Swing Out Sister: Live at the Jazz Cafe

Design? Who needs Design? We have Word for Windows.

Design? Who needs Design? We have Word for Windows.

There was a time in the eighties when suddenly having a jazzy, retro feel to the records was perfectly fine. Sade was channeling Astrud Gilberto, both The Style Council and Matt Bianco had a go at Samba and Working Week sounded like they could be from Rio (even though they were Londoners). The over all term was ‘SophistiPop’, and Swing out Sister (SoS) with their Bacharach/seventies big string sound fitted right in there. Their first album ‘It’s Better To Travel‘ sold reasonably well on the back of “Breakout’ but the SophistiPop thing was over after a year or two, and the representatives of the genre soon decamped to Japan where they like that sort of thing (many a SophistiPop band that you thought hadn’t existed for thirty years is still around making new albums on the back of their popularity in Indonesia. No, really).


Some stimulating prose right there

So in 1992, with 3 albums under their belt, SoS decided to release a live album for the Japanese market, recorded at the Jazz Cafe in Camden (ironically still Matt Bianco’s London live home in 2014) with a ten piece band. With their original arrangements being rather string heavy this feels quite stripped back (although there’s still quite a bit of midi background synth fill: the keyboarder has after all only 2 hands), but the vocal arrangements are spot on, the brass sounds crisp and the rhythm section is excellent.

So, these guys are obviously good musicians, but what about the music? Well, there’s the rub. In the humble opinion of this crtitic, their material doesn’t really lend itself to live performances: most of their material is midtempo and really benefits from large orchestration and elaborate arrangements.  On this album they even reduce the tempo on some of their normally livelier songs even more, so the whole thing sounds rather treacleish (technical term). I don’t think much dancing was going on at the Jazz Cafe during the recording. Probably more gentle nodding of heads.

Which really defeats the purpose of a live album. You really want to hear your favourite songs in a feverish, exciting atmosphere, but this sounds more like the recital of Virginia Woolf at the Women’s Institute in Torquay.

Which probably explains why I hadn’t listened to it for 20 years.