The Wilde and the Bootiful

Andrew Masterson meets Kim Wilde, a legend in her father’s lifetime.

Spooky. Very spooky. ‘The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Popular Music’, one of the standard reference works employed by those of us required to sound as if we really do know the difference between the Chiffons and a packet of fish fingers, contains no entry for Kim Wilde.

It does, however, have one for her father, Marty, a successful English cover artist between 1958 and 1962, who changed his name after his parents lumbered him with the groaningly ordinary tag of Reg Smith. The entry goes on to canvass briefly the career of his daughter, noting that her first hit, ‘Kids in America’, came in 1981. It ends a few lines later with the chilling, and rather self-assured, prediction: “She will ultimately have no more influence than her father.”

It is possible, of course, that the encyclopaedia’s author, Donald Clarke, knows something that rest of us, including Kim, don’t, but if influence is judged by longevity, Ms Wilde is already three times as successful as her old man (who is, incidentally, her manager).

Her new album, ‘Love Is’ (MCA), was released this month. Although it is more likely to be playlisted on TT-FM than JJJ, it is ample proof that the Wilde clan – father, daughter and songwriter/producer brothe Ricki – arae far from a spent force in the music business. Her last album ‘Love Moves’, died mightily in the bum, prompting a lot of critics to write her off, forgetting that the one before that, ‘Close’ in 1988, went Top 10 in the UK and spun off three Top 10 singles. The trouble with ‘Love Moves’, said Kim during a recent promo tour, was that it came out at the wrong time. It was a victim of fashion.

“Maybe I’ve been around for so long that I became part of the furniture”, she said. “I mean, people get tired of Elton John, so what hope do I have? I’m really proud of ‘Love Moves’. I don’t have a problem with it now, but when I first started promoting this album, I found myself saying it was much better than the last one. Actually, the last one was really good. I didn’t really mean it. I just slipped into saying it.”

Wilde admits that her aim is to produce pop music, pure and simple, fast and commercial. She wished to do it, however, to her own standards, and has thus resisted the temptation to bend to some of the more transient trends in charting tracks: no deep house remixes, no rap inserts, no collaborations with KLF.

The Wilde family, hunkered down in the southern English town of Knebworth, is a pretty isolationist operation. They do most of the writing and production themselves, control design and marketing, run their own publishing, and are setting up their own label. They are in the business of wooing public taste, and so concede the need to compromise. They make a distinction, however, between compromising and whoring.

“The thing is, we want to make pop music, and by virtue of that fact that it is pop music, it’s always contrived at some level or another”, she said. “We’re all guilty, we’re all responsible at that level. Me, Phil Collins, anybody. I think my brother and I have been true to our aim from the beginning. We wanted to produce pop music. We never got very pretentious about what we wanted to achieve. The only other thing I wanted to do was work on my songwriting. I’ve done that, but again I don’t think in a pretentious way. It’s very pop influenced, because that’s where we started and that’s where we felt good at starting. And it hasn’t really changed very much since.”

It certainly hasn’t. There are only two tracks on ‘Love Is’ that do not contain the name Wilde in the writing credits. Apart from a lusher instrumentation and a slight mellowing in feel, it differs little in substance from the 1981 self-titled debut. Mind you, it contains nothing as overtly catchy as ‘Kids In America’ (a lovely piece of sanitised post-punk), or as dark as her later hit ‘Cambodia’, or as surefire as her 1986 Motown cover ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’.

It is, nevertheless, unashamedly chart-geared, but distinctly her own. It is (he writes, finally succumbing to awful temptation) Wilde at heart.

“We’ve always been like a little closed shop, an industry within an industry. It’s grown from something quite small to something that’s developed longevity”, Kim said. “Most of it has been set up by my parents, especially my mum. What it’s done is given us our independence. It’s a little bit protected like that, a little bit of a closed shop. Loads of times, record people have asked me to do this or that, but we’ve just gone ahead and done what we wanted to do. We’ve never closed our ears to good ideas, it’s just that very few good ideas come along.”

Kim said she was determined to resist the more cynical marketing forces in the music industry. At 32, blonde and drop-dead gorgeous, she would be very profitable putty in the hands of production-line hit makers such as Stock, Aitken and Waterman or the rather more credible KLF. The idea of such collaborations do not appeal to her. She is, as she often says, in for the long haul, and get-rich-quick singles simply don’t fit the formula.

“You can always tell, you get a sense of it. If you can’t get a sense of it after one or two, you certainly can by the third”, she said. “After 12 years, people have the sense that when they buy my albums they’re getting a slice of me, a real slice of me, not a manicured me, or of someone else. For me, the music that I used to treasure was done by the people who were writing it, people like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. When you get an album, you can tell if there isn’t any part of that person in it. It just leaves you cold.”

The insistence on do-it-yourself integrity is rather ironic, given that she is Marty Wilde’s daughter. Marty – while a fine vocalist – was a classic repro artist, covering songs by Bobby Vee, Ritchie Valens and Jody Williams. After his career peaked, about the time of Kim’s birth, he pretty much gave up performing. Now, however, perhaps encouraged by his daughter’s success, he is starting to compose a few little ditties of his own. Kim’s attitude towards his new project is a little ambivalent.

“He’s become more enchanted by music again. He really lost it for a while”, she said. “Now he’s involved in writing a musical, and he’s really fired up. He’s very into Eastern European sounds, Mediterranean music, more of an ethnic groove, and using rare instruments. He’s kind of going off into a Brian Wilson trip, really. Let’s hope that’s all it entails. Of course it will. He’s completely sane.”

Time will tell, of course, whether Marty’s Wilde and crazy notions come to fruition. One thing, however, looks likely: when Penguin next revises its encyclopaedia, the entry under Wilde will have to be considerably expanded. And maybe, just maybe, the last line deleted.