❉ Viva la diva! Ange Chan on the alt-pop icon’s fifth solo album.
Some of you will remember Wendy James from her heyday in the 1980s with her band Transvision Vamp. She was the ultimate blonde-haired, sexy singer that most of my male peers (and some female ones too) wanted to be with; the uber-pop-star-fantasy-girl of my generation, right up there with Debbie Harry and Kim Wilde. Their huge hit was Baby I Don’t Care, which reached the Top 3 in the late 1980s, with its punk pop sensibility and “don’t mess with me” lyrics, which shook things up in the pop charts at a time when it was beginning to lose its direction.
When Transvision Vamp split, James sought advice from Elvis Costello who promptly wrote an album’s worth of songs for her, resulting in the album Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears. Due to its poor sales, James fell out of the mainstream music, scene working on some smaller-scale projects with her band Racine; she wrote two albums with them until they too disbanded in 2008. Fast forward to 2019 when The Wendy James Band supported the Psychedelic Furs, promoting her new album Queen High Straight, released May 2020.
The album itself is a whopping 20-track affair which ranges from sweet and softly sung to raucous pop punk, and back again. The album opens with the title track and is reminiscent of a track by Saint Etienne or Dubstar, but as we move deeper into the album, you can detect the ‘don’t care’ attitude which pervaded James earlier career. This starts with Perilous Beauty, in which James candidly sings “sometimes I sound like gravel, sometimes I sound like coffee and cream”.
Free Man Walk is a great Dubstar-esque track with a middle eight worthy of The Divine Comedy. Stomp Down Snuck Up has a psychedelic Sixties Summery vibe which continues into Little Melvin and later in the album A Heart Breaking Liar’s Promise and Bliss Hotel. Marlene and Fleur has a carefree, French vibe evocative of Jane Birkin, with accordion backing. Chicken Street, the charmingly titled Ratfucker, Freak In and Impression of Normalcy share a gutteral, rockier, guitar-led vibe and this is more or less continued to the end of the album.
It’s difficult to place this album under a cohesive banner and say ‘it’s this’ or ‘it’s that’ because it covers so many genres and styles. You can definitely hear the influences of Bacharach & David in the poppier tunes, whilst James’ love of Iggy and The Stooges have surely influenced her for the punkier tracks. I feel it’s two albums under one title, which is why it’s a little confusing in places. Notwithstanding the musical conundrum presented by James, there are some great songs contained within Queen High Straight, even if they do appear to be a little out of context at times.
I’d recommend this album to any music lover, because of its diversity there is sure to be something for everyone contained within its vast array of catchy tunes.
❉ Wendy James: ‘Queen High Straight’ is available as a 20 track deluxe gatefold double vinyl, gatefold deluxe CD, regular CD and Digital Download/Streaming via https://thewendyjames.com/store. Social: SPOTIFY | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | SOUNDCLOUD
❉ Ange Chan is a frequent contributor to We Are Cult and has written two novels and six volumes of poetry. She is currently working on her third novel Champagne Flues and Pixie Boots.