Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy - Guilty Pleasure #3

This (very) occasional series may be called Guilty Pleasures, but we’re beginning to wonder if it should actually be called ‘Classic Pop We Love.’ Whilst our previous two choices (t.A.T.u and Kylie ) could quite possibly fit into the former category, there is a school of thought that says that Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat is not a song to feel guilty about at all. So, let’s put this in a cultural context. In 1984 being gay was still something that a person could feel easily stigmatised about - it was, in a way, something that was a guilty pleasure to be. Of course the prejudice and ignorance regarding homosexuality that Jimmy Sommerville sang about in his song Disenchanted with his later band The Communards now seems like a distant memory. Just a blot on the receding landscape. Doesn’t it ? Oh, actually hello Jan Moir, maybe we’re not there yet.

But in the mid 80’s the debut single from Bronski Beat seemed like a revelation. They were one of the first glad to be gay pop bands. Here were fresh, honest, politicised young men playing disco danceable electronic pop music. Smalltown Boy was one of their defining moments, telling a tale of discovery - a young man leaving the parental nest because the “Answers you seek will never be found at home.” It’s accompanying video saw three men cruising for boys in a swimming pool. It was so openly gay that in the 80’s it was quite remarkable. With this single Bronski Beat brought gay men and their feelings to the mainstream and with it formed the way for a lava flow of hot gay danceable pop that started with Culture Club and Soft Cell and continued with amongst many others including Dead Or Alive and Erasure.

Looking back now, this openness of sexuality in pop seems to have almost regressed. How many mainstream outwardly gay bands are there in the UK charts right now ? How many flamboyantly honest and unique acts are there ? Will Young anyone ? Doesn't quite fit the bill does he ? As lead singer Sommerville says in the sleeve notes to his Very Best Of compilation “Culturally we’ve become so homogenised. We have a new generation of pop stars, of artists; except they’re not artists, they’re just fodder for production teams and stylists. They come from stage school and they can dance, they can hold a note, they can act a bit, they look nice - but they don’t have anything that goes ‘bang!’ I can still enjoy some trashy pop, but once upon a time it shared a stage with other stuff, it didn’t dominate. Now it dominates because it’s a safe bet, and that’s sad.”

Smalltown Boy is a lonely moving song with a beautiful melody set to a wonderful electronic rhythm. It hit number 3 in the charts and the album Age Of Consent reached number 4. Sommerville himself went on to have considerable success with his next band The Communards, as well as solo.

Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy - The funniest home videos are here

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