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Issued in the great year of 1981

TV21 - A Thin Red Line

TV21 were a superb group from Scotland who only were around long enough to issue this classic long player "A Thin Red Line" and a few singles before disappearing into smoke. The last thing I remember hearing about them was that were appearing as a support group to the Rolling Stones on their "Tattoo You" tour dates in Scotland. TV21 issued a single in early 1982 "All Join Hands" then simply disappeared. This left me very frustrated because I thought they were a group with immense promise. At the time of the release of "A Thin Red Line" TV21 were hot property in the UK music press, I remember them having a full colour cover feature in Melody Maker in 1981 and their album was greeted by glowing reviews. I went out and bought an import copy without ever having heard a note of their music. But as soon as I played it I was hooked and they became one of my favourite groups of that period.

"A Thin Red Line" was issued in the great year of 1981, this was the final good year in British rock before the dreaded New Romantic nonsense took hold and forced every UK band to stock up on hair gel and 12" dance re-mixes. During 1981 I seemed to buy a great album every week from the likes of The Undertones, The Barracudas, The Comsat Angels, Wah! Heat, Teardrop Explodes, The Passions, The Sound, Echo & The Bunnymen and others. In November of 1981 I made a cassette of "A Thin Red Line" backed with Teardrop Explodes "Wilder" album and played it so much that I think I memorized every note.
Enough Now! Back to why we’re here and the music of TV21. I was initially attracted to the group because they were described as a cross between The Jam and The Teardrop Explodes (two of my favourite groups at the time), and looking back I would say that is a pretty accurate comparison. But in reality the group clearly had a sound of their own which was more than clearly demonstrated on this flawless debut album. The opening number "Waiting For The Drop" hits you immediately with its Joy Division-ish bass line and Teardrop Explodes style horn section, this would have made a perfect single (but oddly it was never issued as such.) While I do think the Teardrop Explodes comparison is just, TV21 had a much more aggressive sound, highlighted by lead singer Norman Rodger's gruff vocals. The group reminded me a great deal of The Skids during their "Absolute Game" period.

"Ideal Way Of Life" goes the Paul Weller route in describing UK yuppie life circa 1981, this track is quite involved and goes through several musical changes, highlighted by the aggressive horn section that brings to mind the "Prehistoric Sounds" & "Eternally Yours" albums by The Saints and also The Saints offshoot group The Laughing Clowns. "This Is Zero" is a menacing dose of modern psychedelia with a surging bass line, ringing guitar phrases and a gut-busting lead vocal by Norman Rodger, this number occupies the same territory as Wah! Heat's brilliant debut album "Nah=Poo-The Art Of Bluff." Side one closes with two reflective and moving ballads in "Ticking Away" & "It Feels Like It's Starting To Rain" both of these pieces remind me of another underrated UK group of that time period The Sound.

Side two opens with "Snakes & Ladders" which is probably the album's most commercial track (it was in fact a double single with 3 bonus tracks.) "Snakes" has an odd beat that reminds me a little of XTC, it also has a neat childlike chorus that is punctuated by rapid-fire trumpet blasts, this song had "hit" written all over it. "What's Going On" has a somewhat experimental feel that combines the psychedelic throb of "154" era Wire with the sound of The Jam circa 1980. "When I Scream" is a slow brooding piece that fuses a throbbing bass pattern and ringing guitar to a first class vocal by Norman Rodger.

"Something's Wrong" was the choice for the album's second single, this one is the direct opposite of "Snakes & Ladders" at least musically in that it goes directly in the territory of Joy Division with its moody, atmospheric sound highlighted by its ringing guitar line, propulsive bass and insistent percussion. "Tomorrow" brings with it the storming brass sound the group employed on "Ideal Way Of Life", this is the most Teardrop Explodes-like track on the record, bringing to mind "Books" from the Teardrops "Kilimanjaro" album. The record closes out with "Attention Span" which is a very interesting piece, it begins with a riff that sounds like a direct lift from Wire's "Our Swimmer"  along that way it features scratchy guitar chords and free-jazz trumpet phrases ala The Laughing Clowns, it's a somewhat subdued closer but it works very effectively. This is a very well put together record with a rich harvest of quality and varied material. It's easily one of the greatest debut albums I have ever heard. What happened to dissolve this promising group I do not know, but there appears to be good news on the horizon in that TV21 appear to be back in action after all these years with some excellent new material. The time is perfect for TV21 to finally get the attention they have long deserved.

Ripped from the very vinyl album [here] to MP3 @ 320kbps along with a smattering of 7” singles [here] also in MP3 @ 320kbps

TV21: A Thin Red Line

1.      Waiting For The Drop
2.      Ideal Way Of Life
3.      This Is Zero
4.      Ticking Away
5.      It Feels Like It's Starting To Rain
6.      Snakes And Ladders
7.      What's Going On?
8.      Something's Wrong
9.      When I Scream
10.  Tomorrow
11.  Attention Span


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