Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Obsession In (Ani)Motion

The 1985 hit ‘Obsession’ by Animotion, is arguably the quintessential 80s synth-pop song. With it’s atmospheric keyboards, stinging guitar riff, surging drum track and addictive chorus, the song just simply could not miss being a hit at the time of its release.

Animotion formed in Los Angeles during 1983 from the ashes of a retro sty
le sci-fi image act called Red Zone. At the heart of the band’s original line-up were vocalist Astrid Plane and guitarist/vocalist Bill Wadhams. Rounding out the band was bassist Charles Ottavio, keyboardist Paul Antonelli, and drummer Frenchy O’Brien. During the recording of their debut self titled album in 1984 (US#28), lead guitarist Don Kirkpatrick was added to the mix, and Greg Smith came in for Antonelli on keyboards. Note that Animotion’s debut album was released under the title ‘The Language Of Attraction’ in some markets, including Canada.

The lead out single was the brilliant ‘Obsession’. The music buying public formed their own obsession with the song, pushing it to #6 in the U.S. in early ‘85, #12 in Australia, #6 in Canada and #5 in the U.K., making it one of the biggest selling tracks globally during 1985. Animotion soon found themselves elevated from playing small L.A. clubs, to supporting Howard Jones at arena/stadium shows across the U.S., not to mention becoming the darlings of the MTV and American Bandstand set. The promotional video for ‘Obsession’ became a favourite on MTV, the lavish production boasting a character cast including a gladiator, samurai, and Cleopatra in a wild visual interpretation of the song lyrics.

The follow up single ‘Let Him Go’ was a relative disappointment in sales terms, only reaching US#39 and not impacting overseas. The band we
nt back into the studio to record their follow up set ‘Strange Behaviour’ (US#71/Ge#19/Sui#21) during 1986. Animotion then set off on a British/European tour during 1986/87 in an attempt to boost their profile and record sales, playing the Montreaux Rock Festival along the way, then returning to the U.S. to support fellow techno-pop exponents Depeche Mode on tour. The two single releases ‘I Engineer’ (US#76) and ‘I Want You’ (US#84) fell disappointingly short of the mark on the American charts, but thanks in part to the band‘s foray into Europe, both songs charted well in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, whilst ‘I Engineer’ reached #4 in South Africa. Soon after original drummer Frenchy O’Brien was replaced by former Shalamar sticks man Jim Blair.

But if the frustration caused by the lack of interest in their second album caused Animotion to be unsettled, the frictions that would arise to coincide with the recording of album #3, would shake the band to its very foundations. Changes at the
band’s label Polygram caused a split within Animotion’s ranks. Astrid Plane and Charles Ottavio both left to pursue other projects (they would marry each other in 1990). Bill Wadhams, Don Kirkpatrick and Greg Smith decided to carry on, but they needed a new female vocalist. Enter actress/dancer Cynthia Rhodes to act as the new charismatic focus for the band. Rhodes had recently appeared in the films ‘Staying Alive’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’, so it was thought her profile would be beneficial to the band’s resurgence.

The new focus on Rhodes as the centrepiece of Animotion didn’t sit well with Bill Wadhams, who promptly left the group. Kirkpatrick, Smith and Rhodes then recruited a new male vocalist in Paul Engelmann (formerly of Device - see
future post). The radically revamped Animotion released their third album, titled ‘Animotion (Room To Move)’. The album included the single ‘Room To Move’, which also featured in the hit comedy film ‘My Stepmother Is An Alien’. ‘Room To Move’ found room to reach #9 on the U.S. charts in early ‘89, giving Animotion their second, but final, top 10 hit. The follow up ‘Calling It Love’ (US#53) was a minor hit, but again politics entered the equation, soon after leading to the band splitting.

Kirkpatrick and Smith joined up with Wadhams to record some material with vocalist Marietta Waters in 1990, but the project never came to fruition. Over a decade later a Portland DJ was the driving force behind Animotion
reuniting as a live act. A reunion concert was held in February 2001, leading to the band becoming a regular live act on the retro circuit, often playing alongside the likes of Berlin (see earlier post) and Missing Persons (see future post). The current line-up of Animotion is still active on the touring front and according to their website is working on new material in the studio. It features original members Bill Wadhams, Astrid Plane, Charles Ottavio, Don Kirkpatrick and Greg Smith from the band’s most successful line-up, with drummer Kevin Rankin rounding out the group. All of the band’s ‘reunion’ members have been involved (and remain involved) in their own projects and working with other artists. Former keyboardist Paul Antonelli works in television but maintains contact with the other Animotion members.

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