The Monochrome Set started out as a witty, urbane take on post-punk that owed a debt to swinging '60s pop and twangy surf music. Steered by the darkly clever songs of Bid and the crisp playing of the band, their first records were smart and weird, covering obscure lyrical territory while also delivering snappy hooks. Their jumpy debut single, 1979's "He's Frank," set the template for the band through the early '80s on a string of albums like early masterpiece Eligible Bachelors that balanced Bid's songs and the group's growing sonic presence. The first incarnation of the group ran out of steam in the mid-'80s but Bid rounded up a familiar supporting cast in the '90s to release albums that captured their original sound and tweaked it gently for the times. After another split, then a reunion spurred on by Bid's recovery from an aneurysm, they came back in the 2010s to issue albums like Cosmonaut, that showed that their brand of sophisticated, hooky guitar pop not only still sounded fresh, but was better than ever.
When the British art school punk band the B-Sides changed their name and direction to become Adam & the Ants, guitarist/vocalist Bid and guitarist Lester Square opted out to form their own group, the Monochrome Set. Founded in London in 1978, the band (also comprising ex-Gloria Mundi and Mean Street bassist Jeremy Harrington and former Art Attacks drummer J.D. Crowe) was quickly snapped up by the Rough Trade label, and during 1979 issued three singles -- "He's Frank," "Eine Symphonie des Grauens," and its signature number, "Monochrome Set" -- all completely different in content and stylistic approach.
After former B-Sides bassist Andy Warren grew tired of life in Adam & the Ants, he rejoined bandmates Bid and Square, replacing Harrington. In 1980, the Monochrome Set released their debut album, the cabaret-flavored Strange Boutique, followed later that year by the singles "405 Lines" and "Apocalypso" as well as another, more accessible full-length effort, Love Zombies. Complete with new guitarist Foz, keyboardist Caroline Booth, and drummer Nick Wesolowski, they returned in 1982 with a cleaner, more melodic sound on the LP Eligible Bachelors; "The Jet Set Junta," a satiric jab at the Falklands Islands conflict, became a significant hit the next year. The compilation Volume, Contrast, Brilliance: Sessions & Singles, Vol. 1 also appeared in 1983.
Following the departure of Square, the Monochrome Set veered even closer to light pop fare on singles like 1985's "Jacob's Ladder"; the sound subsequently crystallized on the nostalgically themed LP The Lost Weekend. When the record met with a dismal commercial response, the group disbanded, only to re-form in 1989 around the nucleus of Bid, Square, and Warren along with new keyboardist Orson Presence. The 1990 album Dante's Casino did little to raise the Monochrome Set's chart visibility, but the band soldiered on, releasing Charade in 1993, Misere in 1994, and Trinity Road in 1995. They broke up in 1998 while Bid formed a new band, Scarlet's Well. In 2011, members of the Well joined a reunited Monochrome Set, which also featured Bid, Square, and Warren. Signed to the Disquo Bleu label, the band released Platinum Coils in 2012 and Super Plastic City in 2013. Spaces Everywhere (2015) found them on their new home of Tapete Records, the label that a year later would release Volume, Contrast, Brilliance: Unreleased & Rare, Vol. 2, a sequel to their similarly titled 1983 collection.
The group stuck with Tapete for its next studio album, 2016's Cosmonaut, which featured Bid playing all the guitars due to the departure of Square. The band also welcomed John Paul Moran and Mike Urban back on keyboards and drums, respectively. This same lineup recorded another album for Tapete, Maisieworld, which was released in early 2018 as the band celebrated its 40th year of existence. The label also issued 1979-1985: Complete Recordings, which did exactly what the title promised. Cherry Red also got in on the fun and made a three-CD expanded version of 1982's Eligible Bachelors, available in March of 2018.
Meanwhile, the group continued working at a fevered pace and readied another studio album for release in late 2019. Titled Fabula Mendax, the record featured the steady core of Bid, Warren, Moran and Urban, plus a wealth of session players, giving life to a batch of songs they claim are based on 15th Century manuscripts written by Armande de Pange, a companion of Joan of Arc. ~ Jason Ankeny