Martha and the Muffins are often thought of as one hit wonders. In early 1980 the Toronto-formed new wave/electronic outfit had a massive hit in the UK with ‘Echo Beach’. The elegiac, futuristic sound of its keyboards appealed to both post-punk and new romantic audiences, and the every person yearning simplicity of its lyrics (“From 9 to 5 I have to spend my time at work/My job is very boring I’m an office clerk/The only thing that helps me pass the time/Is knowing I’ll be back at Echo Beach someday”) make it a popular draw to this day.

The Muffins, however, were unable to sustain this success with subsequent releases. ‘Metro Music’, their debut album from which ‘Echo Beach’ was taken, received mixed reviews and sold poorly. Other singles, including the gimmicky ‘Saigon’, which had a “double groove” B side which could be played both forwards and backwards, also stiffed. The Muffins were quickly forgotten about and, while they kept a cult status back home, soon drifted back into obscurity in the UK and Europe.

It would be wrong, however, to drift them as brief also rans. Centred around the husband and wife team of Martha Johnson (vocals, keyboards) and Mark Gane (guitar, vocals) in its various line-ups, Martha and the Muffins also recorded after ‘Metro Music’ another three albums, ‘Trance and Dance’ (1980), ‘This is the Ice Age’ (1981) and ‘Danseparc’(1983)only finally disbanding in 1984.

‘Danseparc’ was only released in Europe in Germany first time around and now 25 years on has just finally been issued on CD. It reveals an intelligent band prepared to take risks and on a creative edge, merging together a traditional pop and avant garde experimental sound.

It is not without flaws. Like many other albums of its era with a futuristic sound, its technology, despite sleek production work from the young Daniel Lanois, still a few years yet off working with U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan, is somewhat dated. Its central theme about the restrictions of society and urban living is also occasionally clunky, and the final track, ‘Whatever Happened to Radio Valve Road ?’, an echoingly languid instrumental, allows ‘Danseparc’ to drift away somewhat anonymously at the end.

Yet constantly innovative it has a lot to recommend as well. The squalling saxs of guest musicians Ron Allen and John Oswald bring much to the record. The title track is a song of stunning contrasts-swirling keyboards, klaxoning brass and funk drum beats- and captures perfectly with its jittery energy the often solitary anxiety of city life (“In a crowd I call my home/Undercover on the edge I move alone/Faces stare across at me/With eyes that look but cannot see/Out of reach, out of love-stepping out of bonds.”).

‘Sins of Children’ meanwhile proves a match for ‘Echo Beach’ in brooding intensity, and the dryly humorous penultimate track, ‘What People Do For Fun ?’, with tribal rhythms, spry industrial dance beats and its final chorus of “I am using you/Am I amusing you ?’, wittily captures the angst we all find ourselves in every day social situations and out of a desperate need to impress others.

In what was often a superficial time for music, Martha and the Muffins in their original lifetime were perhaps too intellectual, too ahead of the game to ever make more than fleeting headway. They have recently announced they have reformed and, after last getting back together in 1992 for a fifth album ‘Modern Lullaby’, will be releasing their sixth album, ‘Delicate’, in November. Hopefully that album and this long overdue reissue of ‘Danseparc’ will do something to restore the long lost reputation of this as of yet still most under-rated of groups.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Peter Noble and originally appeared at www.redferns.com











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