Stunning LP walks on the ‘Wilde’ side

Take the smarts and gritty passion of Chrissie Hynde, the sound and phrasing of Debbie Harry, and the spunk and accessibility of Pat Benatar or Joan Jett, and you get a small part of what makes Kim Wilde the best thing to hit pop music this year.

Her self-titled debut album on EMI America is that rare thing in a decade where REO and Rush are bombed by the press and boffo at the box office: It appeals critically and commercially.

This 20-year-old British singer is already a huge success in Europe, Australia and Japan, where her music has sold something like 7 million copies without even hitting the North American market. There are good reasons for her popularity.

More than any singer I’ve heard recently, Wilde seems to know what the average kid really thinks about growing up in the 1980s, and her mainstream/hard pop sound, focussing on guitars, synthesizers, vocal harmonies and deadly melodic hooks is absolutely right for the times.

Granted, her straight-ahead, rough-edged sound is not particularly arty, and probably won’t appeal to those who figure Siouxie’s got the key to the future. Furthermore, she’s uncommonly moralistic, with opinions about the way things are now and the way things could be, so she’s not likely to find a home with the nihilistic Black Flag set.

For everyone else, and that includes people who listen to pop and rock and reggae with an ear for great music and powerful lyrics, Wilde is a tonic.

“We only want to be free. He doesn’t want to be you / she doesn’t want to be me”, she sings on the anthemic Young Heroes. Think for yourself, stay young, don’t let them put you down.

Our Town is but one example of the balance, the deep emotions and the simple humanity that runs like the motherlode through the 10 songs on the album.

Over a driving beat and beautifully interwoven vocal harmonies Wilde singes about one of the New Towns in England, dismal concrete housing developments erected in the aftermath of the Second World War, but she might just as well be describing suburbia anywhere.

She knows the place is a dump with “no prospects, just projects. Don’t try to tell me we’re living”, but, for better or worse, it’s “where my whole life is lived in” and the one place where she’s really a somebody. Sound familiar? 

Once she tried to leave “but the folks around me kept grieving / friends said go / but my dad said no / and my mum said ‘don’t go, don’t go away.'” Urban decay leads to race riots, fighting in the streets and the life she’s known is irrevocably changed. The graffiti says “let’s go away / but I won’t go / this is my town” and something worth trying to put back together.

A keen social conscience is only one of Wilde’s interests, though it is repeated again on the ethereal, seductive reggae tune Everything We Know, and on the pulsing hit single Kids In America. As a young and liberated woman, Wilde is also preoccupied with love and the tangled webs relationships weave. Chequered Love tells of a girl involved in a vaguely violent scene but “she can’t let go”.

The upbeat, skanking 2-6-5-8-0 (a British phone number) tells a bright, funny story about a hip, beautiful young hooker who sees men “as just another pay cheque”. They, in turn, would give anything for a “night with that piranha”.

You’ll Never Be So Wrong is an heroic (no point in you just looking down / you’ve got to realize you’re free”) piece about the end of an affair.

Falling Out (this hour’s greatest song on an album of great tunes) approaches lost love equitably “cos there’s nothing you can do about it” (but that doesn’t stop her from being “so hurt, baby”) and Tuning In Tuning On ends the album on a spacey note.

Never mind that Wilde is strongly supported by her dad Marty – himself a pop star in the early 1960s – her brother Ricky and Micky Most, arguably the most successful manager-producer-hustler in the history of rock. The album is stunning, inspirational, fun as hell, and totally recommended.