Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Love An Adventure - A Pseudo Adventure

Though Pseudo Echo had ascended to the very summit of the Australian pop music scene during the first half of ‘84, the second half proved less lucrative for the quartet. Their last couple of singles had stiffed on the charts, and in October of ‘84 they experienced the first upheaval in their ranks, with the departure of synth player Tony Lugton, who was basically shown the door by the rest of the band (he went on to play with low profile bands Propaganda and Talk That Walk). Sixteen year old James Leigh was added on synth/keyboard duties (in answer to a classifieds ad), and by June of ’85 Pseudo Echo had returned to the recording studio to begin work on a follow up album. The band had also signed with Glenn Wheatley’s management company, joining Real Life on the roster. The lead out single took some time to surface, but in October of ‘85, ‘Don’t Go’, reminded Australian audiences what all the fuss was about. Co-written by Canham and Leigh, ‘Don’t Go’ featured a hypnotic and pulsating synth-riff that hooked your aural functions and compelled you to listen until the song unleashed its catchy synth-pop chorus. ‘Don’t Go’ matched the chart performance of ‘Listening’, and became Pseudo Echo’s second national #4 in late ‘85. Drummer Anthony Argiro stayed with the band throughout the recording sessions for their sophomore album, but left the group just prior to the release of the album in November of ‘85 (reportedly due to the pressures of being in a mega successful pop group), but did continue to play with several bands over the years. James Leigh’s older brother Vince (ex-Marginal Era) was brought in to fill the void for upcoming promotional duties and live touring, which included a national tour with Uncanny X-Men (see future post). The album was recorded at Platinum Studios and co-produced by American Mark S. Berry, and Canham himself, who was growing increasingly fascinated (and adept) with the production side of the recording process. ‘Love An Adventure’ hit the Australian charts in November of ‘85, going on to peak at #8 nationally in December.

The album’s title track, ‘Love An Adventure’, was another first rate synth-pop number, featuring a beefed up sound that would become indicative of Canham’s growing confidence as a writer, arranger and producer. ‘Love An Adventure’ trekked all the way to a peak of #6 on the Australian national charts in early ‘86, confirming that Pseudo Echo were much more than one album wonders. The follow up single, ‘Living In A Dream’, was boosted by a promo clip that was a hoot, and reflected a band that, not only didn’t take themselves too seriously, but were confident enough in their own musicianship to take the mickey out of themselves. The track burst into life with a crunching guitar riff, before the synths kicked into action, and further confirmed a change in dynamic for Pseudo Echo - from straight up synth-pop act to a band exploring gutsier pop-rock territory (the band’s attire also reflected this with jeans and leather jackets getting a look in). ‘Living In A Dream’ had actually been written by Canham pre-‘Autumnal Park’, and had been originally slated for single release earlier in ’85. Upon its eventual release the single notched up a #15 result on the charts mid year, and boosted sales for the ‘Love An Adventure’ sale to platinum level in Australia (70000 plus). The final single lifted, the double A-side ‘Try/Lonely Without You’, couldn’t sustain the momentum (OZ#60), but plans were already underway to launch an all out assault on the U.S. market.

Throughout the course of ‘86, Pseudo Echo and their management searched for a label to support their global assault, and eventually came to terms with RCA. During October of ‘86, Canham travelled to the U.S. to aid in preparations for the proposed U.S. release of the ‘Love An Adventure’ album. With the release date pushed back, the band took the decision to record a fresh single to fill in the gap - well kind of fresh. For some time Pseudo Echo had been playing a rockified version of the disco classic ‘Funky Town’ as part of their live encore. ‘Funky Town’ had originally surged to #1 in both the U.S. and Australia during 1980 (UK#2), for the studio disco act Lipps Inc. (see future post). Canham and co. were reticent at first to release their hard rocking cover version of a disco classic, but their initial misgivings would have been eased when the song was released in Australia during December of ‘86. Produced by Brian Canham, Pseudo Echo’s version matched the performance of the original, and surged to #1 on the Australian charts just three weeks after its debut. ‘Funky Town’ spent a mammoth seven weeks atop the Oz charts before eventually being knocked off the peak in early February (by the Bangles ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ - see future post).

‘Funky Town’ was added to the track listing for the January ‘87 U.S. release of the repackaged ‘Love An Adventure’ album, which also featured remixed (rockier) versions of three tracks from ‘Autumnal Park’ - ‘Listening’, ‘A Beat For You’, and ‘Destination Unknown’ - a not uncommon practice for the Stateside release of Australian albums. In March of ‘87, ‘Living In A Dream’ made a minor impact on the U.S. Hot 100 (#57), as Pseudo Echo embarked on a frenetic promotional/live tour of the U.S. The track sparked a moderate amount of interest in the band, but the release of ‘Funky Town’ suddenly propelled Pseudo Echo into the big time. The track debuted on the U.S. Hot 100 during May of ‘87, and by mid year was sitting at #6 (UK#8/Ca#2/Ge#20). In some respects the runaway success of ‘Funky Town’ was probably more of a curse than blessing, in terms of Pseudo Echo’s prospects overseas. The song was reflective of the direction Canham was trying to push the band, that is, a more melodic commercial rock vein, but it was a world away from the band’s stylistic roots. The repackaged ‘Love An Adventure’ album notched up respectable sales in the U.S. (#54), but the remixed classics such as ‘Listening’ failed to build on the initial surge of interest, and the classic ‘Don’t Go’ wasn’t even included. Whilst Pseudo Echo were busy trying to conquer the U.S., EMI at home tended to the local fans with the release of the remix album ‘Long Plays 83-87’ (OZ#44), in May of ‘87. The band returned mid year for an Australasian tour, and to collect two gongs at the annual Countdown Music Awards (‘Most Popular Band’ and ‘Most Popular Male Performer’), beating out the likes of INXS in the process. The remainder of the year saw Pseudo Echo balancing at home and o/s touring commitments (which included a local tour with Geisha - see previous post). During October of ‘87, they rounded out a stellar year by winning the prestigious Yamaha World Popular Music Contest, held in Japan, with the song ‘Take On The World’. Pseudo Echo had indeed taken on the world, and for now, had emerged as conquerors.

You have to give credit to Brian Canham and the band for not being content to rest on their laurels at that point. Canham was keen to further embrace a move toward an edgier, melodic pop-metal sound, drawing on the likes of contemporary Bon Jovi and Hagar era Van Halen for partial inspiration. The problem with any artist reinventing themselves is the risk of alienating an already established, and previously loyal, fan base, and in part Pseudo Echo faced that issue with their third full studio album. A crack production team was assembled, in the form of producer Julian Mendelsohn (worked with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Go West, Pet Shop Boys), and sound engineer Bob Clearmountain (Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen), and the album sessions took around ten weeks to complete over the first part of ‘88. But as often happens, it took months for the label suits to agree over the final mix treatment of the album, with the band’s wishes rendered to secondary. Canham and co-producer Mendelsohn had originally intended to retain some of the dance oriented synth-pop style that had surfaced on ‘Funky Town’, but apparently the label overruled them and directed a more straight up commercial rock mix be released.

In November of ‘88, the lead out single ‘Fooled Again’ hit the airwaves, and Pseudo Echo hit television screens, looking barely recognisable in relation to their earlier ‘New Romantic’ inspired incarnation. The long flowing metal hair was in, as were jeans, bandanas, and leather jackets - it was not an image that Canham would look on with fondness in hindsight. ‘Fooled Again’ (OZ#32), as a stand alone effort, was a pretty decent pop-rock track, but from the opening crunches of guitar it was clearly out of synch with what Pseudo Echo had done to that point. There was nothing adventurous, or playful, about it - it was safe commercial brand arena pop-rock. Sales for the source album, ‘Race’ (#18), were respectable enough, but doubtless the compromised style contributed to Pseudo Echo being consigned to somewhat of a stylistic no-man’s land by fans and critics alike. Early in ‘89, the follow up single, ‘Over Tomorrow’ (OZ#41), represented Pseudo Echo’s final foray into the Australian charts.

In the wash up to the ‘Race’ experience, a disillusioned and disgruntled Brian Canham decided to end the Pseudo Echo adventure in December of ‘89. The Leigh brothers both went on to play with Tina Arena’s band for a brief period, before forming their own band, Vertigo, in 1996, along with older brother Gerry (guitar), and vocalist Hugh Wilson. Vertigo scored a minor hit in 1997 with the single ‘Forever Lately’ (OZ#46). Bassist Pierre Pierre played with a variety of bands over the course of the 90s, including Diamond Dogs and the covers outfit All The Young Dudes. It was a natural progression for Canham to move into fulltime production duties, and among those artists who benefited from his production skills were Chocolate Starfish, who scored a major hit album, and several top forty singles during the mid 90s. In 1997, Canham formed a new band called Brill, a collaborative project with Chocolate Starfish drummer Darren Danielson, who released a self titled album (which included an impressive cover of the old Bob Welch hit ‘Ebony Eyes’).

A couple of years previous, EMI had released the compilation album ‘Best Adventures’, and by the late 90s, all that was best about the early to mid 80s was once again deemed fashionable. On New Year’s Eve 1997, Canham joined Pierre on stage with a revamped Pseudo Echo line-up, which included Darren Danielson and ex-Badloves keyboardist Tony Featherstone. Over the ensuing year, Canham balanced duties with Brill along with an increasing demand for more Pseudo Echo ‘reunion’ shows. During 1999, Canham began to pen new material for Pseudo Echo’s live shows, and in November the first new Pseudo Echo release in ten years hit the stores. The EP ‘Funkytown Y2K: RMX’, featured six remixes of, you guessed it, ‘Funky Town’. Shortly after, Pseudo Echo struck a deal with the indie label Colossal Records, and recorded an album of new material, ‘Teleporter’, in 2000. Canham, Pierre, and Danielson were joined by new synth player Ben Grayson for the project. ‘Teleporter’ featured four new tracks, five remixed tracks, and a full live show recorded in Melbourne (including the full ‘Autumnal Park’ album). The album allowed Canham to reclaim some of the synth-pop ground lost to him during the ‘Race’ experience. In the ensuing years, Brian Canham has still had occasion to write and produce work for other artists, whilst Pseudo Echo have gone from strength to strength as a live act on the ever popular nostalgia circuit, including 2005’s sell out ‘Idols of the 80s’ tour. The same year, Almacantar Records released ‘Autumnal Park’ on CD (for the first time), and the album ‘The 301 Demo Sessions’ (featuring some of the bands earliest material remastered by Canham). In 2008, Pseudo Echo toured Australia in support of fellow 80s pop gods Go West, and reports were they sounded better than ever.

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