Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When In Rome (1988)

"I'm sorry but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But if you wait around a while I'll make you fall for me. I promise. I promise you. ...I will."
-When In Rome, When In Rome, The Promise (and sounding awfully applicable to the newly launched Dog In Space)-

If only some act's were more than a footnote in pop history? If only some acts were more than what amounts essentially to one-hit wonders? If Only was the song of choice that inspired this post from the car sound system today.

Every so often a full recording by a newcomer came along in the 1980s that seemed to genuinely capture and achieve pop nirvana. Cutting Crew's Broadcast (1986) had that impact for me. It was a debut of pure magic. Each song was truly epic. The debut of Living In A Box (1987) with the power house voice of Richard Darbyshire had a near similar effect.

So, likewise, the eponymous debut, When In Rome, by When In Rome, yielded a collection of tremendously catchy and memorable pop songs spearheaded by the rhythmically persistent The Promise. Like Broadcast (see here), When In Rome was just such a collection of pure, pristine, and meticulously produced pop magnificence that even a critical darling like U2 would have difficulty unseating it from my more perceptive and appreciative ears.

In fact, for a time, I was so hungry for When In Rome material I managed to collect a handful of the rare b-sides including 1,000 Reasons and Whatever The Weather. Those endangered tracks sprinkled the collector's market and have since become increasingly hard to find. I still have them.

If only most artists had debuts as strong as When In Rome. If only most artists could sustain that magic through a career. If only some acts didn't completely fall apart after just such a promising debut. But that's precisely what happened to When In Rome, a band with a clear ear for the pop hook.

The England-based trio of vocalist Clive Farrington, Andrew Mann and keyboardist Michael Floreale just couldn't deliver beyond a single record. Submitting to internal problems the threesome dismantled despite the classic work produced by Ben Rogan with Richard James Burgess, who also surprisingly worked with Living In A Box.

Not unlike the trajectory of Frankie Goes To Hollywood following the exquisitely produced mayhem of Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984) with and by Trevor Horn, When In Rome simply imploded. And sadly, we'll never know what might have been. Often times the critical follow-up can work as a proverbial nail in the coffin, while for others it is a springboard that further enables the fruits of one's musical labors. Some wither and die (Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Liverpool) as a result while others endure (Howard Jones' Dream Into Action). There are any number of contributing factors, but such is the fickle reality of the music business and the equally fickle affections of music lovers. The profound influence of the music producer is a conversation for another post.

When In Rome was never received well by critics, but smart fans of 80s music know better. For many, it remains a pop classic and easily registers as one of the finest single recording highlights by a band of the 1980s.

Apart from The Promise, other songs including If Only, Heaven Knows, Sight Of Your Tears, Something Going On, Wide, Wide Sea and the rest hold up marking an infinitely memorable project. Some debuts could only hope to be this strong.

It had been some time since listening to When In Rome in its entirety. Hearing If Only reminded me of this well-crafted pop record. Just beautiful.

How ironic that a band to release a near top ten in The Promise, and demonstrate so much promise for one glimmering pop moment would all but disappear into the footnoted ether of music history with its sole release.

What When In Rome lacks in songwriting brains more than compensates with well-conceived pop hooks.  The production is an underappreciated and forgotten diamond in the rough of the 1980s. Something was indeed going on there.

When In Rome: The Promise/ Heaven Knows/ Something Going On/ I Can't Stop/ If Only/ Sight Of Your Tears/ Wide, Wide Sea/ Child's Play/ Total Devotion/ Everything

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