Saturday 24 November 2012

BONEY M: Oceans Of Fantasy

(#215: 29 September 1979, 1 week)

Track listing: Let It All Be Music/Gotta Go Home/Bye Bye Bluebird/Bahama Mama/Hold On I’m Coming/Two Of Us/Ribbons Of Blue/Oceans Of Fantasy/El Lute/No More Chain Gang/I'm Born Again/No Time To Lose/Calendar Song

(Author’s Note: the above is the actual track order as appears on the original LP issue – Atlantic catalogue number K 50610 – and as is listed on the record label itself; both outer and inner sleeves give a slightly differing track order for side two, with the title track coming between “No More Chain Gang” and “I’m Born Again” – this was the running order on initial copies, but was quickly changed to this standard issue listing)

There does exist a German CD edition of Oceans Of Fantasy but I was unable to find it in any shop and couldn’t really be bothered ordering one from Amazon. In any case, notwithstanding the fact that the CD edition is actually some 2½ minutes shorter than the LP original, the otherwise inexplicable appeal of some number one albums can be more readily explained by their original packaging. From climbing a ropey rope ladder into space on the front of Nightflight To Venus, our less than fab four are now pictured on the cover as the world’s worst surfers. On the rear they appear to be imprisoned in a diamond in Neptune’s shell. The inner gatefold design is enough to make you wonder whether Europe got past 1971, dotted as it is with sub-Roger Dean fantastical aquatic beasts – how does a moon rise and shine, and chemically how does a fire burn, under water? – before it unexpectedly opens up to reveal hapless Bobby Farrell sitting atop a throne, wearing a Christmas cracker crown, the ladies draped uncertainly around him.

That’s about as much as Farrell has to do with this record. The inner sleeve features a photograph of the “FRANK FARIAN CREW – THE 5TH MEMBER OF BONEY M” (what, all of them?) in the studio, beaming like the 1979-80 Borussia Dortmund First XI. The men are credited as per a secondary school team photograph – “K. Forsey,” “M. Cretu,” etc. – and only Farian and his chief engineer Tammy Grohë are billed under their full names. Indeed, Farian seems to have been determined on this record to give due credit where credit is due, mainly to himself. There is no pretence of Farrell being present; Farian is credited among the vocalists, and it is especially noticeable that of the other members of Boney M, only Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett contribute any vocals. In other words, only half the group pictured is present on the record.

Inevitably, this makes Oceans Of Fantasy a rather anonymous, or anonymising, record. Contrary to what was promised on the inner sleeve of entry #212, “Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday” is conspicuously not present, but its B-side “Ribbons Of Blue” is here, albeit in severely edited form (i.e. the fader is pressed about two minutes in), as though Farian were unsuccessfully trying to cram it onto the end of an already over-stuffed first side.

Not, I suspect, that that would have made much difference, for Oceans is a wearying listen, albeit a very efficiently assembled wearying listen. The scant evidence of personality, imagination and contrarianism present on its predecessor has vanished, leaving yet another bland attempt to please “everyone.” At times I had to be reminded that I was listening to Boney M; when Eruption’s lead singer Precious Wilson (“Special Guest Star Of Boney M”) takes over at the end of “Let It All Be Music” or sings “Hold On I’m Coming,” one is listening to an Eruption record. Lennon and McCartney’s “Two Of Us” is done as Woolworth’s reggae.

Of the rest, “Let It All Be Music” begins with the promising spectre of Shriekback playing Abba, but quickly de-evolves into routine mediocrity. “Gotta Go Home” is far better experienced as a sample on Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand” (i.e. without the intrusive steel drum reprise). “Bye Bye Bluebird” is background music for SuperSavers With Don Maclean, with some horrendous and endless synthesised flute and an understandably gutsy tenor solo from Bobby Stern. “Bahama Mama” is unremarkable apart from a mid-song exclamation: “What’s the MATTER with men today?” “Ribbons Of Blue” is an unsuccessful attempt to recapture “Rivers Of Babylon” down to its title having the same initials, despite some incongruous pedal steel musings.

The title track would like to be one of those extended aquafunk masterpieces waiting to be rediscovered by Ross Allen or Gilles Peterson a couple of decades later but just comes off as bad Earth, Wind and Fire and is additionally creepy due to the fact that Farian – unusually high-pitched – does the double-tracked lead vocal. In other words, he is now standing in for the girls in the group as well as poor Bobby. It isn’t quite the uncle to “Southern Freeez” that it would like to be. The track, as far as I can see, has absolutely nothing to do with “Boney M” whose album this is supposed to be.

Worse are the attempts to broaden out. “El Lute” is an interminable “Fernando” wannabe, complete with panpipes, while the similarly-themed “No More Chain Gang” – wrongly imprisoned oppressee makes a run for freedom – is diverted into a strange and overlong mid-song percussion break; Farian’s whispered snarls here remind me of no one as much as Dieter Meier. “I’m Born Again” is a Songs Of Praise waltz with Cretu again prominent on synthesised accordion and (ghastly, sub-Oldfield) electric guitar. “No Time To Lose” wants to be sexy, irreverent funk (“There’s no denyin’/He sends me flyin’”) but sounds like the Barron Knights trying to do Heatwave (also, the song peters out into nothingness halfway through before wearily resuming). And they couldn’t find space for “Holi-Holiday” – I’m not really going to complain about that – but still find room at the end for the awful “Calendar Song” which was hideous when the Trinidad Oil Company took it into the bottom of our Top 40 in early 1977 (on Harvest, the label of Pink Floyd, Roy Harper and the Saints) and sounds no better here.

This is a record which really could have come out with nobody’s name on it; why, then, did it enter our charts at number one? The Woolworth’s factor again? Unfussy kids? Holidaymakers coming into autumn and remembering the good, hot, sunny times two months earlier? I think that all of these were factors to some extent; disco? The record barely qualifies as such; it is efficient, regimented, character-free background noise, music (like so many of these entries) for people who fundamentally do not like music. I’m hard pressed even to find any camp elements (other than the mythical campfire singalong of “El Lute”). But note also that the record was only top for one week, and that the group were already on the downward slope commercially (neither of its two singles made the top ten); it is like a signoff from another time, waiting to be swiftly discarded in order for oceans of originality to make their waves felt.