Listening back to performers you want to know more about or simply to re-evaluate is loads of fun. Publishing the results was once a fanzine-type enterprise, but has now been upgraded into a natural for blogs.
So my first listen back here involves a band that started bright then vanished 30 years ago and another group that I savored often in the ’70s and early ’80s but that had fallen off my playlists for many years. Why? What happened? Like that.
DFX2 were a five-piece band from San Diego led by the brothers Douglas (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and David (lead guitar, backing vocals) Farage, who also wrote all the songs. They arrived nationally with a stunner of an EP in 1983, called Emotion. First sign of trouble was that the peculiar video was not a hit on MTV, which was in the midst of its phase of abnormal power.
Even so, David Farage spewed out the solo of a lifetime on “Emotion” and Douglas yowled the witty and fraught vocal of a lifetime on “Maureen,” so things were bound to work out eventually, right? Naw. DFX2 all but disappeared after the EP. I assumed the band broke up, but I couldn’t find any evidence of later projects by the Farage bros, either. Huh.
There’s an upside and a downside to groups led by siblings. The plus is that the chemistry is established and will always be on tap. The minus is that the chemistry is established and can be more compressed and static than the interactions of non-relatives. (Outright fights and dissolutions are equally common across the board for bands, I think.) I picked up DFX2’s Anthology (Fuel, 2010) and discovered that the brothers had recorded tracks throughout the ’80s and never quite found their footing. One unfortunate contemporary style quirk worked against them. The Emotion EP was, without question, a ferocious late-period Stones rip, which would have been a hip move a few years earlier, but was sadly uncool by 1983 (the Stones bein’ all washed-up, y’know). So later DFX2 turns to Springsteen echoes (“Best Wishes”) and country-rock modes (“Mexican Moon,” which is at least humorous), but the Stones turn is their forte. Evidence is the one top-notch tune from later session, “Where Are They Now,” and the 1980 single, “Octane” that suggests a welcome warm-up for the EP sides. The last track, the even earlier single “You’re So Cold,” is a doo-wop take off. Touching, and a further sign that overt understanding of pop past, recently a virtue, became a liability in the ’80s.
One Thing I Would Change: The band name. Has no literal meaning, of course, but doesn’t click as a code or symbol, either.
I played a lot of Hot Chocolate during my last days in Missoula. Had an understandable tendency to be on a quest for the Next Big Thing and find loads of examples in my personal LP collection (some of which were even correct prophecies). Hot Chocolate enjoyed an admirable string of hits, but I was sure they were going to be Prince big some day. Listening to the superlative remasters on Hot Chocolate, Box Selection: Their 8 RAK Albums 1974-1983 (EMI 2011), I hear one reassuring parallel with Purple One in that frontman Errol Brown is a praiser, not an aggressor (“I like this about you”; “you do this to me”), as well as a sharp storyteller and a thoughtful guy about race (“Changing World,” “Amazing Skin Song”). Producer and label-owner Mickey Most ensures that the hooks get across and tune dynamics are clear and sturdy.
Damned enjoyable sides, particular the first five albums, where Hot Chocolate were “Funky Rock ‘n’ Roll” as often as “Disco Queen.”
Brown began to run out of fresh juice as the ’80s began. His limitation as a songwriter is that he could be sketchy — needing one more verse of character development or detailed actions — and as dance-hit pressure intensified, Hot Chocolate songs became one or two or three minutes longer without getting correspondingly deeper. Not a collapse, however — just a “that’s about all, folks” by the end of the program. Not a place to go for those who only know “You Sexy Thing,” but for confirmed fans, the burnished sound of Box Selection is worth it and these guys are good to know unto today.
One Thing I Would Change: Inexplicably, “Brother Louie” was only released as a 7″ single and never incorporated into debut LP Cicero Park even after it became a hit for other groups. Song should have been part of every later issue of the LP. Stinks that it’s not on the box.
P.S. (or [EDIT] or something): I have been informed that at least some pressings of Cicero Park include “Brother Louie” as an added-on track, so the One Thing I Would Change is reduced to the weaker gripe that I wish key extra tracks were included in the box set.
(Fun Footnote: The very first Hot Chocolate recording was a reggae version of “Give Peace a Chance,” and while it’s obvious why they would not specialize in reggae, Lennon liked the treatment so much the band signed up with Apple — while it was on its way down — and the track became available after ages and ages on Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records in 2010.)