Playing with a Different Sex

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Playing with a Different Sex
Studio album by Au Pairs
Released 1981
Recorded April 1981 at Jacobs Studios, Surrey, England
Genre Post-punk, dance-punk
Label Human
Producer Ken Thomas, Martin Culverwell, Au Pairs
Au Pairs chronology
Playing with a Different Sex
Sense and Sensuality

Playing with a Different Sex is the debut studio album by English post-punk band Au Pairs. It was released in 1981, through record label Human.

In its retrospective review, AllMusic described the album as "one of the great, and perhaps forgotten, post-punk records."[1] The album peaked at No. 33 in Britain and launched the single "It's Obvious", which reached No. 37 on the Club Play Singles charts in America in 1981.


The album was re-released in 2000 on CD by RPM Records, a subsidiary of label Cherry Red. The 2000 release includes an additional eight tracks, consisting of singles, remixes and previously unreleased songs.


Many of the songs on the album deal with sexual politics. In "Repetition", a David Bowie cover, domestic violence is explored ("I guess the bruises won't show/If she wears long sleeves"), and the possessiveness underlying an open relationship is pilloried in "We're So Cool" ("you must admit/I'm prepared to share/At off-peak times").[2]

Allegations of rape and torture of Irish women imprisoned in the city of Armagh in Northern Ireland are the core content of the song "Armagh", which challenges the notion that "civilized nations" do not torture.[3] "We don't torture, we don't torture/American hostages in Iran" the lyrics say, following which the song turns to the situation in Ireland: "There are thirty-two women in Armagh jail/Political prisoners here at home", before describing alleged incidents of abuse. The song led to limited distribution of the album in Ireland, when Northern Irish record distributors refused to carry it.[4]

The song "Come Again" refers to the social pressure to "achieve orgasmic equality";[5] a 1982 profile in Mother Jones notes that the song depicts sex "as a dreary ritual in which partners as joyless as lab rats press bars and nose buttons in the hopes of an orgasm as dry and quantifiable as kibble."[6] The song, directed at "those who changed the game" and "brought in new rules", asks "is it real? Are you feeling it?", before turning into a dialogue between the female lead singer and male back up who is evidently attempting to satisfy her: "Am I doing it right?" he asks, and the woman reassures him, "You're not selfish/You're trying hard to please me – please, please me/Is your finger aching?/I can feel you hesitating." The song was banned from the BBC, who feared parental backlash.[7][8]

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[1]

Describing the album in The Rough Guide to Rock (2003), Owen James referred to the bands mix of humour and righteous anger, stating "They don't make them like this anymore."[9] In 2002's She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, Gillian Gaar suggested that "the taut rhythms and aggressive lyrics of Different Sex make it a classic example of how the influence of punk could steer rock into exciting new areas."[2] The song "Diet", originally released as a single in 1980 and recorded for a session for BBC Radio 1 in 1981, as later released on Equal but Different (1994), a compilation of twenty of the band's BBC performances, and included in the extended reissue of the first album, was described by Fact Magazine as a "masterpiece of feminist rock" with an almost unparalleled "power and pathos."[10]

Track listing[edit]

Except where otherwise noted, all songs by Paul Foad, Peter Hammond, Jane Munro and Lesley Woods.

Side A[edit]

  1. "We're So Cool" – 3:29
  2. "Love Song" – 2:51
  3. "Set-Up" – 3:21
  4. "Repetition" (Bowie) – 3:34
  5. "Headache for Michelle" – 6:39

Side B[edit]

  1. "Come Again" – 3:54
  2. "Armagh" – 3:37
  3. "Unfinished Business" – 3:29
  4. "Dear John" – 2:57
  5. "It's Obvious" – 6:19

Reissue Bonus Tracks[edit]

  1. "You" – 2:52
  2. "Domestic Departure" – 2:22
  3. "Kerb Crawler" – 2:47
  4. "Diet" – 4:19
  5. "It's Obvious" (Single Version) – 5:47
  6. "Inconvenience" (12" Version) – 2:56
  7. "Pretty Boys" – 3:40
  8. "Headache for Michelle" (Remix) – 6:38


Au Pairs
  • Jane Munro – bass guitar, production
  • Lesley Woods – guitar, vocals, production
  • Paul Foad – guitar, vocals, production
  • Peter Hammond – drums, production
  • Eve Arnold – cover photography
  • Ken Thomas – production, engineering
  • Martin Culverwell – production


  1. ^ a b Dougan, John. "Playing with a Different Sex – The Au Pairs : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. AllRovi. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Gaar, Gillian G. (2002). She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. Seal Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-58005-078-4. 
  3. ^ For context of allegations of abuse against women in Armagh Prison in the late 1970s and early 1980s, see Murray, Raymond (1998). Hard Times, Armagh Ghaol 1971–1986. Dublin, Ireland: Mercier Press. ISBN 1-85635-223-4. 
  4. ^ Reddington 2007, p. 136.
  5. ^ Reynolds, Simon (6 June 2006). "The Au Pairs Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology". Blender. 
  6. ^ Swartley, Ariel (June 1981). "Girls! Live! On Stage". Mother Jones: 29. ISSN 0362-8841. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Taormino, Tristan; Green, Karen (1997). A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution. Macmillan. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-312-15535-3. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  8. ^ Reddington 2007, p. 135.
  9. ^ James, Owen (2003). "Au Pairs". In Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-84353-105-0. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Marcus, Tony. "The Au Pairs: Fact Magazine". Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. 

External links[edit]