DEAF SCHOOL

OVERVIEW:
A decent but indistinct 70s pop/new wave band with some art rock leanings. They begin all quirky and theatrical, but eventually grow into a more rocking and solid power pop outfit. Their song-writing leaves much to be desired…but the performances are usually spirited, there are some great moments in their small catalog, and their second album is well worth hearing.

THE ALBUMS:

2nd Honeymoon
Don’t Stop The World *
English Boys/Working Girls

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2ND HONEYMOON   (1976)

C+

Deaf School’s first album mostly concentrates on decidedly non-rock styles (cabaret, lounge jazz, musical theater, music-hall). The atmosphere is akin to the Paris suite that opens 10CC’s “The Original Soundtrack” record – very silly and tongue-in-cheek, with a lot of dumb accents and role playing. There’s a very strong “Bonzo Dog Band” vibe to the record (mostly due to the vocals). But it has one major flaw: it sucks. WELL…it doesn’t entirely suck. It has some fun moments (opener “What A Way To End It All” is very catchy, “Ho Jo Hi” has a memorable bouncy hook, and “Knock Knock Knocking” breaks the energy away from oppressive nerdy gaggery to some simple rocking). But for much of the record’s running time, it lacks solid hooks, it doesn’t rock or even “pop,” and the arrangements can grow ridiculously corny (the saxophones don’t help). Some numbers are completely meandering and forgettable (“Cocktails at 8,” and “Snapshots”). I absolutely can’t STAND the chorus hook of “Bigger Splash” – it’s just annoys the living hell out of me. I’m predisposed to enjoy this band’s style, so I’m not ripping it for any philosophical reasons (which I imagine might be the case for your average rock fan not used to flamboyant theatricality in a rock context). The band sounds great throughout, and the arrangements are skillful. But the band would get a lot better (and drop a lot of the corny schtick). You’d be way better off listening to early 10CC.
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DON’T STOP THE WORLD   (1977)

B+

This is a gigantic step up. They’ve mostly dropped the music-hall schtick, and now they’re basically playing power pop. There’s still personality and quirkiness, but the songs actually ROCK and the band sounds a lot tighter and more sure of themselves. The first half of the record totally surprised me – I was not expecting such a major shift in sound –  instead of failed theatricality and joke songs, mostly every tune here is a frenetic and kicking piece of new wave pop. The best tracks are the groovy “What A Jerk,” the punky “Capaldi’s Cafe,” (which is also probably their first successful suite-like number), and the wacky and intricately arranged “Hypertension Yeah Yeah Yeah.” The second side has some slippage into the older style – closer “Last Night” is the worst offender, with its soundtrack music and spoken word monologues. But even the weaker tunes improve upon the limp sound of the debut, and I would imagine this is really the record from which this band’s reputation derives.
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ENGLISH BOYS/WORKING GIRLS    (1978)

B

Continuing in the same vein as the previous album, with perhaps an added dose of punkiness and pep. The style of the first album is completely obliterated by this point, and you can definitely hear the band pushing themselves to fit the new wave/punk scene. There’s a consistency in tone and intent here that gives this record an edge over the messier “Don’t Stop The World.” But unfortunately the material itself isn’t quite as good – a lot of this is way too slight and the melodies tend toward the generic. The album is also very lopsided, with almost all the best songs stacked on the B side! But the band sounds just as tight and propulsive as on the previous record. My favorite track is definitely the punchy XTC-esque “Fire,” which uses a wurly to great effect. Another highlight: “All Queued Up,” with it’s fiery vocal performance by Bette Bright and an infectious (and simple) melody. I enjoy the two title tracks that open each side of the album, and there are scattered fun moments – and the frantic pace is so infectious throughout that it’s easy to overlook some of the thin song-writing. But thin it too often is – stuff like “Golden Showers” and “Refugee” sound fine while playing, but they’re ultimately just too slight and melodically inert for me. This is worth hearing though if you’re a big fan of late-70s power pop. (One more thing: The “Thriller” bass line owes a LOT to the bass part of this album’s “What A Week.”)

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