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Reissue CDs Weekly: Be-Bop Deluxe - Drastic Plastic | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Be-Bop Deluxe - Drastic Plastic

Reissue CDs Weekly: Be-Bop Deluxe - Drastic Plastic

Box-set edition of Bill Nelson and Co’s final album reveals the inevitability of the band’s demise

Be-Bop Deluxe embrace the negative for 'Drastic Plastic'

Bill Nelson knew February 1978’s Drastic Plastic was the last Be-Bop Deluxe album. In his essay for the book coming with the new “deluxe expanded” box-set reissue, he writes “that, as far as I was concerned, was that, the final Be-Bop Deluxe studio album, an era ended and a new one was about to begin. As the songs developed, I felt that the album might provide a kind of bridge to what might happen further along the road.

It was definitely a half-way house between Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.”

Be-Bop Deluxe split in August 1978 and Nelson’s new band Red Noise first played live on 2 February 1979. This box set shows his old outfit’s final album to have been transitional. For Bill Nelson, that is. Not for the other members.

Be Bop Deluxe Drastic PlasticAt the time though, it didn’t look as though Be-Bop Deluxe were on the way out. The box set includes a DVD with the band’s BBC Sight & Sound In Concert, a radio and TV simulcast filmed on 19 January 1978. For the TV broadcast, the concert’s seven tracks were all from the forthcoming album. Apart from the new single “Panic in the World”, no one watching knew any of the songs as it was the first time they had been performed live. At this point, Be-Bop Deluxe were looking forward.

Introducing “Panic in the World” during the concert, Nelson said “we’re going to do a song which we’ve just recorded for a single. Yet another vain attempt at the hit parade.” He looks and sounds good humoured. What would become the band’s penultimate single did not bother the Top 50 but Drastic Plastic did get to 22 in the album charts. The band’s previous single, September’s 1977’s non-album “Japan” / "Futurist Manifesto" , was not played. Like “Panic in the World”, it did not chart and was seemingly not worth dwelling on in this live setting. That Be-Bop Deluxe had a future was confirmed in a press release for the album which said the band would be recording a new album in May 1978. But that may have been spin, as it also said a solo Nelson album would follow.

Heard now, “Panic in the World” sounds great. Commercial too. Underpinned by a rolling rhythm and bubbling synth akin to David Bowie’s “Heroes”, it’s melodic, to the point and has a chugging guitar figure not far from the new wave which Be-Bop Deluxe ante-dated. The same Drastic Plastic press release quoted Nelson saying “I heard a couple of tracks from [the album] Heroes and I was amazed some of the ideas were very much like the ones we had.” Nelson also said Drastic Plastic is “definitely in tune with the coming year.” The album may have been that, but Nelson decided that Be-Bop Deluxe were not. As 1977 began, he had started seriously exploring the potential of synthesisers and change was inevitable. When Be-Bop Deluxe first made waves, Nelson’s guitar virtuosity had attracted attention. Now, he was moving on.

Be Bop Deluxe Drastic Plastic_promo picAll this comes together on the Drastic Plastic box set, which corralles the press release, the BBC concert (on a DVD and, on CD, the longer radio version), the singles and the album. There’s more: across the six discs there’s a remastered version of the album, previously unheard demos for the album, outtakes from the sessions, a shelved EP from August 1977, a Peel session, a new mix of the album, Nelson’s home movies of the album sessions (on the DVD) and, on another DVD, a surround-sound album mix (this DVD also collects the new album mix and the original album). There’s also the book, postcards and a poster. As with the previous Be-Bop Deluxe box-set reissues, Nelson’s writing is analytical, engaging, entertaining and self-aware. The box is marketed as a limited edition, though no information is given on how many copies have been manufactured.

As he knew and knows, Drastic Plastic was different to previous Be-Bop Deluxe albums. In general, it wasn’t far from the form of British art rock encompassing the Eno of December 1977’s Before And After Science – even though Be-Bop Deluxe had completed recording their album by then. Pell-mell album track “Love In Flames” edged towards the sound of XTC, who issued their first single in October 1977. This was a chicken and egg thing: the early XTC always had a degree of Be-Bop Deluxe in them. Curiously, Nelson says nothing about punk, new wave or the musical changes of 1977 in his text.

Be Bop Deluxe Drastic Plastic_panic in the worldOver four decades on from its release, Drastic Plastic feels of a piece with where music was going when it was issued in February 1978. Sure, there are touches of prog in the sometimes widdly keyboards (more prevalent on the BBC concert) but this was a progressive album. Early intimations of this come from the revealing demos collected on Disc Four. “Love In Flames” isn’t what it became on Drastic Plastic but is already new wave-ish and oddly like Devo. “Electrical Language” is already a form of synth-pop. Those familiar with the original album should head to these demos first. At this early stage, Nelson knew what Drastic Plastic would be.

Nonetheless, despite the Bowie and Eno parallels and being new wave aware, hit singles were not forthcoming. Following the 26 May release of album track “Electrical Language” as a single, Be-Bop Deluxe became history three months later.

Obviously, this is the last word on Drastic Plastic. And as it became their final album, it’s also the last word on Be-Bop Deluxe. Nelson writes “the band could have continued of course, perhaps eventually becoming more loved for its past than its future. I didn’t care for that. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career recreating history. My desire to move things along, back then, might have been seen as commercial suicide by some.” Fans will want this edition of Drastic Plastic as it says new things about the Be-Bop Deluxe of 1977 and 1978. More importantly, it goes further by recontextualising the familiar.

In 1978, Bill Nelson said 'I heard a couple of tracks from David Bowie's Heroes album and was amazed some of the ideas were very much like the ones we had'

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