❉ We chat with Neal Whitmore aka Neal X about the 4CD reissue of ‘Flaunt It!’
“Being in an extraordinary, out of control Rock ‘n’ Roll band was an absolutely brilliant, mind-blowing experience for a naïve 25-year-old back in the ’80s. It was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. Just totally mad, brilliant fun! If there’s a better way to mis-spend your twenties, I’m yet to hear of it!” – Neal X, lead guitarist.
In the mid-1980s Tony James, formerly of Generation X, formed a unique band from a collection of previously unknown musicians who individually had a Rock’n’Roll sensibility, and fused them together collectively in a melange of psycho-rockabilly, punk, and pop culture samples galore. Their song themes were modernism, commercialism and their vision of a super-sleek future. Their first album Flaunt It! pushed the envelope of every musical genre, utilising those themes to stratospheric levels. Neal X, lead guitarist with the band said, “We got a lot of media attention straight away but of course had no idea if it would lead to anything. We had high hopes but it was all on a wing and a prayer.“
Cherry Red have issued a 4CD re-issue of Flaunt It! which is credited to being co-produced by band members Neal X and Tony James, re-mastered from the original master tapes. Their first single and the first track on the album Love Missile F1-11 literally stormed in the pop charts in 1986 cutting through the MOR songs that dominated the charts at the time and in doing so they became the Sex Pistols for the 1980s, shaking things up and making as much noise about it as they could.
Says Neal, “You have to remember that the music scene in the mid 80s was very stale. The brilliant, innovative early pioneers of electro pop had kind of disappeared. Punk was over. Glam rock was completely dead. Everything seemed suddenly very bland and mainstream in Thatcher’s Britain. Sigue Sigue Sputnik were miles away from everything else going on. We looked VERY different. We talked about different stuff. We sounded different“.
SSS were hyped up to the media to the absolute max, and a combination of blind ambition and skillful PR turned them into a 1980s publicity sensation, before a single note had even been played. They were subsequently courted by major labels and TV studios, became regulars on London’s social scene, and developed a reputation for a combination of guaranteed over the top grandiosity and chaos wherever they went. The mainstream tabloids loved them!
They had the skilful backing of Italian composer Giorgio Moroder, ‘Godfather of Disco’ and producer extraordinaire of cutting-edge tracks like Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Love to Love you Baby. After discovering Summer, Moroder went on to compose a number of scores for internationally successful films like Midnight Express, American Gigolo, Scarface, Cat People and The Never Ending Story among many others. The decision to work with a band like SSS, a previously unknown quantity, therefore seems somewhat leftfield. Says Neal X, “He absolutely ripped our little British idea apart, and rebuilt it as a widescreen global blockbuster smash hit“.
The PR push stated that SSS were the first band to ever secure a million dollar record deal. However, this was all part of the hype, as in reality it was one third of that amount.
Along with Moroder, the band crafted together a club-orientated, rock’n’roll electronica sound, meets familiar guitar licks, glamorous lyrics and an overall futuristic aesthetic. It had all the PR and marketing thrown at it which they wholeheartedly embraced with aplomb. The album included samples of paid-for adverts of the time in between tracks, a concept which was unique. The marketing boasted somewhat boldly, The Ultimate Product from the Ultimate Group, and you believed it whether or not you wanted to.
The 4CD set contains not only the re-mastered original album but also a disc of remixes, a disc of B-sides and rarities including previously unreleased tracks and finally a disc of live recordings from the legendary Abbey Road Studios.
Listening to disc one, the re-mastered Flaunt It! album, you’re instantly taken on a wild journey of neon consumerism and fast-paced ‘scream if ya wanna go faster’ sensibility with the opening track Love Missile F1-11 (Re-recording Part II) which later received the ultimate accolade of being covered by David Bowie during the sessions for his 2003 album, Reality.
Track two Atari Baby softens the pace down into a dreamy psychedelic ballad and this is as serene as the album gets. The pace is quickly resumed with aplomb with Sex Bomb Boogie and that familiar SSS rhythmic base line carrying you through the energy of the track. Whereas Rockit Miss USA relies on a number of fast-paced guitars and is concluded with the first advertisement of the album, in an effort of self-promotion for The Sputnik Corporation. This is followed by their other major single Twenty First Century Boy, prefaced with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Massive Retaliation is a slightly less frenetic offering, but strong on electronica without compromising any of the SSS sensibility. Punctuated with more advertisements, Teenage Thunder resumes the chaotic vibe, overlaid with samples aplenty. Reaching the end of the album, She’s my Man is pure rock n roll glam filled with transsexual triple-entendres over stonking guitars and double-time electro drums. The final act of commercialism is shamelessly for EMI Records, which was unintentionally a portent of post-millennial selfie/promotion of social network platforms of today.
Interview: Neal X
I caught up with Neal Whitmore aka Neal X to ask him about this re-issue…
Hi Neal and thanks for talking to me.
You’re welcome Ange.
What were you doing before SSS?
I’m a child of the 1960s. I’ve been fortunate to grow up through the golden age of pop – the best and most exciting times in music. Since I first heard The Beatles’ She Loves You at age 3. I’ve loved music. When I saw Bowie, T. Rex and Alice Cooper on Top Of The Pops as a teenager I wanted to play guitar and be a Rock’n’Roll star. I was given a Spanish guitar by my grandmother at 15 and taught myself to play. I was in bands at school but nothing serious until I hooked up with Tony James and we put SSS together.
Which is your favourite SSS track and why?
It’s gotta be the 12” Ultraviolence mix of Love Missile F1-11. We’d had trouble finding the right producer for our debut record. We told EMI we’d only make a record if Prince or Bowie produced it as we thought they were both miles ahead of the pack.
Our A&R man suggested Giorgio Moroder which we thought was inspired – and a bit intimidating. However, Giorgio was absolutely great to work with. Really fast, talented, creative, decisive and funny. We made the 7” single in London then Giorgio took the tapes back his studio in Los Angeles and he put together the 12” mix. It still sounds fresh and great on the rare occasions I hear it today.
Do you think that SSS influences have carried through to your current music making, e.g. The Loveless?
Not so much SSS influences but the stuff I grew up listening to and loving. Bowie and T. Rex gave way to Iggy and The Stooges and Lou Reed, then Punk then I looked back at where all this stuff had come from and got into early Elvis, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. That stuff you fall in love with when you’re young stays with you forever.
Are there any The Loveless projects planned for next year (when the lockdown situation is hopefully in a better place than it already is)? Any planned recordings that you’re at liberty to tell us about?
We’ve been planning to record all year but circumstances keep getting in the way. We’ve all got other stuff on so it’s been difficult to co-ordinate recording sessions especially during lockdown. We do hope to have something ready for release this year…. Watch this space!
Where in the world is your largest fan base? Why do you think that it?
We always did well in Latin countries – Italy, Spain, Brazil, Portugal. Dunno why… Perhaps the people are less inhibited than us Northern Europeans? And Japan – I played a couple of verses of Love Missile F1-11 while on tour in Japan earlier this year with Marc Almond and the crowd went absolutely wild! Frankly I’m amazed and very grateful that anyone is still listening and that we still have a fan base anywhere.
Where does the SSS fascination with Japan stem from?
Well Japan is fascinating isn’t it? It always seemed so different and exciting – futuristic, exotic, alien, glamorous. It was always a dream to visit and I’ve been a few times now. It’s an amazing experience and the food is to die for….
Was it as fun from the inside looking out, as it was for us on the outside looking in?
I wouldn’t change a thing! Being in an extraordinary, out of control Rock ‘n’ Roll band was an absolutely brilliant, mind blowing experience for a naive 25 year old back in the ’80s. It was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. It’s hard to think of anything that could compare.
There were down times – personality clashes, out of control egos, drunken rages, drug madness, tears, tantrums and the flashing of police car lights but that was a part of the whole surreal experience. No regrets. Just totally mad, brilliant fun!
We never made any money but made such great memories – for the band themselves and the people around us. I’m so glad we did it… I knew it couldn’t last and it didn’t, but who cares? If there’s a better way to mis-spend your twenties, I’m yet to hear of it!
Neal, you’re credited with co-producing this re-issue… Is that something you enjoy doing?
Well actually I wasn’t that involved with the re-issue of Flaunt It. Tony James helped with the compilation and wrote the sleeve notes and I was consulted on the audio. I was happy to let the guys at Cherry Red take the lead and they’ve done a great job. It’s all so far in the past for me it’s better to have a fresh eyes and ears put it all together. It’s a lovely package. I’m very pleased with it.
It’s especially good to hear the Live at Abbey Road CD. We did a gig in the legendary Abbey Road Studio 1 and filmed it for the Love Missile F1-11 video in December 1985. I mixed the whole gig with Hadyn Bentall, the chief engineer at Abbey Road, back in the day but not heard it since that day.
Do you know if any other SSS albums will be given a similar treatment to the Flaunt It re-issue?
I would hope if this one does well there’ll be a similar one for Dress for Excess. We have a new deal so I guess it’s likely. Be afraid!
Thanks Neal, its been a pleasure talking to you.
No problem Ange. All the best.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik brought their crossover energy and bold audio/visuals crashing unapologetically into the mainstream, and this 4 CD set makes it both a collector’s piece for fans of the band, and believers of the glittering future they promised. It delivers on every level and is uniquely both of its moment in the mid-1980s, and a foretelling of what the 21st Century would be like. Welcome to the future!
❉ Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Flaunt It, 4CD Deluxe (CDXRED821) Released October 9, 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £19.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.