10 February 2009
Sister of Mercy by the Thompson Twins, proof that sometimes it is possible to draw a fourth single from a very good album - Into The Gap - without tarnishing that album at all.
My earliest memory of the Thompson Twins was watching them on Kenny Everett's programme (they were doing Love On Your Side, a 1983 hit, so was that when he was on the BBC or ITV?) and then I remember enjoying the childish quirkiness of We Are Detective, a song which I now think is dreadful.
The it became blurry and a tad confusing. The Now! albums didn't help here, as the chronology of the Into The Gap singles was all askew. The graceful Hold Me Now was on the second volume, then the sparky You Take Me Up appeared on the third, thereby missing the less inspiring Doctor! Doctor! altogether, it seemed. Fine - this wasn't unusual. But then on the fourth volume, Doctor! Doctor! was there. As an 11 year old I couldn't fathom why such a basic continuity gaffe had been made - I suppose the grown-up assumption is that there weren't enough clearances available for records which were in the charts up to the point of release, so they had to go back in time a bit.
Then along came Sister Of Mercy. This was a much bleaker, darker effort compared to all the previous singles - no shanty accordions or soundbitten cries for medical assistance here - which referred to marital stress, boredom and murder. Tom Bailey, with that utterly fantastic carrot-coloured mop and tie-on ponytail (that bloke from A Flock Of Seagulls has nothing on this barnet), sat at a baby grand, all earnest, delivering this dramatic, initially unaccompanied, tale of pity and intimidation. And what a fantastic voice he had.
The song is great, as it showcased the musicality of the band while still chucking in those simple synth hooks after each verse line once the instruments had kicked in. And while the becapped Alannah Currie was a fine lyricist, her instrumental skills were always somehow questioned, so we get plenty of that xylophone plinking sound which she would later adapt into a fearsome bluebottle-swatting style whenever called upon to mime the song.
As for Joe Leeway, his simple bass playing was overshadowed by his effort to demonstrate that his voice was on the choral backing vocals, despite the over-effeminate falsetto which even the Gibbs would have struggled to reach.
This was the last really good single from the Thompson Twins (did anybody really like Don't Mess With Dr Dream?), and as I recall, it stuck at #11 for an eternity. They were colossal in America, shifting a gigantic quantity of records which far outplayed their slightly second-string status in the UK. The refusal of Bailey and Currie to acknowledge that they were a couple until long after the question had ceased to be asked probably didn't help, as far more attention was paid, dishearteningly, to this are-they aren't-they existence than it ever was to the music. Maybe they didn't want Leeway to be seen as some kind of piggy-in-the-middle.
Then there was the tiresome dig-in-the-ribs guff about their name. Yes, there were three of them. Yes, none of them were twins. Yes, none of them were called Thompson. Get over it. It's a name. You didn't spend hours wondering if Paul McCartney et al were being chased by coleopterists every day, did you?