Bonus tracks can be a bit annoying, a classic album ruined by the bolting-on of outtakes and demos you don’t really care about – but not in this case, the bonus tracks adding gravitas to what might be seen as purely a pop/dance album.
The Communards formed in 1985 after singer Jimmy Somerville left Bronski Beat to team up with classically-trained musician Richard Coles, now possibly Britain’s favour vicar. Red has had a re-release because it’s 35 years old.
The vibe is very much that sound the Pet Shop Boys had back in the day, which may have been called high NRG (up-tempo disco or electronic dance music) a term we’ve never used and will never use again. It may even have been Hi-NRG. Ugh.
The Communards are electronic pop with Somerville’s falsetto to the fore, backed by music that on the surface is clever but fundamentally offers a beat that you could dance round handbags to.
If you like Somerville’s vocals it’s decent pop, with political lyrics. Victims is good, where Somerville sings lower down his range and is slightly darker – not surprising as (like many of Somerville’s songs) it’s about the plight of gay people back in the day, the character in the song clearly having Aids: “Among the whispers barely spoken Billy feels contempt / Indignant words from hypocrites to them it’s God’s revenge / No-one to blame, there’s only victims”. The sound is exactly mid-way between You Spin Me Right Round and Church of the Poisoned Mind from Culture Club.
Don’t Leave Me This Way, a cover of the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes hit, is a standout and still a great song (it was the UK’s biggest selling single of 1986).
However, the experimentation in the new bonus tracks is the most interesting thing about this re-release, and going back to the original album means hearing a lot more than was evident at first play.
In the bonuses, Lovers and Friends sees Coles showing off his classical training, a nice slow song, while 77 The Great Escape has Coles demonstrating his piano chops, the song the sound of a Parisian cafe bar in about 1922 but the lyrics about a rent boy; the dramatic piano makes it a standout. Similarly Romanze for Violin Piano and Hedgehog.
We also like Scat, as it opens with kick drum and hard snare and is a fun song with loops of Somerville’s voice, a proper 12in single B-side.
You’re left feeling that while PSB were more successful, the Boys are technical songwriters while The Communards were interesting musicians.