Record Talkback - Perfect Couple
Eddie & Sunshine
A special feature where we review a new release and interview the artists at the same time. Mike Davies talked to Eddie & Sunshine about their latest album 'Perfect Strangers'.
Those with an open mind and taste that is not confined to the pages of today's fashion magazines, can hardly fail to agree that this album stands shoulder to shoulder with Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" as a fine example of sensibility using contemporary electronic sound. However, since Eddie & Sunshine have yet to enjoy the benefits of that all-important hit single, the lock-keepers who decide the content of daytime radio music output remain blissfully unaware that such excellence waits just a stylus away. Hopefully, the word that has been passed around the cult circuit over the last few months might finally find access to the vocabularies of the chart-makers once even a hint of these contents reaches those ivory towers.
Eddie Maelov and Sunshine Patterson are two self-effacing, quietly spoken and equally quietly determined artists who were once part of the starkly intense Gloria Mundi, creating sharp, industrial dance music long before Bauhaus had even picked up a German dictionary. Towards the end of GM's lifetime it became obvious that within the ranks a musical schism was emerging and the glorious (no pun) single "Y.Y." was strong evidence of the pop sense that lay at the creative heart of E&S. That was manifested following the rift, when Eddie & Sunshine emerged as a cabaret duo performing their (somewhat stylised) short, sharp songs in a warmingly endearing theatrical manner (against backing tapes) in a variety of temporarily fashionable, converted cellars and abandoned nightclubs. Now the fruits of that experience have found their way on to a debut album and the harvest is bountiful indeed.
Interestingly enough, considering their background with performance tapes, the album wasn't approached with that format in mind. "We went into the studio simply to make an album that was going to sound as interesting and as exciting as we could get it. I think it probably takes on a different appearance as a live show, but we just wanted to make an album of songs that pleased us and which were an expression of different aspects of Eddie & Sunshine. After we finished it, we thought about how we'd turn it into a show that would explain the songs and present them in a way that would give everyone the right feeling about Eddie & Sunshine. We took it into another dimension once we'd done the album, and live we've deliberately made it very clear at some points what we think particular songs are about, by introducing them and by facial expressions and the like. If we'd had the chance we'd have liked to have made a video album, but no one gave us the money." Were this still the age of patronage then they'd have no problems on that score.
The album opens up with the title track, "Perfect Strangers", and immediately establishes the commercial stance of the material — instant simplicity (though never crassly so) that is perhaps best exemplified by the spirited rhythms of "People Talk" or the almost 'bubblegum pop' of "There's Someone Following Me".
The song is built around a strong melody and an irresistable hook chorus, but in addition the extra substance to their work comes from the lyrical content. An obvious question must be their use of persona in creating the storylines. "I think it's inevitable, given that both Sunshine and I have theatrical backgrounds, that we're going to write songs from a performing point of view. I'll always be me and Sunshine will always be herself, but in order to make a point, although they're never completely theatrical songs, they are exaggerations of self. 'Perfect Strangers' was really a song I wanted to write to Sunshine, to explain myself to her through the song. 'People Talk' is literally to do with the problem we had, the problem that Sunshine was finding, taken a little bit further. It's the sort of thing people easily say about a couple of people like Sunshine and myself."
"Romance tends to be an idealised state... you can romanticize on an ideal of someone else, even if you have to put up with their personal habits."
One of the album's highlights and rapidly becoming a stage favourite is Sunshine's haunting "Live For Now", an evocative collection of images set over almost a hidden Cafe music melody a la French accordion. "That's mixing up the romantic idea again. Sunshine spent a lot of time in Brazil when she was younger and a lot of the images come from that. Brazil is a complete country of contrasts. There's real Tropical Romance, wonderful beaches and beautiful moonlit nights and on the other hand you've got the hyped-up Coca Cola American companies turning everything into an American way of life and also the starving poor in the shanty towns who sit and watch the Rolls Royces drive past. That's what that song is about. It's deliberately a bit kitsch in order to get across the feeling of that kitsch way of life and yet at the same time we wanted to make a song that was really beautiful because there are some really naturally beautiful things out there. We're getting a lot of people coming backstage and saying that it sent shivers down their spine. I'm pleased with that because it's quite a heartbreaking little number when it's done right."
"There's Someone Following Me" is a blatantly simple pop song complete with 60's organ sequences, inspired, it seems, by early Lou Reed, The Cars and Mink De Ville, "I wanted to create something that had a very straightforward chord progression. I just wanted a sort of strutting song to fit the idea of the lyric and to me that necessarily involved using 60's organ as the right thing to go with it." Aside from the undertones of paranoia that belie the infectious sunny melody, the song is also an example of the humour and subtle depth that they inject into their songs; here in the form of a final two lines in French, delivered in almost a nursery rhyme rhythm. "It's actually trying to hide a bit of a philosophical allusion. It seemed quite a good idea to make it very accessible by taking an idea that's a bit obscure and presenting it in an accessible way, so that people can pick it up. The lines actually mean 'the lobsters, the people that are shut away, Jean Paul Sartre's got away' and it's a reference to an obsession that Sartre had with lobsters. He was a very paranoid guy on the streets and he used to think that lobsters were following behind him at night. It's just saying here that if you feel people are following you there are greater people than you who have felt the same thing."
"We went into the studio simply to make an album that was going to sound as interesting and as exciting as we could get it. I think it probably takes on a different appearance as a live show."
By far my favourite track on the album must be "Train Of Thought" which could well be described as a European Talking Heads (early period) with it's persistent autobahn rhythms and blues-soul vocal overtones delivered along that relentless train drive. A similar feel comes across on the disco-oriented "Somewhere In Europe" which, in company with the potential new single "Fin des Vacances", highlights their tendency to use foreign language phrases (and a smattering of geographical references) in their songs, accentuating the European flavour of some of the melodies and rhythms. "I speak French quite well, as does Sunshine, and we both speak more or less two or three other languages. We feel quite European, where we are obviously very English. I think you need to be able to speak different languages, particularly if you think about developing communication. The kitsch side of it is the International Cabaret type of thing where the artists perform their thing in about five languages so that the tourists can understand. It seems to suit us down to the ground because we can actually do that. I enjoy talking to the French because they have a feel of their own which, by putting into a song you can use to create an atmosphere. And yet you can also take the piss out of the people that are doing that sort of thing in a very flat and bumbling sort of way."
One thing that the album definitely isn't, is flat and bumbling, and better yet it actually scores points on two levels. It is not only instantly accessible, but with the benefit of attention it unfolds to reveal intelligence, warmth and sensitivity in its lyrics, and although it doesn't have any conceptual theme there is a strong thematic continuity of mood in terms of emotional state, with a sense of emptiness and an acceptance of the perhaps inevitably fruitless search for a love to fill that void. "I think, in general, in all the songs there has been that sort of feeling at the back of some sort of search for something, which we're not quite sure of what it is. If there is an acceptance it's that the search goes on rather than that the search stops."
If on the other hand you're looking for an album of quality, depth and lasting reward, the search stops here. I just wish more people weren't so easily satisfied with less.
During June and July Eddie and Sunshine gave a series of shows at London's Boulevard Theatre, which included live interviews and songs from their album presented in the format of "Living Television". Afterwards Eddie explained that "the backing tape is a mixdown of the sessions for the album, with a couple of keyboard parts and most of the vocals left off. The live keyboard parts — played on a Casio MT-31 and Roland SH-2 — consisted of whatever we could fit in between the mime parts: it's funny that people won't accept that we did our own backing tape unless they see us playing something live. The whole show, like the band Gloria Mundi, was an experiment in combining performance and music; we started doing this sort of thing in the punk era with a lot of audience confrontation, mock hangings and so on, but now we've settled on a 20's/30's image which allows us to balance the high-tech side against a softer romantic feeling. We're hoping to do this sort of show on television and have been talking to a lot of production companies, and we'll be working on a new album perhaps with softer romantic piano sounds balanced against the harsher electronics. We've been compared to the Eurythmics, and I suppose we can fit an 'electro-pop' slot, but what we really share is the hard edge to the image".
Interview by Mike Davies
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