2021 signals both the start of a new year but also a brand new album to give the UNTITLED treatment; this time it's Clark Datchler's criminally underrated 1990 Raindance record.
Datchler is best known for his time as frontman of eighties band Johnny Hates Jazz and their incredible Turn Back The Clock that gave us the likes of Shattered Dreams and Don't Let It End This Way. Following this however, the suave frontman departed and moved to Amsterdam to launch his solo career - the Raindance album would act as its first product. Johnny Hates Jazz were themselves overshadowed in the late eighties by the synth-driven more dance oriented music that would continue to take hold as one decade moved to another, and Raindance was an unfortunate victim of this transition and change in tastes.
With that being said however, the track that opens the record, The State Of Play, with its bouncing synth and upbeat sound should have fitted perfectly into the late eighties and early nineties sound. Even with a lack of sampling as its contemporaries would have featured, there's no reason why Datchler's incredible voice and the song's production shouldn't have pushed the record further up the charts. For fans of that signature eighties sound, this particular tune is an absolute delight. The same can be said for the slightly slower Drowning My Sorrows which draws some musical similarity with Wax's Bridge To Your Heart from 1987. Despite the morbid title, the track maintains the classic Datchler bounce that manifested itself on Turn Back The Clock's every second, making it an enjoyable earworm. With that bouncing in mind, Drowning My Sorrows wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Chicago album, especially given the contrast between its sad subject matter and positively jolly instrumentation.
Crown Of Thorns gave Clark his first and only chart appearance as a solo artist, reaching No. 100. This does come as a major surprise given its musical strength and place as a heart-wrenching ballad. Much like its predecessors, there's a certain soft rock quality to Crown Of Thorns, especially with the Whitesnake-like guitar solo underneath the track's fantastic final moments. The following Close To The Edge returns to the jaunty manner seen earlier on The State Of Play with its upbeat brass section, Nile Rodgers-like guitar and groovy melody. Even with a title that's the same as a Yes track from the seventies, this couldn't be further away from that, but it's still an incredible song.
It's Better This Way sounds like it could be the identical twin brother to Johnny Hates Jazz's Different Seasons with that same rolling piano and emotional sentiment. As is the case with yacht rock, there's an argument to suggest that the likes of these love songs are particularly grown-up by comparison to some of their contemporaries. As opposed to the typical narratives, there's a sense of the lyrics dealing with someone coming to terms with the state of their relationship and that they should give up chasing an impossible dream. The Last Emotion continues in typical eighties fashion with its foot-tapping rhythm that has perhaps come to define Raindance thus far. This one takes the form more related to a Spandau Ballet or Duran Duran type offering with its pop influence and jovial sentiment. Compared to Raindance's other pieces, it might be considered filler, but it still sounds pretty good.
The album's title track signals his first foray into tackling the environment which would later become a theme of Datchler's later politically-driven songwriting. At the time, not many songwriters appeared to discuss the environment, but it would've been done in a Billy Bragg-like protest song, but even with the somewhat difficult subject mater at the time, Raindance still retains the class that the rest of the album purveys. It contains some of his best songwriting to date that's exemplified by cl=ever lines such as "The parody is never far from the truth/And mankind is the living proof/A dying planet in our arms/We walk the tightrope" - there's a Lennon-like quality to such lyrics that only the most gifted songwriters can replicate. Heart Of Hearts is an acoustic tale of optimism that is unlike any of the other synth-pop before it. It can almost be seen as a breath of fresh air given its stripped-back nature, which allows you to focus on Datchler's fantastic lyrics. They are pretty simple, but that's not to say they aren't effective in what they're designed to do. This track has a certain lightness to is a welcome shift from the heavy synth-pop earlier on, allowing Datchler a little bit more creative freedom.
The album's final couplet of True Confessions and Autumn Years also mark out two of Raindance's best offerings. First comes a synth romp that has become synonymous with this record as it's gone on, but a song that makes for one of its best. This one in particular sounds like a lost Johnny Hates Jazz track and is right up there with Don't Say It's Love and Don't Let It End This Way in terms of musical quality. Autumn Years can be considered the direct opposite to True Confessions with its slower, more emotional and relaxed pace. It showcases the classic foolish lover that has come to define not just this record but most love songs of the time. Falling into convention is no bad thing though, as there's something more profound about this compared to its contemporaries in a similar way to Different Seasons. Much like Drowning My Sorrows from the first side, Autumn Years sounds like a lost Chicago tune in a similar vein to the heart-wrenching Hard To Say I'm Sorry.
It pains me to say that Raindance never reached any real success barring Crown Of Thorns' appearance at No. 100 in the Singles Chart. It does seem rather baffling, especially given the album's full suite of clever and insightful songs that make for brilliant listens both together and on their own. Raindance should've been a real smash hit, and to me, it is, regardless of commercial performance. It forms the backbone of one of Britain's most underrated artists and if there's one album to start the year off right with, it has to be this one.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3pGYJho
More musical magnificence to come next week!
UNTITLED may earn an affiliate commission when you purchase through the links on our site. Find out more here.