London's Bronski Beat will be remembered for a number of things. Anyone who has seen the video for "Smalltown Boy" -- which remains gripping and sobering decades later -- can likely recall at least one of its scenes in vivid detail. It was only Bronski Beat's first single, but it became the group's best-known, reaching the top of Billboard's U.S. dance chart while peaking at number three on the U.K. pop chart. More importantly, the song was typical for the group in that it centered on singer Jimmy Somerville's experiences as a young gay man. It also exemplified the group's moody electronic-pop sound and introduced a number of people to a voice that continues to sound like no other -- one that can soar into a unique falsetto while drawing from a deep pool of emotions that ranges from intense internal strife to bliss. Somerville, fellow Glaswegian Steve Bronski (keyboards), and Londoner Larry Steinbachek (also keyboards) formed Bronski Beat in 1983. They performed at venues in and around London, and scored a major coup by landing an opening gig for Tina Turner. The London label soon swept up the group, and the bandmembers almost immediately became pop stars in the U.K. "Smalltown Boy" proved to be a huge breakthrough. The Age of Consent, supported by that single, "Why," and a cover of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," went over extremely well. Not only did the album gain attention for its combination of compelling songwriting and club-friendly pop; the inner sleeve listed the legal age of consent for homosexual acts in several countries across Europe. Somerville boldly left the group a year later, before it was able to record a follow-up; he started the more overtly political Communards with Richard Coles. Bronski and Steinbachek continued with vocalist John Jon, who had previously been in Bust. The new version of Bronski Beat was quite successful as well, notching club hits in the U.K. and abroad; Truthdare Doubledare, the 1986 sophomore album, went Top 20 in the group's home country, and "Hit That Perfect Beat" rivaled "Smalltown Boy" in high chart placements. Before the year's end, John Jon left the group, which eventually disbanded. Steve Bronski brought a new lineup together in the mid-'90s -- including vocalist Jonathan Hellyer -- and recorded Rainbow Nation for the German ZYX label. Somerville enjoyed modest success in the Communards and has recorded sporadically as a solo artist since the late '80s, releasing such albums as Read My Lips (1989), Dare to Love (1995), Manage the Damage (2000), and Home Again (2004). In 2009, he released the acoustic covers album Suddenly Last Summer. Somerville then returned the following year with the first of a three-part EP trilogy, Bright Thing, followed by Momentum (2011) and Solent (2012). In 2014, Somerville celebrated the 30th anniversary of Bronski Beat's classic "Smalltown Boy" single with the release of a re-recorded version of the song. A year later, he released his sixth full-length album, the vintage disco-inspired Homage.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 26, 2018 | London Music Stream
To say The Age of Consent is a great album of dance-oriented synth-pop music is to sell it extremely short; this is simply a great album, period. Jimmy Somerville's soaring tenor may take some getting used to, but the songs, many of them dealing with homophobia and alienation (none more eloquently than "Smalltown Boy"), are compelling vignettes about the vagaries of life as a gay man. Cynics predisposed to dismissing entire genres of music based on trendiness or a limited appeal ("dance music is for dancing, not listening") miss the point in lumping this in with more mindless forays into techno or neo-disco. As the Pet Shop Boys (the world's greatest disco band) proved a few years later, you can have substantive content and wrap it up in a compelling, visceral, dance-oriented package. Few bands understood this better, or earlier, than Bronski Beat. © John Dougan /TiVo
Pop - Released January 1, 1986 | London Music Stream
Bronski Beat were already faced with a formidable challenge in following up their debut, The Age of Consent, an album whose frank homosexual themes and catchy electro-disco made the London trio a huge left-field success. Then singer Jimmy Somerville departed, taking with him the wail that sent gay dancefloor anthems like "Smalltown Boy" and "Why" into the stratosphere, and the job facing Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek suddenly looked impossible. It was, in fact, although they made a respectable go of it on Truthdare Doubledare, recruiting far less flamboyant vocalist John Jon and offering a more polished Hi-NRG sound on the single "Hit That Perfect Beat," which reached the Top Five in Britain. The rest of the album, which spun off another similar-sounding hit, "C'mon! C'mon," is fine, kinetic club music that lacks the ambition and personality of the debut. Despite songs that address the spread and awareness of AIDS ("Dr. John") and the pressures of gay life ("Punishment for Love"), the band seems a few steps removed from the pain that Age of Consent exposed so compellingly. And part of the reason is the obvious one -- John Jon, though undoubtedly skillful (and less fatiguing than his predecessor), simply lacked Somerville's ability to hit listeners' raw nerves, instead of just that perfect beat. © Dan LeRoy /TiVo
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