Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Space Race Finishes On A Blue Day

Mi-Sex decided to stick with the whole futuristic, high-technology theme (and style) on their next single ‘People’. The lyrics dealt with cloning and genetic engineering - pretty cutting edge stuff for 1980 - and Gilpin’s spoken word ‘Are You A Clone?’, followed by a tortured scream, was a memorable moment. ‘People’ populated the Australian charts during March 1980, and before mid year had peaked at #6 (NZ#3). It was the first track lifted from Mi-Sex’s sophomore album ‘Space Race’, released shortly after. The album became the band’s biggest seller, peaking at #5 in Australia, and exchanging pleasantries with Split Enz’s mammoth selling ‘True Colours’ set, atop the New Zealand charts. CBS launched a massive marketing campaign in support of the ‘Space Race’ album, centred around the slogan ‘Are You A Clone?…No, I’m in the Space Race’, and ensuring every record bar and venue across Australasia had its very own little rubber mannequin alien, as featured on the album’s cover. The album was sitting atop the New Zealand charts just in time for Mi-Sex’s triumphant homecoming tour, which attracted added publicity when then New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon attended one of the shows on invitation. It was related to an ongoing issue of popular music records being slapped with a 40% sales tax in New Zealand at the time.

The album’s title track ‘Space Race’ got the green flag for chart action during June 1980, and peaked at #28 in Australia (NZ#19), though a third single ‘It Only Hurts When I’m Laughing’ in late ‘80, became the first Mi-Sex song to be restricted to an outer orbit of the charts (OZ#84), and it signalled that the first misfires in the Mi-Sex machine were beginning to occur. Over the course of the next six months Mi-Sex kept up the touring schedule across Australia and New Zealand, but the music-scape was evolving at a frenetic rate, and by early ‘81, the likes of Split Enz, INXS, Cold Chisel, and an up and coming Melbourne band by the name of Men At Work, had pushed Mi-Sex several notches down the Australasian pop-rock pecking order. Audiences at their live shows had stopped growing, and if anything were on the decline, as illustrated by a return gig to the Sweetwaters venue in New Zealand during January of ‘81. Soon after Mi-Sex re-entered the recording studio, this time with producers John Sayers and Dave Marett, to record tracks for their third album. The lead out single ‘Falling In And Out’ fell into the Australian charts during May ‘81, but only made it to the entry point of the top 20, and fared relatively poorly in New Zealand (#48). The album ‘Shanghaied’ was well received by critics, but unfortunately Mi-Sex had ceased to be the flavour of the month on the Australasian pop-rock scene, and it was reflected in sales for the album (OZ#28) in late ‘81. ‘Shanghaied’ spawned two more singles, ‘Missing Person’ and the title track, but neither found a home on the charts. By late ‘81 all the hype was focussed on Men At Work, and by comparison Mi-Sex were less futuristic, and more like yesterday’s news.

During November ‘81 Mi-Sex also experienced the first shake up in their ranks for over three years, when drummer Richard Hodgkinson was replaced by Paul Dunningham (ex-Coup D’Etat). Hodgkinson opted to join a small Sydney based outfit called Silent Movies, alongside a guitarist by the name of Colin Bayley, who himself would soon gravitate to planet Mi-Sex. 1982 didn’t see the release of a new Mi-Sex album, but the band managed to maintain a reasonable profile with their next two singles. ‘Castaway’ introduced a more mainstream pop-rock flavour to Mi-Sex’s musical munitions, and whilst it still featured a strong synthesizer/guitar mix, the song’s lyrics were a bit more ‘human’ and accessible in pop terms. ‘Castaway’ found its way to #23 on the Australian charts, but by now it appeared New Zealand had thumbed its nose at the Mi-Sex formula. ‘Down The Line (Making Love On The Telephone)’ dialled up #37 on the Australian charts late in ‘82, but all things considered the Mi-Sex machine was showing some signs of mechanical wear and tear.

At the end of 1982 the band was dealt a body blow when founding guitarist Kevin Stanton was forced to take an extended break from band duties due to ongoing ill health. Ted ‘The Head’ Yanni came on board for the first half of 1983, and following Stanton’s return in April ‘83, Yanni stayed on until July, when ex-Silent Movies guitarist Colin Bayley joined the band, leaving Mi-Sex with two guitarists in the mix. Around that time they released the single ‘Lost Time’, but the song found neither a high place or prolonged tenure on the Australian charts (#57).

American producer Bob Clearmountain, who had already worked with the Church and Divinyls, was enlisted to try and get the wheels turning for a new Mi-Sex album in late ‘83. ‘Where Do They Go?’ could have been more aptly titled ‘Where Did They Go?’, because in the six months leading up to its release in November ‘83, Mi-Sex had all but disappeared from the scene. The lead out single ‘Only Thinking’ barely scratched out a top fifty spot (OZ#48), but by comparison to sales for the album (OZ#80), it was a relatively major hit. On the ebb and flow cycle of things, 1983 had been one long drawn out ebb tide for Mi-Sex. But they had one more slice of brilliance left to deliver up to their fans. In March ‘84 Mi-Sex co-hosted an episode of ‘Countdown’ (from memory alongside QED’s Jenny Morris - see future post) - you could always count on Molly and the crew to throw a struggling artist a lifeline. Mi-Sex performed their new single ‘Blue Day’ on the show, and maybe it was just the boost the brilliant synth-pop song needed to snag the audience it so richly deserved. ‘Blue Day’ featured one of the most hauntingly eerie synth-riffs I’ve heard, and it’s atmospheric lure hooked enough listeners to push it to #24 in Australia (NZ#36), and even flirt with the lower reaches of the Billboard charts. But despite the ‘Where Do They Go?’ album moving Mi-Sex consciously toward a more accessible 80s pop style, it failed to find the band a new audience, and worse still the band’s established audience had seemingly deserted the Mi-Sex cause. The band’s follow up single ‘Five O’Clock (In The Morning)’, missed the charts altogether, confirming Mi-Sex’s glory days where over.

By the end of 1984 Mi-Sex had called it a day, going from bona fide pop-rock superstars to the end of the road in the space of just a few years - still that’s a longer tilt at the top than most artists manage. In 1985 the medley single ‘Non Stop Sex’ was released, followed by the compilation album ‘79-85’, which sold in good numbers (#46), and featured a selection of material representative of just how damn good Mi-Sex were at the peak of their powers. Singer Steve Gilpin remained in Australia and worked with a number of bands including Under Rapz. In November 1991 Gilpin was returning home following an Under Rapz gig, when he was involved in a serious car accident. He lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered, and sadly died in January ‘92. Shortly after Gilpin’s death, a benefit concert was organised to aid his family. Held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, the likes of Midnight Oil and Noiseworks performed at the show, reflecting the high esteem both Gilpin, and Mi-Sex, were held in by the Australasian music community.


Wolvie Girl said...

I was a big Mi-Sex fan in my early(ish) teens, and had crushes on first Steve, then Murray :)

Thanks for the posts, they've brought back heaps of memories.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

You're welcome 'Wolvie Girl' :-)