[sic] Magazine

Martin Hannett & Steve Hopkins – The Invisible Girls

Imagine someone with the pristine visage of a model, the toned legs of a dancer and the rotund, distended beer gut of a slovenly couch potato. That is the personification of this record.

Martin Hannett is most widely known as the producer of Joy Division ‘s two studio albums, as well as a fair share of the other seminal Manchester bands of the 70s and 80s, with his output as a musician being somewhat overlooked. In collaboration with keyboard player Steve Hopkins, they went by the name The Invisible Girls, providing the musical accompaniment to John Cooper Clarke‘s Manc whine on the poet’s finest albums. This album compiles work created by the duo between 1976 and 1987 into a patchy whole.

The first five tracks are essentially instrumental pieces that could have been used as sonic foundations for JCC to build his colloquial rhymes upon. These are the model’s face in the initial analogy; all filled with the charm and beauty of the best cuts from Snap, Crackle & Bop and Zip Style Method, culminating with the hopeful strains of wistful piano, lively growling bass and uplifting synths that constitute the excellent eight minutes of ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’. These so-called ‘moods’ are previously unreleased and, for my money, the main reason to purchase this compilation, each one being a pure joy to listen to.

The next 6 tracks are like an unsightly potbelly that, to an extent, mar the overall appeal of the record. The buzz from the preceding tracks is instantly killed by the dirge of the Nico-featuring ‘Procession’, the dour mood continuing with the aptly titled ‘Concorde Drone’, which drones on for four and a half minutes, going absolutely nowhere in the process. ‘Collective Project’ is slightly better (maybe because it’s shorter), with its Peter Hook-esque bassline at least allowing the formation of mental links to JD tracks like ‘Ceremony’. Similarly, ‘First Aspect of the Same Thing’ has a proper chord progression and melody that hints at another song, only filtered through the lens of experimentalism and modular synthesis; Moroder meets Stockhausen, (only not as interesting as that sounds). The spacey experiments continue with the noodly guitar solo amidst the motorik coldwave of ‘The Music Room’ and the reverb-drenched ambient doodles of ‘Second Aspect of the Same Thing’.

The rut is finally escaped with the arrival of the lush ‘Space Music’, a synthesizer driven piece that oozes the kind of futuristic cosmic leanings of the sci-fi soundtracks of the time. ‘Three Short Pieces for Trio’ is a lovely triptych of spiritual library music that hints at what’s to come in the final suite on the record. The soundtrack for the short animated film All Sorts of Heroes is (after the ‘mood’ pieces) the second reason this album is worth your cash. Split into nine separate parts, it’s a wonderful journey through 70s proggy jazz fusion; playful Moog melodies, overdriven guitar solos, crystalline piano arpeggios, synthetic strings, pastoral flutes, chiming harmonics, echoing percussion, vibrant saxes and crunchy basslines. Although completely out of sync with the rest of the album, conjuring to mind images of classic 70s BBC programmes and bands like Gong, Soft Machine and other Canterbury scene mainstays, this suite nevertheless acts like the legs of a dancer; mesmerising the audience and distracting them from the swollen stomach above.

So in total, you get a top quality first 30 minutes, followed by a saggy comedown lasting for a turgid 20 minutes before things pick up again for the rewarding final 25 minutes, meaning there is still about 55 minutes worth of value on show here, plus if you’re a person who likes the experimental midsection then you’re sorted.

First 5 tracks = 9.5/10
Middle 6 tracks = 4/10
Final 3 tracks = 8/10

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