Transvision Vamp: Velveteen (1989)
James and the band eschew most of the indie rock/power pop signifiers of bands like the Primitives and the Darling Buds, embracing more of a classic girl-group sound, going full Phil Spector with the boomy reverb and wall of sound and retro-melodies and just a bit of glam. And while that slick production was part of what made me set it aside after awhile, listened to judicially it's pretty damn enthralling.
Ultimately it's the stand-out singles that make the album worthwhile. Opener "Baby I Don't Care" rips off about a million other pop songs, mostly updating the X version of "Wild Thing," but is impossibly catchy and rises above merely being derivative thanks to James' sexy, inviting croon. This bleeds into "The Only One," another one that sounds like a million other pop songs, and again wins you over thanks to James' vocals--throughout the album sounding like a slightly more girlish take on the gruff growl championed by Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett--and that wall of sound. "Landslide of Love" makes the girl group vibe all the more explicit, a veritable long-lost track from the Ronettes.
After the front-loaded early tracks, it gets a little less exciting, but has it's moments, most notably "Kiss Their Sons," which borrows liberally from Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons," while still sounding fresh; "Born to be Sold," a more understated but no less catchy tune, taking "Summertime Blues" out for a spin; "Down on You," which adds some Jesus & Mary Chain energy (which had been more prevalent on their debut); and the album-closing, bizarre, protracted title track which sounds almost prog-rock in its ambition, for whatever that's worth.
BTW, in taking my recent dive back through the band's short catalog, I concluded that (a) song for song, the debut (Pop Art) is the better album, lots of great stuff, a little more glam and beating the Jesus & Mary Chain to the sound the latter would wield on Automatic, though it was Velveteen that turned me on to the band and has more personal resonance; (b) their third and final album, Little Magnets, was unfairly overlooked at the time, maybe less immediate than the first two but more varied; and (c) James' solo debut, entirely written by Elvis Costello (!), is pretty interesting and something I need to revisit in more depth.
Here's the video for "Baby I Don't Care":