Welcome to the Pleasuredome, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Reviewed by Alex Hamilton
Given Craig’s oft professed love of the heavy, it was with some surprise I received my allocated LP; and having seen “Frankie says relax” branded merch more than I’ve heard the band, I came to this album as a relative stranger, with little to guide me other than an expectation it would sound solidly 80s.
Track one “The World Is My Oyster” kicks the record off in surprising melodramatic fashion, its sub two minutes of grandeur and gothic tones filling the room with an orchestral feel, coupled with a voice over which could be the direct inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s take on Romeo & Juliet.
Where do we begin with the first track proper? The titular “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” is almost a quarter hour in duration, moving from funk breakdowns to uplifting pop, with meandering forays into indulgent prog.
This track sounds like drugs. The heavy usage of which may explain the time dilation and sparsity of lyrics. It did give me a lingering reminiscence of being a child and finding the preset effects (jungle sounds, bird song and more) on my father’s keyboard. Cut down to 4 minutes, this could be an excellent song.
Relax was the record’s first single, DJ Mike Read refused to play it on Radio 1, with the BBC banning it outright across the organisation soon after. Inevitably this led to record stores selling out and Relax powering its way to #1 in the charts. The beat holds up extremely well decades later, and has my head nodding throughout.
War’s gentle synth-y intro segues into interesting bongo style drumming with a smattering of snare and funk guitar. The lyrics highlight the anti-war zeitgeist, with a notable reference to Che Guevara acting from love (showing a particular ignorance to his record of brutal oppression towards homosexuals which would perhaps have been particularly relevant to the band). That aside, the overall message and anthemic chorus has met the test of time.
Both War and Relax sound significantly different to the radio versions I’m familiar with, following some googling, it emerged that there are several official versions of the songs across multiple albums and singles. Uniquely, Pleasuredome’s stand alone in large part due to producer Trevor Horn dominating creative decisions so thoroughly that the band’s own instrumental performances were often replaced by session musicians or Horn himself.
Two Tribes, is the penultimate “big” single track of the album, bringing contemporary commentary on cold war nuclear threat, and increasing global reliance on oil. At the time of writing it’s currently on 13.4 million Spotify streams, which is a tasty $50,000 in revenue, overshadowed somewhat by the cool half million Spotify has generated for Relax.
The remaining tracks switch tempo around, from Fury’s Christmas carol-esque tenor, launching straight into Born to Run’s catchy riffage, before San Jose slows the pace right down again for a melancholic strings number lamenting dreams turning to dust.
Ballad of 32’s opening bugle signals something different is in the offing as we kick into an enjoyable instrumental which owes more than a nod to David Gilmour.
Holly Johnson is clearly an excellent vocalist, which he brings to bear in the album’s close, strongest lyrical offering, and my choice of top track – Power of Love.
It’s been a journey. Whilst there’s a scattering of gems I’ll be happy to hear again, overall the lack of gritty bite means I’m unlikely to book a return trip to the Pleasuredome – 5/10