Human Racing, by Nik Kershaw
Suggested by Robb Sutherland
When I get a chance, I enjoy Popmaster.
For those unaware, or for those who are twelve, or too cool for school, Popmaster is a Radio 2 pop quiz that runs every weekday at 10:30am, hosted by the perennial Ken Bruce. Each day, two phone-in contestants are asked Pop and Chart questions, from the Sixties to present day, hoping to defeat their opponent and qualify for the End of Year Popmaster Champions League. The questions are legitimately tricky, and wide ranging, and it’s always good for a laugh to play along at home.
Me? I’m absolutely terrible.
My issue is that my tastes have always been largely fringe. I do alright with Nineties pop, but I was Metal in the Eighties, and too young to retain the Seventies in any workable detail. As for the Sixties, or the twenty-first century? Forget it.
It’s my Eighties knowledge that causes the most embarrassment. Aside from some obvious standouts, I see the decade as one large amorphous pop blob, a Katamari Damacy rolling sphere of musical detritus that merges and melds into one. Sure, I know the songs, and I know the acts, but I can’t place this track with that singer or this album with that band.
One prominent nugget proudly packed into this ball of neon and keytars is Nik Kershaw.
I know of Nik Kershaw. That’s a given. He’s slightly ahead of the game, as I can name one of his songs, the standout Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Outside that? No clue. I likely know more of his stuff, but would be unable to credit him with these songs or pick him from a line up.
Human Racing is Kershaw’s debut album of nine, released in 1984, a year in which he legitimately blitzed the charts. His record of a full sixty-two weeks in the hit parade during 1984 and 1985 is impressive no matter how you slice it, and looking at the track list I do spot a second song I know: Wouldn’t It Be Good.
Having now listened to Human Racing, it’s safe to say that the singles releases for this album, being the two aforementioned songs, Dancing Girls and the titular Human Racing, were entirely correct. Of the four, both Nice and Sun eclipse their lesser-known companions. The Eighties Sound is strong throughout, with staggered synths and machined drums taking me right back to the playground joys of kick the can, tennis-ball footy and smelly rubbers. I’m particularly enamoured of the funky slap bass sounds emanating from Nik himself, proving himself quite the multi-instrumentalist.
The problem is transparent: the music feels thrown together by cowboy builders. It’s brick, tile and wood, fine materials but lacking the mortar that binds them together. It’s a building, not a home. It’s deconstructed; a bacon rasher, a lettuce leaf, a tomato, a slice of bread, when all you want is a damn sandwich. It’s no surprise that the singles are the only songs which feel more than their constituent parts.
Happily, this project has seen an exponential improvement in my Popmaster scores, and I can now add some Kershaw facts to my repertoire. Human Racing only scores 5/10 today, but will hopefully yield Popmaster points further down the line.