Sometimes one great pop track is enough to carry an entire album. Rarely is this true, but with Glaswegian New Wave band Altered Images’ debut album ‘Happy Birthday’ nothing has been more right.
Clare Grogan’s twee little voice cuts through the soul like a razor. She’s like a child cooing through a misty fog of 80’s dreams.
When the band opens ‘Love & Kisses’ it feels so good on the skin. Much of the rest of the track listing is quite heavy in comparison. If heavy isn’t the word, then it certainly is gloomy. ‘Legionaire’ drones on in glory, but the lighter moments are still superior.
Side two opens with the single ‘Happy Birthday.’ What begins with a simple xylophone and a greeting from Grogan, the song literally explodes into sugary pop perfection. The guitar chimes and tinkles.
The single, though, is in juxtaposition to the rest of the album, which remains in a very droning post-punk vein. This was probably to do with the two different producers: the single was produced by Human League producer Martin Rushnet while Steven Severin of Siouxsie & the Banshees did the remainder of the tracks.
Admittedly, Rushnet may have served the band better. The success of the single outshines most of the album, which is still good but just not as great. ‘Gloomy’ isn’t a dirty word, but songs like ‘Leave Me Alone’ seem to struggle and drag on (as the lyrics say, ‘on and on and on and on’).
Gorgan’s voice isn’t typical of the band’s genre, but that’s one of the more interesting aspects of the sound. ‘A Days Wait’ begins like a long instrumental that could be off an early Cure album it’s so gloomy and atmospheric. Instead of a man’s voice, the cartoonish girl pops through again.
Booking ending the album with a ‘Happy Birthday’ intro and outro is a clear wave of greeting and a goodbye. It’s clear what the gem of the album is, even when it’s as good as this one. When the final chime of the xylophone dies away, it leaves a sense of happiness beyond the gloom.