The Age of Consent
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|The Age of Consent|
|Studio album by Bronski Beat|
|Genre||Synthpop, new wave|
|Bronski Beat chronology|
|Singles from The Age of Consent|
The Age of Consent is the debut album by synthpop band Bronski Beat (Steve Bronski, Larry Steinbachek and Jimmy Somerville), released at the end of 1984 (see 1984 in music) on London Records. This was the only album released by the band to feature Somerville, who departed the band in 1985.
By 1984, many European countries had reduced the age of consent for homosexual acts to 16, but it remained at 21 in the United Kingdom, having only been decriminalised in 1967; the wording of the legislation to decriminalise also included wording that placed restrictions such as making illegal the use of a hotel room for sex. Homosexuality was further stigmatised beyond the restrictions placed on homosexual individuals, and homophobia was a danger to gay individuals.
Against this background, Bronski, Steinbachek, and Somerville met in Brixton in 1983, and soon formed Bronski Beat. They signed a recording contract with London Records in 1984 after doing only nine live gigs.
The album was produced by Mike Thorne; the recording sessions took place in London and New York City. The first single, "Smalltown Boy", was recorded at The Garden studio (owned by former Ultravox singer John Foxx) and mixed at Maison Rouge studio, both of them based in London.
The song "Heatwave" features the tap dancing rhythms of Caroline O'Connor.
The inner sleeve of the album contains the different international ages of consent for males to engage in gay sex, but this was removed from the United States release of the album by MCA Records after sales and radio play were reportedly lower than anticipated because of this little known information.
The album produced three singles; the first, "Smalltown Boy", reached number one in three countries, and was described as perfectly encapsulating "the experience of being young and gay in the '80s".
The single was released in June 1984, peaking at number 3 in the UK singles chart, and reaching number one in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands. It is a poetically poignant, soul searching composition addressing homophobia, loneliness and family misunderstanding.
It is accompanied by a video of Jimmy Somerville with fellow band member friends Larry Steinbachek and Steve Bronski who, while cruising at a public swimming pool and changing room, are attacked and beaten up by a gang of homophobes. Somerville is returned to his family by the police; he leaves home alone and has a reunion with friends Steinbachek and Bronski, travelling to a new life on a train.
The band had the telephone number of the London Gay Switchboard (telephone support and information for gays and lesbians in central London) etched into the inner groove of the 12" vinyl version.[clarification needed]
Additional congas were played by John Folarin. Sleeve cover art was by Gill Whisson.
The follow-up single "Why?" (recorded at RPM Studios, NYC and mixed at Townhouse Studio, London) pursued a more energetic musical formula, while the lyrics focussed more centrally and darkly on anti-gay prejudice. The song opened with and featured a questioning vocal by Somerville and the shattering of breaking glass, emulating the character Oskar in Günter Grass's The Tin Drum. In the novel and film, Oskar screams at an extremely high pitch when he is in danger of not getting his own way, shattering any glass objects in the vicinity. The single made the top 5 in the UK.
The promotional video opens with Steinbachek and Bronski buying artificial bombs and a small statue of Michelangelo's David in a mad supermarket. At the checkout, because they are openly gay, the assistant telephones the management to enquire whether they can pay for the items. They are refused. Meanwhile, Jimmy is singing behind a counter of sausages and salamis and, seeing the dilemma in progress, starts complaining to the checkout girl. All three are arrested by "the thought police" and made to appear for trial before a puppet court and senile judge (Jimmy's father in "Smalltown Boy") The band members are sent to a workhouse. From the workhouse Jimmy rises up into the air and confronts "God". The workers revolt, and strip the thought police of authority and clothing. The band members are placed on pedestals, before "God" transforms all three of them into statues of salt for their alleged sins.
Ironically, the thought-police actors who arrest the trio are the swimmer / homophobic gang-leader from the "Smalltown Boy" video and "Martin", a friend of the band whose situation in a gay relationship with a younger man actually inspired the lyrical content of the song. The video extras were mostly friends of the band; they went on strike during the video shoot, due to the excess labour endured by them in the production.
The "Smalltown Boy" and "Why?" videos were directed by Bernard Rose, who also directed the original video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax".
The song is dedicated to the memory of playwright Drew Griffiths, victim of a homophobic murder in 1984.
The sleeve cover art was by Robert McAulay.
"It Ain't Necessarily So"
The third single "It Ain't Necessarily So", the George and Ira Gershwin/ DuBose Heyward song (from the opera Porgy and Bess) in which the authenticity of Biblical tales is questioned, reached the UK Top 20. The track featured Arno Hecht from The Uptown Horns on solo clarinet and the openly gay male choir from London, The Pink Singers. It was recorded at The Garden studio, London and Skyline Studios, NYC.
The promotional video featured Jimmy and Larry as inmates in a borstal with Jimmy and "Martin" (the "thought police" actor from "Why?") having a Christmas pie-eating competition which takes place during the Christmas religious service, which Jimmy wins. Steve plays a closeted prison warden who has a keen eye for one of the other prisoners.
The cover sleeve art was a parody of The Wizard Of Oz with Dorothy having the head of the devil.
"I Feel Love"
A further single was released - a medley of "I Feel Love / Johnny Remember Me / Love To Love You Baby" that only kept the principle of the medley of "I Feel Love / Johnny Remember Me" used as the closing track of the album and added another Donna Summer disco song, "Love To Love You Baby" as the intro and coda. It featured former "Soft Cell" singer Marc Almond sharing vocals with Jimmy Sommerville and a brand new backing track which is more syntpop-oriented and catchy than the album version, and reached the UK top 5. The choir was "The Pink Singers"; cellos were played by Beverly Lauridsen, Jesse Levy and Mark Shuman.
Sleeve cover art was by Gill Whisson.
Allmusic rated the album with four-and-a-half out of five stars, describing the songs as "compelling vignettes about the vagaries of life as a gay man" and the album as "simply a great album, period." Robert Christgau rated the album as a C+, citing the main drawback as a simple problem - "the narrow dynamic range that afflicts so many falsettos, even those with impeccable reasons for singing like women." The album ranked #12 in CMJ's "Top 20 Most-Played Albums of 1985".
All songs written and composed by Jimmy Somerville, Larry Steinbachek, and Steve Bronski; except where noted.
|2.||"It Ain't Necessarily So"||George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin/DuBose Heyward/Dorothy Heyward||4:43|
|4.||"No More War"||3:55|
|5.||"Love and Money"||5:07|
|10.||"I Feel Love/Johnny Remember Me"||Pete Bellotte/Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer/Geoff Goddard||5:59|
|CD release additional tracks|
|11.||"Smalltown Boy (Full 12" Version)"||9:04|
|12.||"Why? (Full 12" Version)"||7:46|
Personnel and credits
- Bronski Beat
- Steve Bronski - keyboards, percussion
- Larry Steinbachek - keyboards, percussion
- Jimmy Somerville - vocals
- Additional personnel
- Cellos - Beverly Lauridsen, Jesse Levy, Mark Shuman
- Choir - The Pink Singers
- Congas - John Folarin
- Horns - Uptown Horns (Cris Cioe (alto sax & solo, "Love And Money"), Arno Hecht (tenor sax and clarinet solo, "It Ain't Necessarily So"), Hollywood Paul (trumpet) and Bob Funk (trombone))
- Tap Dance - Caroline O'Connor
- Recording engineers: Peter Griffiths (London), Carl Beatty (NYC) & Dominick Maita (NYC)
- Mixing engineers - Harvey Goldberg and Julian Mendelsohn ("Why?")
- Recorded at The Garden (London), Skyline (NYC) & RPM (NYC)
- Mixed at Maison Rouge, The Town House and Right Track Recording
- Mastered by Jack Skinner (Sterling Sound, NYC) & Aaron Chackraverty (The Master Room, London)
- Producer - Mike Thorne
- Dougan, John. The Age of Consent review allmusic.com. Retrieved on 2011-07-24.
- Christgau, Robert. The Age of Consent review robertchristgau.com. Retrieved on 2011-07-24.
- "Smalltown Boy". The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- Day, Aaron (15 July 2013). "The PinkNews Guide to the history of England and Wales equal marriage". Pink News. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- "Smalltown Boy - BRONSKI BEAT". VRT (in Dutch). Top30-2.radio2.be. Retrieved 22 July 2013. Hoogste notering in de top 30 : 1
- "Smalltown boy". HitParadeItalia (in Italian). Creative Commons. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
- "Nederlandse Top 40 – Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- "Dutchcharts.nl – Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- CMJ (1/5/04, p.16)
- Netherlands - Mechacharts - The Age of Consent
- Germany - Media Control Charts - The Age of Consent
- Italy - Albums Charts - The Age of Consent
- Sweden - Sverigetopplistan - The Age of Consent
- New Zealand - Albums - The Age of Consent
- Switzerland - Albums Chart - The Age of Consent
- UK - Albums Chart - The Age of Consent
- Canada - Albums Chart - The Age of Consent
- U.S. - Billboard 200 - The Age of Consent
- UK - Year-end 84 - The Age of Consent
- Canada - Year-end - The Age of Consent
- UK - Year-end 85 - The Age of Consent
- Recording and album info dead link
- Chart info
- Discogs.com album info
- CMJ ranking
- Steve Bronski - for band info