Transvision Vamp: Velveteen (1989)

The late 80s heralded a number of stellar, like-minded indie pop bands fronted by women -- The Primitives, the Darling Buds, Voice of the Beehive... I picked up Transvision Vamp's second LP, Velveteen, when it came out in 1989, and had it in steady rotation for awhile.  But unlike some of the other records of the era, I tired of it and set it aside, literally for decades--in part because the big production was a bit much, in part because playing up the sex kitten aspect of the (admittedly entrancing) frontwoman Wendy James made them feel less credible than some of those other acts.  But there was a nice reissue package last year, and I was pleasantly reminded how good this is.

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":
And "The Only One" (tv lip-sync):
 ..and a particularly low-quality copy of the "Landslide of Love" video: