Transvision Vamp - Pop Art / Velveteen
If you weren't around in the 80s, let me tell you a little about Transvision Vamp. An otherwise all-male band fronted by Wendy James, a proto-Courtney Love figure, prone to rash statements – including but not limited to betting a journalist that she’d win an Oscar, and claiming that she’d be more famous than Madonna. Neither of which came to pass, and their career barely lasted into the next decade.
Their debut, Pop Art begins with a robotic voice and a promising glam stomp before descending into some bog-standard 80s synth. While there’s some joy to be found in the mindless bubblegum of 'Psychosonic Cindy', 'Revolution Baby'’s basic boogie has more than a hint of The Quo. A guttural scream heralds the arrival of their finest single, 'Baby I Don’t Care', and the associated album, Velveteen. A mixed bag, it boasts some killer pop hooks but suffers from somewhat weedy production.
They’re at their best when they’re dishing out chunky chords and big choruses on the likes of 'I Want Your Love', but at their worst when they’re pretentious, as on Velveteen’s ridiculous nine minute title track, or Pop Art’s vapid and cringe inducing 'Andy Warhol’s Dead'.
Their career trajectory post Velveteen was such that the third album, Little Magnets versus the Bubble of Babble never saw a domestic release, and isn’t included with these reissues, which feels like something of a missed opportunity. Coming 22 years after their split, these reissues seem a little apropos of nothing, but with 36 bonus tracks over the two editions, there’s plenty for fans to get their teeth into. For those hoping for an opening on whatever vaults TV might have, there will be disappointment. While almost all of the bonus material is currently out of print (some appears on a previous collection, 2002’s Baby I Don’t Care), only the Andy Kershaw sessions tacked on to the end of Pop Art are actually unreleased. The rest is comprised of the various b-sides from the singles for each era (hence the demo for 'Sex Kick' is included with Velveteen despite being from Pop Art), much in the manner of last year’s Sleeper re-issues. Comprehensive, yet uninspiring.
Characters like Wendy James are always welcome additions to the world of pop – self-assured to a fault and not scared to make it known, but time hasn’t been kind to Transvision Vamp’s back catalogue. In part, that’s down to the production style of the 80s (the bonus remixes are so 80s it hurts), but equally they were never particularly lyrically inspired or musically innovative, preferring to magpie pop, glam, rock, punk and bubblegum, and tracks like the stripped down 'Walk On By' just serve to expose James’ vocal limitations.
These reissues are a decent one-stop shop for the nostalgic and represent good value, but are unlikely to lead to any critical reappraisal of their work.