Voice of the Beehive – Adonis Blue
Since the dawn of pop, sister acts have been something of a mainstay, from the Andrews Sisters and the Beverley Sisters through to Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Sister Sledge, the Pointer Sisters, the Nolans, Mel & Kim, Appleton and, er, Gayle and Gillian from out of Neighbours. Blood ties are a very good thing, though it does make it hard to replace a member if one of you goes off in a strop, unless of course you had very fertile and prolific parents.
It’s a close-run thing, but my favourite sisters in pop are Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brook Belland of Voice of the Beehive – they come out on top due to their combination of a) West Coast jangliness, b) glorious harmonies and c) ability to make amazing tunes despite everything appearing to be slightly shambolic. Their brief period of popularity coincided with with a time in female-led pop where polish was everything (perhaps best symbolised by Belinda Carlisle‘s transformation from punky sass-mouthed upstart to windswept siren), and so their apparently haphazard approach was a lovely throwback to a simpler time.
1988’s debut album Let It Bee yielded a couple of UK hits in the form of the brilliant I Say Nothing and Don’t Call Me Baby – both pleasingly rough, and strangely popular with the Doc Marten-wearing girls at my school who usually liked Echo and the Bunnymen. Us fey boys loved them too, so they were certainly onto a broad demographic. Coming across rather like a Californian Strawberry Switchblade – even down to the obsession with polka dots – Voice of the Beehive succeeded just enough to become a Priority Act for their next release, 1991’s Honey Lingers. And of course that’s where things started to go wrong.
When the album was released it became clear that certain compromises had been made. Polish had been applied, and mis-matched thrift store garments had been swapped out for pink ballgowns. The band’s sound was noticeably smoothed out too, although not necessarily to its detriment: the lead single still managed to be an instant classic. Monsters and Angels – a sort of Abba and Public Image Limited hybrid – turned out to be one of the year’s best records, instantly uplifting, sung beautifully and with a melody to die for. But the follow-up – a cover of the Partridge Family‘s I Think I Love You disguised as a Jesus Jones record – sailed too close to novelty waters and, I think, alienated the Doc Marten brigade without particularly enticing anyone else. The next single, the please-take-us-seriously ballad Perfect Place (basically an Athena poster set to music), marked a premature end to Voice of the Beehive‘s chart career.
Now, one of the lessons I learned in retail was never to present a problem without having the solution ready. Granted, this usually applied to how to get a stubborn window sticker off (a hair dryer), but it works for pop too. When the problem is a band which has slightly lost its way, the solution is to remind people what they liked about you in the first place and hope that they’re in a forgiving mood. And with that in mind, here is Adonis Blue.
What a tune Adonis Blue is – three minutes and forty seconds of comparing a dreamed-of boy to a rare butterfly (after twenty four years I just found out that’s what an Adonis Blue is). It’s one of those great records where optimism triumphs over likelihood, and it’s punchy, stompy, jangly, and nine parts happy to one part wistful. Amazingly, considering it’s produced by Ian Curnow and Phil Harding of PWL, it retains that roughshod, we-just-threw-this-together-in-the-barn sound that made the early Beehive stuff so exciting.
I’m pretty certain this would have been pencilled in as the fourth single – and indeed it was promo’d in America – but the downward trajectory of the first three – no’s 17, 25 and 37 – most likely put paid to that. When Voice of the Beehive returned four years later with Sex and Misery they seemed to have lost all trace of the ramshackle greatness that had made them so exciting in the first place. They’d also lost all the other band members, and its working title, Disastrous Relationships, Disillusionment, Depression & Death tells you pretty much all you need to know. Not surprisingly, it sank without trace.
Let this be a lesson to future pop generations. Too much polish makes things slippy, and that’s when you fall down.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? While she’s still in happy mode, Carly Rae Jepsen.
The best VOTB songs feature Woody’s drumming as an intro – I say nothing, Don’t Call Me Baby, Adonis Blue – see what I mean?