The Smiths you could dance to

Try calling yourself a Jazz Punk band without attracting a snigger or two. Yet that’s exactly how The Blow Monkeys billed their 1984 debut Limping for a Generation, and thanks to killer tunes like Forbidden Fruit and  Digging Your Scene, no one as much as chuckled.

There’s a live concert review in the NME archives from the mid-80s that said "The only two popstars who matter in England today are Morrissey and Dr. Robert."

Dr. Who?  OK, no, not that Dr. Who.  Dr. Robert was the lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter for The Blow Monkeys, major exponents of a sound labelled ‘blue eyed white boy Brit funk’ (OK, labelled by me).  Sons of David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album and late 70s Roxy Music, bands like ABC, The Style Council, and even Duran Duran, were these ‘plastic soul’ singers who married post-punk DIY with a love of disco and 70’s Rn’B.

Formed in the early ’80s, The Blow Monkeys labelled themselves ‘jazz-punk’ and after a few indie singles, signed to RCA and released the hard to find debut masterpiece Limping for a Generation.  Imagine Paul Weller during late period Jam records married to the croon and confused sexual lyrics of Morrissey.  The best of Moz can go head to head with Dr. Robert’s couplets: "Says he wants to be an anti-Christ/God knows, that boy is too nice." or "You can bury me alive and jump on my head/but I’m a real wild flower, chained to your bed".  "I see a boy/He must be a prince/who is he I desire?  Who am I to be shy?"  Morrissey must be fuming.

Dressed in impeccable suits, the four handsome lads of the band eventually did have success a few years later with a slicked up sound (adding keyboards, female backing vocals and more pop hooks.) 

The album’s key single Digging Your Scene was a monster hit in the UK and even made the American chars. It was recently covered by ace Fountains of Wayne spin-off band Ivy.  By the end of the 80’s the band had top 10 hits in the UK, flirted heavily with house music and slick soul/dance pop, wound the PM up by issuing a song ‘She was only the grocer’s daughter’ and lost any trace of the dirty sweet charm of their debut. 

Dr. Robert now makes a more pastoral brand of low-key acoustic soul with indie-label albums (he recently relocated to Spain) that is more in line with his old band’s debut.  Start with his solo compilation Keep on Digging for the Gold for a taste.

Limping for a Generation, though, is a strange beast.  At times sensual and sinister, skronky and soulful, dreary and delirious, the tunes are solid.  The album is hard to categorize, hard to relate to many contemporaries (ABC, Duran Duran and Style Council were all far too slick for true comparison).  I found my copy, a used Japanese import version, by chance at Amoeba Records in California.  You may be able to scout it out on e-Bay.  It’s hard find, but worth the search.

The Blow Monkeys – Limping for a Generation (RCA) 1984


3 Responses to “The Smiths you could dance to”

  1. georgethe23rd Says:

    My wife’s a fan. We saw Dr Robert do an acoustic gig in 2002 and it was OK (he played the hits, which helped). He’s considerably larger in girth than he was before, but aren’t we all?

  2. Neil Gooderham Says:

    “She was only a grocer’s daughter” was an album, not a song. It was fabulous white-boy soul, disguising some strong political sentiments. “Celebrate (the day after you)”, for instance, with Curtis Mayfield on guest vocals – the band were prevented from performing it on television because it was general election time, and the song is about how nice it would be if Thatcher was removed from office.

  3. soulstylist Says:

    Digging Your Scene is off of their 2nd LP, 1986’s Animal Magic.

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