A phenomenon that failed to survive its own success.
Mike Diver 2009-12-07
You could say that it all began right here for Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Relax had already been aired on Top of the Pops, and was nestled in the UK top ten, when the BBC decided to ban it from radio play in January 1984. It immediately went from an also-ran to a number one, and became FGTH’s breakthrough. Would it have made their name in such a way without the intervention of Mike Read, who famously labelled the record obscene on air? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the song formed the foundation for everything that followed, for everything collected on this best-of disc.
The Liverpool band’s heady mix of sexually suggestive lyricism, smooth-as-silk electro-pop stylings and refusal to disguise the homosexuality of singers Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford at a time of AIDS confusion amongst the public was an intoxicating, ahead-of-its-time concoction. And they quickly proved that Relax was no fluke, as Two Tribes and The Power of Love – unquestionably the group’s grandest, greatest achievement – topped the charts. Brilliantly, neither was merely Relax part two, as FGTH expressed their penchant for compositional diversity, equally adept with the stirring ballad as they were the room-igniting dance number.
Frankie Say Greatest is the group’s second best-of set, following 1993’s Bang!. As such its appeal is rather limited, with its forerunner still available on the cheap and, perhaps more pertinently, with no reunion to support its promotion. Unlike many 1980s chart-busters, FGTH are unlikely to reform any time soon, all attempts to date remarkable only for their abject failure. But perhaps it’s right that they remain as a better-in-the-memory act, as once every single had been sliced from debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, the band began to crack apart. Their second and last studio album, Liverpool, charted highly at five in October 1986, but it lacked the sparkle and immediacy of its predecessor. The band split just months later, internal conflict their ultimate undoing.
Just how ‘great’ this collection is, well, that’s a question that only the biggest fan can answer. Padded out with remixes though it is, it doesn’t markedly improve or expand upon Bang!, and few will buy twice. But those without the band’s blitz of initial hits really need to get downloading – these are pop landmarks, pure and simple. Read’s intolerance birthed a phenomenon, but unfortunately it was one that couldn’t survive its own success.