In the early 1990s, I was in my early twenties and working at a supermarket. I worked with a lot of teenagers and had regular conversations with them. At one point, I was singing a song and some fifteen or sixteen year-old asked what it was. When I told her it was a song by Thompson Twins she had no idea who I was talking about. And this was within a decade of their chart-topping commercial high point, 1984‘s Into The Gap album, which was released February 17 of that year.
Such is the lot for Thompson Twins, a band I’ve always loved but which has been relegated to not much more than an ’80s footnote to the New Wave scene, a step above one-hit wonders like Kajagoogoo or Flock Of Seagulls. This despite the fact that they were pioneers in embracing technology and programming as a route to making hit records.
Into The Gap was the band’s fourth album but their first (and only) big commercial hit stateside. They’d found some chart success with their prior album, 1983’s Quick Step & Side Kick which includes such forgotten hits as “Love On Your Side” and “Lies” but Into The Gap made a much bigger splash, boasting ubiquitous Top 40 pleasers “Hold Me Now” and “Doctor! Doctor!” Lesser hits “You Take Me Up” which hints at an appropriated Irish reel at times and “Sister Of Mercy” didn’t find the same chart success, but still stand out on the album.
The album was not critically favored at the time despite the success of the singles in the US and UK. I’ve often wondered why I haven’t “grown out of” this band as I’ve gotten older. I don’t have any emotional connection with their songs, but in my mid-forties I still love their synthpop persuasions and Into The Gap remains, for me, a solid record front to back. Reimagining the age old rock-and-roll call for a physician to help out with ailments of the heart, “Doctor! Doctor!” opens the album with a poppy keyboard line and a powerful electronic drumbeat. Throughout the nine songs that make up the LP’s 42 minute running time, there’s not much variation stylistically, but what they do, they do well.
Tom Bailey‘s vocals are strong and clear throughout the album, Alannah Currie does a solid job on backing vocals and some drums. The songs are fleshed out by Joe Leeway‘s keyboards and percussion with Bailey handling the rest of the instruments on the record. All of the songs are credited to the trio, but Tom Bailey handled the bulk of the songwrtiting duties throughout the band’s career.
I’ve always taken my familiarity with the band for granted, as I’ve always felt that they belonged in any discussion of essential ’80s bands, but it was funny to me while I was playing the album this morning and my wife said, “Is this Thompson Twins,” and, when I confirmed that it was, she asked, “Are they really twins?” I said, “Honey, they’re not even really named Thompson.” It’s also funny to me that people who grew up listening to the same music I did will instantly latch onto, say, Toni Basil’s “Mickey” or Bow Wow Wow’s “I Like Candy” or even the aforementioned Flock Of Seagulls or Kajagoogoo, but they’re hard pressed to name a Thompson Twins song even though the latter had a string of hits.
Deeper album cuts like the title track, “No Peace For The Wicked” and “Day After Day” are as good as any of the singles. In fact, with the possible exception of the closer, “Who Can Stop The Rain,” a case could be made that any of the tracks from this record could have been released as a single and done just as well as those that actually were. It is a solid, consistent collection of songs that have endless replayability (yes, I just made up that word).
In addition to belonging in any conversation of essential ’80s music, Thompson Twins also belong in any conversation about underrated bands from that era. Far from the only band to fade into obscurity, I still find it curious that they could be topping charts on both sides of the Atlantic and a decade later, the next generation had never even heard of them. And now, three decades later, they barely rate a mention at all in most cases. Public tastes are mercurial, of course, but it still doesn’t make any sense. Regardless, I’ll keep going back to this record and turning it up every time I put it on.