Friday, July 24, 2009

The New Improved Model Models?

In July of ‘85, Models appeared as one of the headline acts for Australia’s ‘Oz For Africa’ concert (our contribution to the global ‘Live Aid’ initiative). Models set included ‘Big On Love’, ‘I Hear Motion’, and their brand new single, ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ (penned by Freud). The glam rock inspired song bombarded the senses from the get go, and was a barnstorming rock and roller of a track. The song’s construction and execution was flawless, with the finished product loud and proud in all its crowd pleasing glory. Freud once more stepped up to the microphone for vocal duties, and played the sultry, seductive rock star for all it was worth. The accompanying music video showcased Models as hard edged rock ‘n rollers, with much denim and leather on show - not entirely unlike INXS. But though ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ was an engaging piece of polished pop-rock perfection, it possessed an undercover of brashness, and a raw passion permeated throughout. Models had effectively distilled a myriad of musical inflections into a perfectly moulded pop morsel. They’d also hit upon the formula for a #1 single, as in September of ‘85, ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ replaced Tina Turner’s ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ at the summit of the Australian charts, where it held on for two weeks. Discounting the EP release ‘Species Deceases’ by Midnight Oil, Models also hold the honour of being the only Australian artist to reach #1 at home during 1985.

As its title track was surging toward #1, Models’ new album hit stores in August of ‘85, and immediately hit the national charts. The Opitz produced set featured the three singles released to date, ‘Big On Love’, ‘Barbados’, and ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’, along with seven other tracks, recorded across three studios (Rhinoceros, Platinum, Paradise). September of ‘85 represented the commercial zenith for Models, with the #1 single, and #3 album on the Australian charts. Manager, and sometimes pop alchemist, Chris Murphy had seemingly pulled all the right strings in aiding Models to finally break through as a big time player on the mainstream music scene. After seven years of seemingly boundless promise, the band had arrived as a wholly capable, cohesive, and confident unit. It’s arguably no coincidence that Models’ two biggest hit singles featured lead vocals from James Freud (the whole radio-friendly angle), but it would be a mistake to make such a clear delineation in the roles of Freud and Sean Kelly, as one being more commercially accessible than the other. Each party was astutely capable of transcending the full spectrum of stylistic expression.

Understandably, Models spent a lot of time on the road during the latter half of ‘85, during which time the sultry, brass laden single ‘Cold Fever’ (OZ#36) was released, with James Freud once more handling vocals. The song’s funky edge was infused in liberal doses throughout the ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ album, provoking more comparisons with INXS, and further alienating some who had become accustomed to the band’s earlier work, but of course attracting a good deal more critical and commercial acclaim on the flipside. Models had one more single release in reserve (the fifth lifted), with the more reserved, atmospheric ‘King Of Kings’ released in December of ‘85. The single signalled a return to front man duties for Sean Kelly, and also featured an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. ‘King Of Kings’ was a beautifully crafted song, and Models shared some of the wealth they’d accumulated over the previous year by donating all the proceeds from the single’s sales to the Salvation Army - though the charity’s coffers may not have been boosted by as much as either they or the band would have hoped, as ‘King Of Kings’ only reached #96 nationally.

In early ‘86, the band’s management company, MMA, then proposed that Models begin work on recording a follow up album to ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’. It would appear that the logic behind this strategy went a little something like this. Geffen Records had backed the release of both the album, and single, ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’, Stateside, and the mood was optimistic about the potential reception for both. That mood of optimism extended to the belief that it was a case of sooner of later, more than likely sooner, before Models became huge across the world. MMA reasoned that if the band already had another album in the can, or in reserve so to speak, they would be freed up to head off on whatever live tour or promotional jaunts that their impending superstardom generated. At a time of their (or management’s) choosing, the ‘here’s one we prepared earlier’ follow up album could be wheeled out to much fanfare. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So in early ‘86, Models jetted off to London to record their ‘in case of needing follow up album, press here’ follow up album. Kelly, Freud, Mason, Price, Valentine, and Wendy Matthews, all bunkered down at Trevor Horn’s state-of-the-art Sarm West Studios in London, alongside co-producers Mark Opitz and Julian Mendelsohn.

Whilst work was well underway by Models on their next album, both their previous album (US#84), and its title track, ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ (US#37), had made moderate inroads into the U.S. market during mid ‘86. After recording had been completed on the next album, Models hopped on over to the States to play some live shows to promote the ‘Out Of Mind’ set. During November, British synth-pop act O.M.D. (see future post) invited Models to support them on a U.S. tour. Unfortunately, beyond the shows they were playing, interest in the U.S. for their music seemed to be waning. By December, Models opted to return home in time for the release of their ‘album in reserve’. Actually, by that time two new singles had already been released, and had performed quite respectfully on the charts. The mid-tempo, funk-laced ‘Evolution’ created a peak place for itself at #21 on the Australian charts, post its August ‘86 release. ‘Evolution’ was also included on the soundtrack to the U.S. teen comedy ‘Soul Man’, and the song’s 12” version boasted the extended title of ‘The Evolution Of Albert Einstein’. Another Sean Kelly composition stepped up to the single’s plate next, with the infectiously groovy ‘Let’s Kiss’ puckering up and planting one at #27 nationally late in ‘86. Both songs offered a clear indication as to what resided between the covers of Models’ new album.

‘Models’ Media’ went to air in early December of ‘86, and by Christmas was broadcasting from #30 nationally. No doubt there would have been some residual interest leftover from its predecessor, but as a stand alone effort, ‘Models’ Media’ had also already spawned two top thirty singles. Once more, a danceable funk-laden groove coursed through most of the tracks, but a track like the sweltering, reggae inflected ‘Shootin’ Train’, proved Models still had more than one gear to engage. Following the album release, the band then joined a stellar line-up of acts on the mammoth ‘Australian Made’ tour during January of ‘87 (sharing the bill with Mental As Anything, INXS, Divinyls, Jimmy Barnes, Triffids, The Saints, I’m Talking). In March of ‘87, the third single from ‘Model’s Media’ was released. From the opening shards of synthesizer, the Kelly/Freud composed ‘Hold On’ (OZ#30) announced itself as a pristinely polished pop-rock nugget that exuded a grandiose, almost epic atmosphere. In my humble view it is the stand out track on the album, and sits comfortably as one of the finest highlights in the Models’ songbook.

By the second half of ‘87, it was apparent that all within the Models’ camp was not sitting pretty, but the band fronted up for one last blast with the single ‘Oh! Darling’, a cover of the classic ‘Abbey Road’ track by The Beatles. Sean Kelly must have damn near launched his larynx across the studio floor while he was belting out the vocals. I’m not prone to being favourable toward covers of Beatles’ songs, but if they’re of quality I’ll gladly be so. In this instance, Models nailed the challenge, but their take on ‘Oh! Darling’ barely scratched the surface of the top fifty (#48), and in terms of new material from the band, that was all she wrote for Models.

In late ‘87, Roger Mason and Sean Kelly released the album ‘The Last Hoedown’, under the side-project moniker of The Clampetts. Associate vocalists, Kate Ceberano and Wendy Matthews were already laying the groundwork for their own solo careers. Models assembled during 1988 for an extended national tour under the banner, ‘Thank You Goodnight’ (ostensibly to pay off some creditors). Following the tour’s conclusion, it was announced the band had broken up.

Saxophonist James Valentine has spent much of the ensuing twenty years involved in television/radio presenting (just as well given the post 80s downturn in demand for sax players). Andrew Duffield and Roger Mason both went on to do score and soundtrack work for television and film, whilst drummer Barton Price eventually returned to New Zealand to pursue music interests. For more details about the immediate post-Models’ career of Sean Kelly, check out my previous post on Absent Friends, a virtual ‘supergroup’, comprising Kelly, Wendy Matthews, ex-Models’ mates Andrew Duffield and James Valentine, and a host of others. Kelly also formed the soul/funk infused Dukes during the early 90s, who released the album ‘Harbour City’ in 1992 (featuring the brilliant single ‘Faith’-OZ#35). During the second half of the 90s, Kelly played with an outfit called Interchange Bench, along with several other artists. In 2006, Kelly released his debut solo album, ‘Moons Of Jupiter’.

James Freud immediately reassumed solo status, and flew to New York to record an album with production genius Bernard Edwards (Chic). Reportedly, the album ended up becoming the most expensive ever backed by Mushroom Records. ‘Step Into The Heat’ was released in June of ‘89, following the lead out single ‘Hurricane’ (OZ#19), which I purchased on vinyl 45. The album only yielded one more minor hit, ‘One Fine Day’ (OZ#61), and failed to produce much heat of its own on the charts (OZ#22), leading to a parting of the ways between Freud and Mushroom. After a stint playing bass in Kylie Minogue’s touring band, James Freud then teamed up with Mental As Anything singer/guitarist Martin Plaza. The duo went under the name Beatfish, and released a self-titled album in late 1991 (OZ#83). The album was largely dance oriented, and yielded two minor hits, ‘Wheels Of Love’ (OZ#26), and ‘All Around The World’ (OZ#67), but Plaza soon after returned to duties with the Mentals, leaving Freud once more bandless. For a few years Freud earned a quid by composing and producing music for advertising campaigns (jingles for short). By 1996, he was ready to start recording another solo album, but the proposed ‘Big Mouth’ was shelved. One track reached finality in the production process, a surf-pop styled song titled ‘Postcard To Hawaii’. Freud put together a new band called Moondog (which included Plaza) to re-record the track, and eventually recorded an entire album with Moondog, titled ‘Postcard To Hawaii’, and released in early ‘97. In 2008, Freud finally released another solo album, titled ‘See You In Hell’, which was apparently well received.

In 2000, Models reformed, albeit briefly, for a series of live shows, and in 2001 an album of live rarities, ‘Models Melbourne’, was released on Shock Records. One reunion is rarely enough for bands these days, so in 2006 Kelly and Freud assembled another Models’ line-up for a series of shows. During 2008, Models celebrated thirty years since their original formation, with mainstays Sean Kelly and James Freud heading up the band for a celebratory tour.

Over the course of a tumultuous decade long career, Models may not have ascended to the very pinnacle of the Australian music scene (though they came damn close), but through their uncompromising, and at times pioneering music, they’ve left an indelible impression, and enduring musical legacy. Despite numerous line-up changes over time, Models remained resolute in their collective identity, and even when some cast a cynical eye during their more ‘mainstream’ phase, they maintained an absolute integrity in their approach to writing, recording, and performing music.

Thanks to Warwick from 80s Dreamer blogspot (see link in Ultra Cool Retro Links) for helping out with some great source photos, little known tidbits, and access to a 1986 interview with Sean Kelly. To read the interview in full, and much more, check out Warwick's Models' fansite at -
Update - In October 2010, Models received a much deserved place in the A.R.I.A. Hall of Fame. Tragically, just one week later, one of the band's key talents James Freud died in tragic circumstances. With his right hand man gone, it's unlikely Sean Kelly will lead Models along the musical catwalk again.


Daniel said...

Hey hey, these look like the pics I took on my mobile phone of the various Models records I have (some of which I put on Discogs). I actually have all these records if you're interested :)

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

G'day Daniel,
thanks for your comment. A couple of those photos may well have been sourced from Discogs (one of the sites I refer to if I don't have a cover myself). One guy you might want to contact to talk Models, or trade records is Warwick who's recently started up a Models' fansite - see the link at the bottom of each of my posts. He helped out with some Models' photos too.

Great to hear from another Models fan. Cheers mate :)

Anonymous said...

does anyone anywhere have the extended version of 'Let's Kiss'? This is sooo impossible to find..