ALTERED IMAGES: The Epic Years (4CDs) reviewed!

Regardless of what the naysayers think, the ‘80s was an extremely exciting decade for music. From Punkto Post-Punk, Power Pop to Synthpop, New Wave to New Romantic, there was so much creativity in the air. Punk had come along in 1976 and levelled the playing field, allowing bands to create new musical genres, of which there were many. On any given week, you could buy new releases from artists like A Flock Of Seagulls, Gang Of Four, The Icicle Works, Peter & The Test Tube Babies, Spandau Ballet, XTC, Squeeze, Culture Club, Split Enz, Madness, Blancmange, PiL, The Clash, The Human League, The Jam, Siouxsie & The Banshees and so many other remarkably talented bands. Sure, there were second and third tier bands that seemed to jump on whatever bandwagon was the most popular at the time but by and large, there were many unique bands that really stood out from the pack. Altered Images was one of those bands and THE EPIC YEARS (4CD) is all the proof you need! This box set contains the band’s three studio albums (with bonus tracks) plus an additional CD containing nine extended remixes. THE EPIC YEARS is the definitive Altered Images collection and should be a part of any serious music fan’s collection. Ahem, that means YOU, the reader!
This Scottish quintet began life as a Siouxsie-like Post-Punk outfit fronted by the squeaky, spunky – and undeniably adorable – Clare Grogan. Their 1981 debut album, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, is a wonderful mix of Post-Punk, Goth and Pure Pop. This is a band that had found their own dark groove (enhanced by producer Steve Severin of The Banshees) yet couldn’t avoid adding tasty Pop melodies and youthful exuberance to the proceedings. “Dead Pop Stars” was the band’s first single, which proved to be controversial due to the untimely death of John Lennon shortly before the single’s release. While a nice debut single, the track was left off the original album (however, it has been added as a bonus track). The third single, “Happy Birthday,” became a huge hit for the band and even received a fair amount of airplay in the U.S. Far from the best song on the album, “Happy Birthday” remains their most popular track. The album’s other high points include “Love And Kisses,” “Insects,” “Idols” and more. The mostly instrumental “Legionnaire” sounds as if it could have been influenced by Buzzcocks’ “E.S.P.” with its crisp and catchy guitar riff changing shape throughout the song. There are some songs here that reveal the band’s Siouxsie influences but by and large, the album lays the Gothic Bubblegum foundation on which the band would build upon with their next album. (NOTE: Disc One of THE EPIC YEARS contains the entire album plus seven bonus tracks.)
PINKY BLUE was released the following year and was a Pop triumph. Moving away from the darker sounds of old, this sophomore release found the band embracing their more melodic side while not betraying their Post-Punk roots.
This was certainly not a slick, radio-friendly sell-out album because the band clearly had great hooks on the first album. Instead, PINKY BLUE was a quirky, brighter collection of top tunes. Apart from a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue,” which sounded more like a novelty track than a heart-felt cover, the album is a sunshiny Post-Punk album filled with smashing tunes. “I Could Be Happy” is the best single the band ever released (although all the glory goes to “Happy Birthday”) followed by “See Those Eyes,” another great single that is often forgotten. Other album highlights include the title track, “Think That It Might,” “Forgotten” and others.  PINKY BLUE was a rarity in the music biz, a sophomore album that was better than the debut. (NOTE: Disc Two of THE EPIC YEARS contains the entire album plus seven bonus tracks.)In 1983, the band released their final album, BITE. Where PINKY BLUE was the perfect balance of Post-Punk and Pop, parts of BITE (i.e.: the singles) abandoned Post-Punk entirely and embraced Dance, Soul, New Romanticism and slick Pop. An ambitious album, BITE ended up being the band’s strangest full length overall.  Grogan’s child-like voice sounds oddly out of place in the slick production of the singles “Bring Me Closer,” “Love To Stay” and “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”. The songs themselves are nice Pop tunes but they moved the band into a musical territory that they didn’t seem comfortable in. These songs were closer to later period Orange Juice than the Altered Images of old. Clare does sound fab when she croons those choruses, though! However, the band’s unique charm shines through on songs like “Another Lost Look,” “Now That You’re Here,” “Stand So Quiet” and “Change Of Heart.” These tracks seemed like the logical progression from PINKY BLUE –  they seem to retain the original spirit of the band while also showing a maturity in songwriting and arranging. Unfortunately, the trio of singles were possibly requested by the band’s label and they most likely replaced other tracks that the band had originally intended to be on the album. Those tracks, which were tucked away on B-sides, are included as bonus tracks here and reveal that the album would have been a much stronger effort had they kept those on the album and saved the singles for a different release. With the addition of these bonus tracks, BITE is actually a better album now and deserves to take its place next to the band’s first two albums. (NOTE: Disc Three of THE EPIC YEARS contains the entire album plus seven bonus tracks.)

Disc Four of THE EPIC YEARS contains remixes of eight of the band’s singles and will liven up any ‘80s party while also reminding listeners on just how great
Altered Images’ songs were.

 Altered Images remain a criminally overlooked band some 35 years after their final album. Hopefully, a set like this reminds people how great they were… and how adventurous Pop music used to be….
Your ‘80s BFF,

Stephen SPAZ Schnee