Bronski Beat - The Age Of Reason

Bronski Beat: “The Age of Reason”

When a group starts re-recording its old hits, it’s hard not to see it as an admission of defeat; either the artist has no confidence in their ability to write new material, or their appeal has become so selective that they could release an absolute masterpiece and have it drowned out by demands for a track from their first album.

They will often try to justify it, of course. Sometimes the artist has a new artistic vision and wants to make use of updated technology to breathe new life into an old favourite – the infamous 1986 recording sessions by The Police, for example, in which they attempted to update their hits for a new album but instead split acrimoniously after only finishing one track, Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86 which limped to number 24 in the chart. At the other end of the scale, there’s Squeeze’s album Spot The Difference on which the band deliberately re-recorded their hits in arrangements as close to the originals as possible, in the hope of diverting potential buyers away from the numerous compilations on their former label A&M.

So where does Bronski Beat fit into this equation? With only Steve Bronski remaining from the original line-up – Jimmy Somerville jumped ship pretty sharpish after one album, as did his replacements John Foster and Jonathan Hellyer, and Larry Steinbachek died in December 2016 – how can the new line-up assert itself as the same group that recorded The Age of Consent back in 1984? The answer, it appears, is to record the album all over again.

Sensibly, The Age of Reason aims for a position somewhere in the middle ground between the two extremes set by Squeeze and the Police. New singer Stephen Granville is blessed with a similar vocal range to his predecessor but a more natural singing style, delivering the familiar material without the nagging fear that Somerville was about to pop out an eyeball on one of the particularly taxing high notes. The shiny new musical arrangements tend not to deviate too far from the originals; elements such as the drum machines which place tracks like Screaming or Love and Money firmly in the mid ’80s are updated, but not too much, giving the impression that The Age of Reason could have been lying in the vaults since any time around 1994. Generally it works well, especially the merging of It Ain’t Necessarily So and its doppelganger No More War into a medley. The only real misstep is, ironically enough, on the album’s most famous song Smalltown Boy where the original claustrophobic arrangement is swept aside and replaced by a euphoric dance backing which sits at odds with the song’s lyrical content.

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In keeping with the new arrangements, the album’s track listing also gets a tweaking: B-side Close to the Edge and both sides of the unissued single Run From Love and Hard Rain are added, while the original album’s closing medley of I Feel Love and Johnny Remember Me is conspicuous by its absence. Fans of camp disco needn’t fret though, as a cover of Sylvester’s Stars is one of three songs new to the Bronski Beat repertoire which round out the album, along with two new compositions. You will become very familiar with these three tracks, as there are thirteen different mixes of them on disc two, while new single A Flower For Dandara also closes disc one. A tribute to a murdered Brazilian transsexual, it features guest vocals by Rose McDowall of Strawberry Switchblade and proves that today’s Bronski Beat has lost none of its lyrical edge. The Age of Reason is an unusual way to introduce the new line-up, but it works.

7/10