The Lucy Show – Mania

For a brief time in the mid 80s, The Lucy Show enjoyed some measure of critical and alternative-radio success. Those were the days when the phrases “alternative radio” and “alternative rock” had yet to be co-opted into the language of the major-label press kit. Mania, The Lucy Show’s second album, hit in 1986. Bands like U2, The Cure, and Simple Minds had already started breaking from alternative to mainstream channels by that time. MTV was kingmaker, and big-name labels were starting to scout for breakthrough acts.

For The Lucy Show, widespread success and recognotion always remained out of reach. Could it have been that Canadian bands didn’t have access to the resources and promotion afforded the favored British bands of the time? The band’s simply amazing first album, Undone, had come out about a year before Mania, and with these two records, The Lucy Show proved that it could hold its own against the heavywieght acts of the time, even if it couldn’t outlast them. Fans of the band have always been without a CD version of Undone and had to hunt for the out-of-print Mania CD until now. Words on Music has continued its tradition of finding and re-releasing gems from the mid-80s with Mania.

The Lucy Show’s sound combines basic pop structures and harmonies but usually darkens them somehow, usually giving them a sadness that wouldn’t be possible without singer Rob Vandeven’s vocals. There’s something about his voice and lyrics that carries a sincerity bordering on naivete. The music is rich and varied – lush at times and stripped-down at other times. Always present, though, is The Lucy Show’s unerring sense of melody. The two singles from the album prove this: “A Million Things” and “New Message” stand out as spectacular examples of Let’s Active-like shots of what it meant to write a catchy alternative-rock song that was bound not to be fully appreciated until decades after its release. And one benefit of this reissue: both singles have alternative versions collected in the CD’s bonus tracks.

“Sun and Moon” has an uptempo but downcast take on the Lucy Show formula. Its Comsat Angels influence is apparent in the guitar work as much as anything else. The song is taut and driving and constrained. Its reverbed and crisp sound deserves mention, as the album was produced by John Leckie – whose resume includes work with Stone Roses, Radiohead, and Felt. In some ways, The Lucy Show brings together elements from these other bands’ sounds (the pop aspects of the Stone Roses, the occasional dark experimentation of Radiohead, and the lonesome detachment of Felt). “Shame” and “Sad September” exemplify that lonesome detachment musically and lyrically – excellent work. “Melody” has spartan, unwavering drum and bass lines whose contribution to the sound help give it a Pornography-era Cure tinge. And although I haven’t even mentioned the guitar work for any of these songs yet, you should know that it is fantastic. Not that it’s ever especially technical, but it always defines its own place in the sound and gives the songs a buoyancy (for the pop matters) or a backing mood of solitude (for the songs of desolation) in just the right way.

“Part of Me Now” has a directness and simplicity that recalls the first China Crisis album. Its keyboard-and-drum-machine instrumentation dispenses with the guitars and drums – and even horns, as on “New Message” – and forces your attention almost exclusively on the vocals. Its four minutes of confession and vulnerability and resignation and promise still captivate. “I’ve been shot / I’ve been wounded somehow / Weave your web / You’ve got a part of me now” observe the vulnerability aspect of being in love, while those first two lines alternate with “I’ve been hit / I’ve been smitten somehow” to remark on the joys of the same.

Every song on this album matters, and fans of the genre who haven’t been lucky enough to hear The Lucy Show until now should grab a copy of Mania and thank Words on Music for continuing to serve up these reissued gems. For those like me who already had Mania on CD, you’ll want to get a copy of the reissue to hear the alternative takes, live cuts, and “unreleased” tracks (the driving, near-perfect “Invitation” came out on the “New Message” 12″ and “Civil Servant” I’d never heard before). Plus, you get the video of “A Million Things,” which MTV did play quite a bit. As much as I love Mania, I still feel like the band’s true impact on the music of its genre cannot be fully appreciated until more people can get their hands on the misunderstood and underappreciated Undone. Until then, though, this reissue of Mania alone will do a lot to further the band’s until-now neglected legacy.