Swing Out Sister - It's Better To Travel (expanded edition)

In a Guardian article four years ago, the journalist argued that the most creative, provocative pop music is made during times of economic strife. In contrast, the boom years of Thatcherism gave us reactionary pop such as Stock, Aitken and Waterman and Swing Out Sister.

In this case,Swing Out Sister were unfortunate, if not undeserving, fall guys. Certainly they represented a style of pop that could have only come out of that era, the retrospectively named ‘sophisti-pop’: a very 80s brand of slick, synthetic, fashion-conscious faux soul. As such, it’s quite easy to label it as a reactionary yuppie soundtrack. But much of the sophisti-pop of that era leaned towards the Left: the Blow Monkeys’ Dr Robert and the Style Council’s Paul Weller toured with Red Wedge, while Hue & Cry’s ‘Labour of Love’ was a statement of disillusionment with the Thatcherite dream.

Still, Swing Out Sister never pinned their colours to the mast. Listening to their 1986 breakout number, er… ‘Breakout’ (a hit in both the UK and US), you could certainly interpret it as a paean to individualism (‘You’ve got to find a way / Say what you want to say / Breakout’), but the lyrics are so vague that the song could just as easily be used to advertise a hair product (which it did).

Despite its vapid lyrics, ‘Breakout’ is one of the standout tracks on Swing Out Sister's debut album, It’s Better to Travel (no 1 in 1987), reissued here in a two-disc edition. The album itself has dated badly, plagued by the era’s reliance on synthetic bass, horns and drum machines. Singer Corinne Drewery’s vocals fair a little better, delivered in a sultry tone pitched between Sade and Lisa Stansfield, particularly on the torch songs ‘After Hours’ and ‘Communion’, which highlight the group’s love affair with jazz that would become more prominent on later releases. It’s these lesser-known moments that are the strongest, such as the Prince-style guitar on ‘It’s Not Enough’ or the cimbalom on the instrumental ‘Theme From It’s Better To Travel’, but they are marred by oh-so-80s production values.

This problem extends to the bonus b-sides and remixes. Most 80s pop remixes consisted of extended drum breaks or an instrumental dub, rather than radical reconstructions. So we get three not wholly dissimilar remixes of ‘Breakout’, including one subtitled ‘A New Rockin' Version’ (which it isn’t) and another, ‘Horny Mix’ (which it is - replacing vocals for horns). For completists, this two-disc edition does its job, but unlike other recent reissues of similar vintage (Paul Simon’s Graceland, for example), time hasn’t been as kind to It’s Better to Travel.



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