Classic 80s Album of the Month: “Strawberry Switchblade”, by Strawberry Switchblade

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Whilst the alternative music scene now appears to be fragmented, lacking definition, detached from any robust ethos and not residing in any zeitgeist zone, music back in the 80s was an exciting and colourful place, saturated in youth culture. It was a post-punk explosion, a new wave of synth-pop, new romantics, gender bending and a distorted celebration, of dark wave goth noise-pop, lost in a world of dream-pop, whilst wistfully shoegazing at the stars.

In the midst of the dry-ice sugar-pop were a band which came out on the back end of the Punk scene, while embracing  the independent spirit of Glasgow. Whilst Glasgow gave us Postcard Records, it also gave us Strawberry Switchblade, whose blend of bittersweet, exotic and ethereal music was very much a hybrid of synth-pop and dark wave goth. Visually stunning, Strawberry Switchblade comprised of Rose McDowall on lead vocals and Jill Bryson on vocals and guitar, and whose bubble-gum giesha goth, polka dots, bows ribbons, flowers and Siren-esque appeal  mirrored their offbeat, idiosyncratic and colourful musical palette.

Harmonic Goddesses, both McDowall and Bryson collectively produced some amazing songs, which delved deep into the goth psyche and conveyed a sensitivity, which was delicate and  jubilant in equal measures. They were a band whose eponymous album, “Strawberry Switchblade”, was an intermix of dizzy, intricate and chaotic synths, which polga jumped and hopscotched  on rainbows, amongst the unicorns and fairies whilst quietly dancing in the rain.

Released in April 1985, the album contained the hit song “Since Yesterday”, which reached number 5 in the UK charts. Along with “Let Her Go” and “Who Knows What Love Is”, Strawberry  Switchblade’s appeal stretched out further afield, proving to be very popular in Japan. In view of this, Strawberry Switchblade released a Japanese edition of the album in 1997, containing B-sides, remixes and previously unreleased songs, which included “Trees and Flowers” and  a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.

Tree and Flowers:

“For I hate the trees and I hate the flowers. And I hate the buildings, and the way they tower over me.”

The Original Album collection:

Since Yesterday:

“Since Yesterday” is a delightful gem, whose nostalgic horns capture the spirit of yesteryear. Through the  skittery, chimming and zooming synths, “Since Yesterday” trembles and jangles along the wistful backdrop of shuffle beats and pensive lyrics. Along with the collective “Lalalalaa” mantra and over-lapping chorus, “Since Yesterday” backtracks in space and time, whilst sugar-gazing at the stars.

Deep Water:

Through the wind chimes and thumping beats, “Deep Water” twinkles and awakens under the sapphire skies and sweeps away through the waves of intoxicating and drowning drones. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track, whose siren vocals submerge deep and slosh against the undercurrents of jangly riffs.

Another Day:

Through the jittery orchestra scrapes, robotic beats and space skitters, “Another Day” reaffirms Strawberry Switchblade’s idiosyncratic and individual style. It’s a delightful track, whose digital beeps and celestial clatter, orbits “Another Day” into new realms of 80s synth-pop. It’s a chaotically euphoric track, whose sorphorno highs synchronise with the eastern-tinged jangles, taking a transcendental trip into dark-wave pop.

Little River:

With the thumping beats, chopsticks, bendy, fluttering and pitter-patter synths, “Little River”  flows erratically across a current of unhinged wires and tumultuous tides. It’s a great track, whose gush of neon ripples, dream-pop harmonies and misfired synapses radiant against the darkness, breaking free from the oriental valleys.

James Orr Street:

“James Orr Street” is a captivating song, whose acoustic riffs rotate clockwise against the mechanical beats through the passage of time. With the lush vocals and backdrop of elongated synths, “James Orr Street” glides in a visceral comet trail, whilst shoegazing at the shooting stars. Along with the torpid trumpet, “James Orr Street” marches in melancholy, aside the spectral synths, in a stream of fuzzy flashbacks and dream-pop ambience.

Let Her Go:

Through its chitter-chatter synths, clatter beats, influx of chimes and zoom of swirly synths, “Let Her Go” creates a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of synth-pop wonder. It’s a great song, whose dream-pop harmonies cascade a flow of ethereal charm, aside the throbbing beats and flutter of flutey synths. Along with the angular riffs, “Let Her Go” rides its cosmic chariot, cutting through the dry-ice ambience with its whirly wheels in motion aside, in a swirly vortex of  horn-infused riffs and heavenly hullabaloo.

Who Knows What Love Is:

“Who Knows What Love Is” flutters its synth-pop wings and wistfully resides in a sophisti-pop haven. It’s a great song, whose xylophonic tinkles and clickety beats, chill amongst the breezy trumpets and spinning horns. Along with the pensive vocals and dreamy harmonies, “Who Knows What Love is” stays true to its dream-pop roots, whilst taking a leap into a new wave zone.

Go Away:

“Go Away” is a gloriously dark wave song, whose piano-esque synths and spectral synths provide the backdrop for the goth-infused motif. Along with the eerie beats and choir-esque “ahhh”, “Go Away” nestles in sorrow, whilst  being charged up by the crystalline synths. It’s a hauntingly beautiful,track , whose darkness simultaneously casts spells and majestically triumphs in a puff of smoke.

Secrets:

With the up-tempo booming beat and zany synths, “Secrets” is an explosive track, whose sublime vocals elevate to ethereal heights. It’s a mesmerising track, whose new-wave synths tinkle, smudge and smear its kohl keys in a dizzy spin of headspinning euphoria, pulsated by the the rumbling beats.

Who Knows What Love Is? (Reprise):

“Who Knows What Love Is? (Reprise)” is a tribal extension, whose elongated synths awaken the senses and energises through the primitive beats and shuffle shakes. It’s a sacred circle, an epiphany moment, which goes back to the source and releases the pain.

Being Cold:

Through the baroque accordion and looping violins, “Being Cold” is steeped in dark romanticism and signifies Strawberry Switchblade’s skill at producing abstract music, whilst stripping back the bubble-wrap and glitter gloss. Through the undertows of brooding synths and sombre tones , “Being Cold” regresses back to its dark wave origins, whilst taking sanctuary into its goth soul.

Album credits:

  • Jill Bryson – vocals, harmonies, lead guitar
  • Rose McDowall– lead vocals, harmonies, guitars
  • Garry Hutchins – sequences, keyboards
  • Alan Park – keyboards
  • Bruce Nockles – trumpet
  • Dave Morris – percussion
  • David Motion – keyboards, drum machine
  • Phil Thornalley– keyboards
  • Boris Williams – tippy tappy drums
  • David Motion – production, arrangements, engineering
  • Phil Thornalley – production, engineering on “Let Her Go” and “Who Knows What Love Is?”
  • John Deacon – production
  • Trig – engineering
  • David Bedford– string and woodwind arrangements
  • Andrew Poppy– horn arrangements on “10 James Orr Street”
  • Peter McArthur – photography
  • Chris Branfield – design

Following the success of Strawberry Switchblade, Jill Bryson is now a self-employed artist, while Rose McDowall is  still making music, adding her individual brand of magic to “Current 93”, “Nurse With Wound”, “Death In June”, collaborating with Boyd Rice in the band “Spell”, as well as singing backing vocals on albums for Felt. An accomplished solo artist, McDowall has continued casting spells, with her melancholic mix of neo-psychedelic folk, baroque and pagan pop. Accompanied by Texas Bob Juarez, Mc Dowall has been busy touring across the country and her musical updates can be found on.

https://www.facebook.com/RoseMcDowallandSorrow/