Date: 21 July 2020
Originally published in: BlogCritics.org website (USA)
Written by: Justin Kantor
Within the realm of ’80s pop, the name Kim Wilde might seem a mere footnote to the mainstream American listening audience at large. The scope of her airplay and record sales on these shores came mainly from two big hits separated by a span of five years. 1981’s anthemic synth-rocker “Kids in America” and a polished but energetic pop-dance rendition of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in 1986 were her only records afforded significant exposure here.
In her UK home base and throughout Europe, however, Wilde has been a consistent hitmaker and touring artist for the better part of four decades. London-based Cherry Red recently reissued her first three albums in expanded two-CD/DVD editions that highlight the distinct mix of pop, new wave, and soul which she and producer (and brother) Ricky Wilde crafted before her decade-long run with MCA Records. The melodic appeal and rhythmic energy of material found on these recordings made from ’81 to ’83 are of a considerably contrasting tone to many of her most-played singles from the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Tracks on 1981’s self-titled LP and 1982’s Select are the most rock-oriented. By 1983’s Catch as Catch Can, Kim, Ricky, and dad Marty (himself a veritable British rock star during the ’60s) began experimenting with varied sonic patterns which foreshadowed her eventual crossover into more R&B-leaning pop fare. At their core, though, the tunes and arrangements still embody a stylish new-wave essence. The sometimes poetic, at times moody, and other times artsy lyrics blur the genre lines with Kim’s cool yet sassy, straightforward but vulnerable delivery.
Disc One of the Catch as Catch Can reissue contains the original 10-track album, a B-side, one never-before-heard cut, and six alternate mixes. The opening “House of Salome” continues the storytelling verve of earlier hits such as “Cambodia” and “Child Come Away,” but with a historical twist. Casting the New Testament dancing daughter of Herodias in a tale of intrigue and romance, it’s a survey of the fine line between fantasy and reality. The subsequent “Backstreet Joe” isn’t as imaginative in its verbiage, but pulls one in easily with a keen combination of acute synth jabs and potent melodies.
The album’s biggest hit, the subtly jazzy swinger “Love Blonde,” builds on the layering of triple-feel melodies over a double-feel rhythm, while the atmospheric synth swirler “Dream Sequence” opens with two instrumental minutes before escaping into a tale of 19th-century Apache Indian chief Cochise’s struggles interwoven with a young lady’s night visions of ambition and inhibition. The juxtaposition of these two numbers exemplifies the broad range of moods and stylistic leanings of both the music and vocals found within the set.
Perhaps the most overtly mainstream effort of Wilde’s tenure with RAK Records, the single “Dancing in the Dark” (released several months ahead of Bruce Springsteen’s now classic song of the same title) was the first on any of her albums to be penned by writers outside of the family stable. The track faded into relative obscurity quickly after its single release, but proved to be an ideal fit for her loose but assured phrasing. More impactful overall in lyrical content and musical distinction, the dark-driving “Shoot to Disable” and the hopeful, invigorating “Sparks” keep her unique vocal qualities in the spotlight while offering plentiful rhythmic charge and memorable melody.
The aforementioned extra tracks on Disc One are a satisfying supplement to the original LP. While several of these were included on an earlier reissue of Catch as Catch Can, the RAK Mix of “Dancing in the Dark” is a notable addition. Sans the post-production of Nile Rodgers, the track actually works a bit better in the setting of a Kim Wilde album. Without the extra synth flourishes and percussive layers, there’s less to distract from her vocals, and the atmosphere is a bit more carefree. Furthermore, the previously unreleased “Rain On” shows a mellower side of Wilde while demonstrating another facet of her pleasing vocal range.
The real nuts and bolts of the bonus content, however, lie in Disc Two. Rough and original mixes of all but one of the album’s songs are included-the exception, interestingly, being “Love Blonde.” There’s not necessarily a world of difference in each instance; the most entertaining to discover are the instrumental demo of “Dream Sequence” and the rough mix of “Can You Hear It,” which has a charming homemade feel. Also, an unreleased tune, “Sail On,” fits the mold of the album, but with a radio-ready chorus that brings to mind work by several other Brit-pop bands of the time.
Rounding out the goodies on Disc Two are newly commissioned remixes of “Love Blonde” and “Can You Hear It,” as well as a sought-after promo-only DJ edit of “Sparks” and a reverse play of the “Dream Sequence” instrumental. The supplemental DVD is a brief but welcome treat. As promotional footage from this relatively low-key point in Wilde’s career isn’t abundant, the six clips comprise two TV performances each of “Love Blonde” and “Dancing in the Dark,” in addition to the singles’ respective music videos. “Dancing in the Dark” is one of very few Wilde videos from the ’80s not given a commercial VHS release back in the day, so it’s delightful to see it in high quality via this package.
Catch as Catch Can, over 35 years on from its original release, stands as a solid showcase for Kim Wilde’s vocal prowess and the musical cross-section of gritty elements defining her early style and the smoother overtones of later hits. Although the production is unmistakably of its time, the balance and discretion of the instrumentation and arrangements hold up nicely. Infused with colorful lyrics, the resulting repertoire is still relevant and stimulating. The wealth of bonus cuts and complementary video footage make for several hours’ worth of engaging listening and viewing likely to please ’80s pop fans time and time again.