The Power Station: The Power Station (1985) & Living In Fear (1996)

When The Power Station was released in 1985, it was proffered as the supergroup’s attempt to mix The Sex Pistols with Chic.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the presence of Chic members Tony Thompson on drums and Bernard Edwards producing, this sounds nothing like that at all.  Not nearly punk, not remotely disco.

It’s a genuinely original sound, quintessentially ’80s, yes, but uniquely its own thing.  Andy Taylor out of Duran Duran’s crunchy, hard rock guitar mixed with John Taylor out of Duran Duran’s in-your-face bass against the backbone of Thompson’s powerhouse drums – which sound like he’s playing some upturned bins with a set of hammers.  All this and the occasional wall of synths and horns married to the smooth vocal stylings of Robert Palmer.  It shouldn’t work, really, but it does.

A mix of originals and covers, the original tunes are headed up by the stark funk rock of album opener and hit single Some Like It Hot.  Quality straight-ahead rocker Murderess follows, successfully mixing old-school riffage with horns and a nifty noir lyric (“I heard his breath escape/She left the gun on the floor/He left his key with me/I hadn’t been there before”).  Lonely Tonight is overly synth-reliant soul, the weakest thing here but working in context, while Communication features some tasty lead guitar from Andy Taylor bringing to mind Jeff Beck’s work from the same year’s Flash.  As does Go To Zero, which is a real album highlight, mixing up some contemporary prog influences with foregrounded bass and some of the best guitar playing on the album, from weird chord voicings to a fusion-esque outro solo.  Final track Still In Your Heart is an affecting sax-infused ballad with a rich, proggy keyboard arrangement.  The covers are a surprisingly effective take on The Isley Brothers’ Harvest For The World, performed as a Palmer/Andy Taylor duet, plus the second hit from the album, Get It On (Bang a Gong), a complete reinvention of the T-Rex classic replete with memorable guitar parts and a Bernard Edwards slap bass break.

After the album there was an eponymous video EP, a VHS release consisting of a recording-the-album documentary cut around the day-glo promo videos.  However, Palmer quit before the tour.  The band recruited Michael Des Barres but this line-up recorded only one track (Someday, Somehow, Someone’s Gotta Pay for the Commando soundtrack) before calling it quits.

A decade later, seemingly out of nowhere, The Power Station returned with a performance on Top Of The Pops of new single She Can Rock It. This was intended to herald the release of a new album. I may be remembering this wrongly, but the album release ended up being delayed to the point of public disinterest and even now Living In Fear is a comparative obscurity.  As a project, it was troubled from the start.  John Taylor had been part of the preproduction process but left before the actual recordings (he’s credited as cowriter on all nine of the original songs here), hence Bernard Edwards’ promotion to bass player as well as producer. Sadly, Edwards died before the album’s release.

I hadn’t listened to Living In Fear in years and was surprised at how well it holds up.  The intention was clearly to revisit the basic formula of the 1985 album: mostly original songs (nine to the first album’s six), plus two covers, with a supporting cast of musicians featuring many of the original’s session players.  The patented “upturned bins and hammers” drums are toned down and the general sound has been updated (as ’90s as the first album is ’80s) if still drawing from the same rock, funk and electronic influences.

The first side opens with a strong enough run of rock numbers – Notoriety (funky horns and some commendably nasty riffing), Scared (melodic rock take on a post grunge vibe), She Can Rock It (decent riff, with some cheeky Get It On references).  The album stumbles badly though with its first cover, a lumpen, unwelcome and seemingly endless take on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.  This lessens the impact of Life Forces which is a prog-flavoured keyboard heavy number in keeping stylistically with earlier cuts Go To Zero and Communication, if not as strong.

Side Two starts with a nod to the Minneapolis Sound of the ’80s in Fancy That, not a bad track but strangely dated and out of place. Certainly it doesn’t hint at what’s coming – from here on in the album hits its stride, the next three tracks in particular taking no prisoners.  Title track Living in Fear is Zeppelin-structured and Sabbath-heavy.  Absolutley epic, and before you can ask “where the fuck did that come from?!?”, the aggressive alternative funk rock of Shut Up kicks in.  Good as Shut Up is,  the pressure is only upped by Dope: raw, dense and heavy as fuck.  A stylistic left turn gets us to Love Conquers All, Memphis Soul meets bare-boned British Blues.  It’s good stuff, with some tasty, gnarly leads from Taylor who takes on the lead vocal for the final track, a retooling of The Beatles’ Tax Man, tabla and sitar giving way to Edwards’ heavy funk bass riff and psych-rock guitar aplenty.  Not a favourite song of mine but this version works and makes for a decent album closer.

Lyrically, neither album strays far from the basic sex-and-relationships template that mainstream rock thrives on, with some pre-millenial tension raising its head on Living In Fear.  The occasional arresting image and nice turn of phrase are enough to keep things interesting, only occasionaly succumbing to pedestrianism.  In terms of performance, production and great music though, both albums deliver.  The first one is, I reckon, a classic of its era, more challenging and original than it perhaps seemed at the time.  One of a string of ’80s albums that basically set out the groundwork for the funk/rock crossover scenes of the ’90s, The Power Station stands as the best of them.  Living In Fear may be just a few too many “b-sides” over the limit for greatness, taking too long to find its stride, but those moments where the band really digs deep make for a rewarding listen. With Edwards’ passing and the subsequent deaths of Thompson and Palmer it’s unlikely if not impossible that we’ll hear more from The Power Station which is a shame as at their best they were a band greater than the sum of its considerable parts.ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - The Power Station Living in Fear

Physical copies of both albums are easy enough to find, whether online or in the real world, affordable in most formats (there was no vinyl release of Living in Fear).  A 20th anniversary CD rerelease from 2005 of the first album is well worth picking up as it contains the Des Barres Commando track and various remixes, all decently remastered, as well as a DVD featuring the ’85 video EP with bonus material.  It seems to fetch upwards of £20 these days, mind.  The tapes set me back about £4 each and are in good order, fold out lyrics and all.

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The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

An American family (Edward Albert, Susan George and a terrible child actress) move into their new home in Japan only to find themselves possessed by Samurai ghosts.  This inevitably leads to evil mermaid encounters, a killer crab attack, some karate, haunted soup (yes, haunted soup), and a sex scene with an unexpectedly naked Doug McClure.

The House Where Evil Dwells is an interesting wee movie in that it’s an early attempt to do a Japanese ghost story properly for a western audience (most obviously bringing to mind the The Grudge) long before scary weans were crawling out of TV screens all over the shop.  Shot in Japan, it’s a US/Japanese coproduction with a largely Japanese supporting cast.

Here, it all kicks off with a 19th century tragedy, wherein a samurai discovers his wife in flagrante with another man before going properly slo-mo mental.  SPOILER ALERT: everybody dies.  When Albert, George and the terrible child actress move in over a century later, these 19th century characters are on hand as very old school ghosts (their fading in and out of sight apparently acheived in-camera).  As family life unfolds, the ghosts watch on disapprovingly before, well, possessing the soup.  Not content with the supernatural control of hot dinners, they go on to possess the parents, making them re-enact the original tragic love triangle with family friend McClure.  Occasionally violent and for the most part atmospheric, it would be a push to say there were any real scares here – the vibe is more Tales of the Unexpected than The Omen.

Not easy to find affordably on DVD, I picked this up online partly because of that genre cast but mainly due to director Kevin Connor’s track record with great ’70s schlock.  As well as being the man behind both Motel Hell and Arabian Adventure, it was Connor who helmed McClure’s career-high starring vehicles At The Earth’s Core, The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot and Warlords of AtlantisThe House Where Evil Dwells is an odd but worthy addition to that list.

tapesformyvcr.wordpress.com - The House Where Evil Dwells

1984 ex-rental/big box pre-cert, about a fiver online.