Electribe 101 – You’re Walking
I am famously early for everything, and if you ask me, being early is nearly always better than being late. If I’m late I tend to arrive sweaty and then spend all my time apologising for it. Also, getting there before everyone else means I’m pretty much guaranteed to get a seat and can usually have first crack at the buffet, if there’s a buffet. And most importantly, I can leave early. It’s been pointed out that by scarpering before everyone else I sometimes miss out on the best part, and it’s by means of this slightly tortured analogy that we come to today’s subject, Electribe 101. They arrived a year or so before the party – which in this case was the 90s – really got started and left just as it was getting good.
I became an Electribe 101 enthusiast by disregarding all three of my cardinal rules of pop purchasing, which were as follows:
Never ever buy a record just because it’s got a really good sleeve.
Or because it’s only 99 pence.
Or because the act is managed by Tom Watkins of Pet Shop Boys “fame”.
Over time, I’ve got myself into terrible trouble by flouting these rules – including a brief period of ownership of a record by Kaoma that wasn’t Lambada – but somehow, by disobeying all three at once, I ended up with the beautifully designed, expensive-looking-but-in-fact-a-snip-at-only-99 pence gatefold twelve inch of the completely marvellous Talking With Myself. By virtue of its minimalistic…well, everything, it was one of those records that allowed you to feel ever so slightly snooty and aloof and clever just by liking it. Yes, Electribe 101 felt, to me, like the future of pop – and judging by the amount of money thrown at the campaign, Mercury Records agreed. Sadly, we were both mistaken – first single Tell Me When the Fever Ended peaked at no.32 in the autumn of 1989, although Talking With Myself did slightly better by reaching no.23 early in 1990.
Perhaps in the hope that the nation might have weaned itself off its Jive Bunny-induced high by the autumn (spoiler – it had), the next single (and my favourite of the lot) didn’t appear until September – the perfect time for a bit of ever so slightly frosty danceable melancholy. For me, You’re Walking – alongside Nothing by Frazier Chorus and Time After Time by The Beloved – demonstrated that blue was going to be pop’s favourite colour for the foreseeable future.
Obviously, I was completely wrong, and none of these songs were actual hits, with You’re Walking peaking at an extremely disappointing no.50. But doesn’t it still sound amazing? (younger readers please ignore the word ‘still’). Brilliantly sterile but also gratifyingly seedy, it’s like a younger, slightly less friendly cousin of Laura Branigan’s Self Control, and is one of those records that proves my theory that the most incredible singers often sound best when they’re surrounded by electronics. I still don’t think that this record – and in fact most of the album, Electribal Memories – sounds anywhere near its age (27, eek) – it’s only on some of the remixes (notably the single mix of Inside Out) that the years begin to tell.
Why did it all go so middlingly for Electribe 101? They had the tunes, the major label, classy sleeves (thanks to the involvement of 3a/Mark Farrow), pots of marketing cash and, in singer Billie Ray Martin, a potentially iconic frontwoman and pleasingly gobby interviewee (“Sonia can’t sing. Sonia can’t do anything” – Smash Hits, March 1990). The only reason I can come up with is that they showed up – like me at a party where I can hear the dying sounds of a very recently switched off hoover when I knock on the door – just a little bit early. 1992 might have suited them much better, but by that point the band had split up, meaning we all had to buy It’s a Fine Day by Opus III instead. Still, Billie’s departure for a solo career resulted in the splendid top ten smash Your Loving Arms in 1995, so it all worked out for the best in the end.
The band’s immediate legacy appeared to be that nearly all clubby record sleeves had to use an italic font for the rest of the decade – but in the years since I like to think that Electribal Memories has become a bit of a handbook for anyone wanting to make a properly classy pop record. Hooray!
Entered chart: 22/09/90
Chart peak: 50
Weeks on chart: 3
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Anybody, so long as they feature Justin Bieber, Daddy Yankee, Sean Paul and, er, Matt Terry. What a world.