Ah - Malcolm McLaren: the madcap orange genius so often portrayed as a fiendishly playful post-Situationist mash up of Fagin and Guy Debord, and yet actually just a bit of a fucking twat, a failed art student who would have happily buggered himself with a sink splodger on national television if he thought there was a chance it might increase the stock of his fame by association; a manager of such talent that he failed to do anything interesting with the New York Dolls, saw the Sex Pistols as the next Bay City Rollers, and somehow bifurcated the band which had recorded the genuinely astonishing Dirk Wears White Sox into two considerably less interesting parts. What a fucking prick he was.
That said, I very much bought into Bow Wow Wow at the time, most of which was probably down to the band rather than the supposed tentacular influence of Gingerbollocks. However, as a grown man approaching fifty, they now sound quite different to my elderly ears, not least because I hadn't heard any of this stuff since I sold the cassettes to my friend Eggy back in 1982. Being fifteen at the time and somewhat slow on the uptake, the sexualisation of then fourteen-year old Annabella Lwin didn't seem that big a deal to me being as I knew a number of fourteen-year old girls and understood that they themselves very much enjoyed the Hunks in Trunks photo features in Jackie magazine. I took Your Cassette Pet into school because Miss Davies encouraged us to provide background music for our art lesson. It proved quite popular, and all the girls chortled at the orgasmic squeaking on Sexy Eiffel Towers, and that didn't seem like a big deal either; yet with hindsight, I find it difficult to listen to these songs without turning into Hank Hill, Louis Quatorze for example:
With his gun in my back, I start to undress.
You just don't mess with Louis Quatorze.
He's my partner in this crime of happiness,
'cause I'm just fourteen!
Oh I love it when he says so seriously,
With his gun in my back, 'Honey, make love to me.'
Oh la la - shagging an under-age kid at gunpoint, c'est tres romantique; and just to be absolutely clear on this, yes I'm being sarcastic. Given the sexual subject matter that once kept Adam Ant in square meals and pointy shoes before he got famous and ended up as Basil Brush's straight man, I can look past most of Bow Wow Wow's songs as either representative of the thoughts of at least some teenage girls, and valid in a sort of Max Ernst sense. That is to specifically say that they just about got away with it in the name of art, I suppose; but it's a tougher sell when you factor in the McLaren angle and recall that all of this ran parallel to his efforts to start a pornographic magazine for school age kids informatively entitled Chicken. I recall him coming on the radio to explain how children are sexual beings who love to hang around and pose and appear sexy, which may be daring, adventurous, and subversive, or may all be just a bit too close to Jimmy fucking Savile for comfort.
Now then, now then, now then...
Thankfully Chicken never happened because McLaren was basically a twat who couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery, or at very best an extremely lucky twat who couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery; and so while his influence on Bow Wow Wow can certainly be heard, you can sort of ignore it. Annabella Lwin may not have been the greatest vocalist but she could hold a tune and yelped with conviction; and led astray or otherwise, this was still in essence the band who had recorded Dirk Wears White Sox. The affectations sound comical with hindsight - Native Americanisms apparently borrowed from old episodes of The Lone Ranger coupled with tribal sounds that may as well have scored films in which blacked-up actors point at cauldrons rubbing their tummies and smiling at their white captives; but it works as a sort of African influenced rockabilly, as music designed to sound great at a party without any real concession to any other context; and Gold He Said and I Want My Baby on Mars at least are genuinely fine songs.
I've an uncomfortable feeling that either Bow Wow Wow or someone of their ilk is ultimately to blame for the pervasive aesthetic of the scene in that crappy Matrix film with the big underground rebel cave and like everyone's grooving and raving to this like really wicked music and like they all have dreads and awesome tatts and like everyone's like off their faces, man, and it's like totally amaaazing... which probably isn't Bow Wow Wow's fault, at least not directly; and strangely it's W.O.R.K. which annoys me the most of all these songs in respect to subject, it being a nebulous critique of the work ethic predicated on the thesis that it's a drag having to do stuff which isn't like rilly cool 'n' shit, yeah? Conversely, I myself tend to regard the work ethic as a fairly healthy impulse which prevents one turning into a useless slack-jawed wanker, so again I must take the Hank Hill position, I tell you what.
Most surprising of all is that these songs sound pretty much the same on fancy compact disc as they did on my crap mono portable cassette player as taped off a medium wave radio station in 1982, which is to say that the production is unflattering and simple, but not even simple in the sense of Billy Childish cranking something out in front of a single microphone and it still making Led Zeppelin sound like Scott McKenzie. Had McLaren really had anything going for him in managerial terms, he might have spent less time trying to generate controversy and a little more making sure his band were getting their money's worth in the recording studio. So I say again, what a fucking prick he was.
Bow Wow Wow had much to recommend them, but none of it directly their manager's doing, and thirty years later, there's a portion of this compact disc which still makes me feel bad on behalf of everyone involved.