The rather despairing NME headline at the time said it all: ‘When The Little Girls Have All Grown Up…’ After releasing two albums in the space of barely six months, Kershaw took his time over the third.
He settled in to North London’s Swanyard Studios for most of 1986 to work on the self-produced Radio Musicola, employing the cream of the English session scene (The Kick Horns, Charlie Morgan, Mark Brzezicki, Wix, Andy Richards, Simon Phillips etc).
Yes, Musicola was Kershaw’s chance to take on the Trevor Horns of this world and deliver a big-budget, endlessly-fussed-over studio ‘project’… Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his meteoric rise to fame, the main themes of the album are press intrusion and tabloid sensationalism.
And, in a neat irony, the rise of technology-led, assembly-line music was also in Kershaw’s sights, despite Musicola making liberal use of all the latest sampling and synthesizer technology. So let’s get Musicola‘s duff tracks out the way first – ‘What The Papers Say’, ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Running Scared’ are jarringly overproduced, though the latter had real potential.
But there are loads of treats elsewhere – ‘Life Goes On’ is a musically-rich, very pretty ballad with swooning chord changes and fine vocals from Kershaw. ‘LABATYD’ is pure class, a half-time shuffle with tasty Mark Brzezicki drums, an excellent Kick Horn arrangement and soaring synth by either Wix or Andy Richards.
The title track blew a lot of musicians’ minds back in 1986. It really was state-of-the art and still sounds pretty novel today, as striking as the title track of Level 42’s World Machine a year before. I remember eagerly tuning in to ‘The Tube’ to see Kershaw performing the song live. You can hear a lot of the ‘little girls’ turning off their TVs as he lays into the opening guitar solo…
‘Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage’ is pretty damn ambitious fare for a pop album, a fast swing number featuring some cracking Phillips drums and effective close-harmony backing vox from Mrs Kershaw (Sheri). The excellent ‘James Cagney’ chugs along with a Level 42 groove (and features an interesting ‘New Man’ lyric) and it sounds uncannily like Mr King on bass (the bass is credited to ‘Felix Krish’ – a King pseudonym?).
‘When a Heart Beats’, an excellent, intricate slice of pop/prog in the It Bites mould, gave Kershaw his last top 40 chart appearance (peaking at a disappointing #27) when it was released in November 1985.
The closing ‘Violet To Blue’ is possibly Kershaw’s finest and most ambitious recording to date, featuring some rousing vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir and superb, driving drum work from Phillips (much imitated in my music room back in the day).
An interesting album which clearly fell between the stools of art and commerce, Radio Musicola reached a barely believable #46 in the UK album chart, just over a year after Kershaw had played Live Aid. It disappeared without trace in the US.
The little girls had certainly grown up. Or maybe it was the new haircut. 18 months is a long time to leave between albums when you’re hot. But Kershaw didn’t seem bothered about his new ‘selective’ popularity; in fact, he seemed genuinely relieved, but wondered how MCA were going to sell him now that he was focused on being a musician rather than a pop star.
Despite the poor album sales, Kershaw embarked on a sold-out UK tour in early 1987 including three nights at London’s Town & Country Club. And he would be back once more before the ’80s were out to deliver perhaps his finest solo album to date.