspirator Walter Becker didn’t think they were too shabby though, apparently requesting a meeting with the Liverpudlians after he heard the nuclear-themed ‘Papua’ from their second album, 1983’s Working With Fire And Steel. He was intrigued by their obtuse lyrics, they liked the cut of his jib and apparently got on like a house on fire.
Becker signed on as producer and was summoned to Parkgate Studios near Battle, Sussex, to begin work on Flaunt The Imperfection which would turn out to be CC’s biggest success to date. Flaunt reached 9 in the album chart and stayed in the UK top 100 for 22 weeks.
With the steady hand of legendary Stones/Sly/Hendrix engineer Phill Brown onboard too, the album featured two infectious top 20 UK hits, ‘Black Man Ray’ and ‘Wake Up (King In A Catholic Style)’.
Well worth checking out too is the ‘Black Man Ray’ B-side ‘Animalistic’ which shows that the lads were also flirting with a variation on Britfunk in their spare time.
Apart from the singles, there are a host of other treats on this album, not least the drumming of the late Kevin Wilkinson. He was a big drumming hero in my teenage years. He’s very close to a British Jeff Porcaro or Carlos Vega, a tasteful groovemaster with a few chops too.
Gazza Johnson’s basslines are catchy and memorable and the songwriting is solid throughout, only ‘Wall Of God’ and ‘Blue Sea’ lacking strong choruses.
Then there’s Becker’s top-draw production. He ‘Fagenizes’ Gary Daly’s excellent vocals (usually double-tracked with a touch of delay) and shows off his arranging skills with subtle synth/guitar layering and brooding horns.
In particular, ‘Strength Of Character’, ‘You Did Cut Me’, ‘Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling’ and ‘Gift Of Freedom’ bear his fingerprints, the latter featuring some Gil Evans-esque woodwinds.
China Crisis followed up Flaunt with 1986’s What Price Paradise, a massive misfire wherein producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley inexplicably tried to turn them into Madness (If I remember rightly, the Q review of the album ended with the phrase ‘File under: Victim Of A Cruel Medical Experiment’!). But the band reunited with Walter Becker on the excellent Diary Of A Hollow Horse four years later.
13 thoughts on “China Crisis’s Flaunt The Imperfection: 30 Years Old Today”
Great write-up on a fantastic album by one of the best (and most unsung…especially in the US) bands of that era. It’s a toss-up between this and Diary Of A Hollow Horse for my favorite China Crisis album.
Cheers, Rich. Totally agree with you, it’s Flaunt and Hollow Horse for me too. Is that right, is ‘Flaunt’ very underrated in the US compared to the earlier albums? I think in the UK the two hit singles from the album helped, and they also they kind of fitted in with the Sade/Scritti/Style Council ‘jazzy pop’ thing which some of the more stylish music mags embraced.
It’s not that specific China Crisis albums were more or less highly regarded than others in the US. The band itself is unsung here. The only people I know who are aware of them either work in the music industry (like I do) or are collectors who scour UK music magazines for artists that don’t get exposure here (like I do). I agree with your comment about the “jazzy pop” connection. Not many US publications covered that style.
I agree with Rich, but my toss up is between this one and Working With Fire And Steel. I love the tidbit of Becker hearing Hanna Hanna and being moved enough to call on them. I didn’t know that, and I’ve been a fan since the debut album landed under my Christmas Tree! Thanks for the post, it was great!
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Cheers for that, Ian. Yes, I tried to include a link to that Becker quote about ‘Hanna Hanna’ but couldn’t find it. I also love the fact that they call him Walter ‘Trevor Who’ Becker in the liner notes, apparently because they rated him more highly than Trevor Horn! I’m glad it seems that CC didn’t have such a dodgy image in the States. The US audience/press hopefully had a much more open mind than here in the UK where the ‘cool’ NME/Melody Maker were so influential.
Actually, I really grew up in Canada, so I can’t speak for the States. I think they were probably blissfully unaware of them as they were so many other great bands.
Apologies, the track that Becker heard was actually ‘Papua’, I’ve corrected the post! The source was Brian Sweet’s excellent book ‘Reelin In The Years’.
Anyone still on this thread? I’m streaming and so don’t have album sleeves to hand, and I’m looking for some information.
The horns are very “Dannish” and creamy. Is there any information who played on these sessions? Was the horn section English, or were they recorded in LA using Becker’s “usual suspects?”
Hi there, thanks for dropping by. It’s The Kick Horns, a group of British session horn players who were on lots of stuff in the mid-to-late ’80s.
Aha! Further research shows these blokes are *all over* my record collection, and I didn’t know who they were until today. Cheers!
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Yes, they did get around! I loved their work on It Bites’ ‘Whole New World’, that just popped into my mind. Well worth checking out if you don’t know it.
The song You Did Cut Me changed how I played the drums forever.
Thanks and interesting to hear. Kevin’s playing is particularly tasty on that.