Even after the No.1-selling album Velveteen many were still tempted to consign Transvision Vamp to the pop trash heap.
A band that so perfectly embodied the 80's trash ethic would probably fizzle out once the kinder gentler 90's began. The group itself appeared to acknowledge the transience of pop stardom in songs such as 'Born To Be Sold' and 'Trash City', the opening track from Pop Art their debut album.
The message of the latter, a litany of '80's pop culture icons set against apocalyptic chords, seemed absolutely clear, as did the intentions behind the ominous countdown from zero to fifteen in Andy Warhol's Dead ( also from Pop Art ).
However, after an 18 month absence, Transvision Vamp have returned with their third album, the rather inexplicably titled Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble. The new album retains the punk sensibilities of their earlier efforts. At the same time the band have refined its sounds - the songs have more depth and texture; lead guitarist Nick Sayer for one has discovered his guitar can do more than play power chords. Consequently, there's a lot more support for lead singer Wendy James' intentionally husky and breathy and sometimes just plain out-of-breath voice.
Still, it is James' voice and personality that carries Transvision Vamp. In fact advance ads for the new album advertised it as the new album from 'Wendy James and Transvision Vamp' a clear recognition of who sells the records. James is often described as a Madonna wannabe, but she's really more like Blondie , both musically and in terms of attitude. It was Debbie Harry who said, "My music is 90% sex." James understands this and has no qualms about using her own obvious sex appeal.
Take their big breakthrough single 'Baby I Don't Care'. Besides the songs own power, some of its success was due the video, with James performing the song in a succession of skimpy outfits. The video for the new single for I Just Wanna B With U, has been described by The Face as 'a calculated paen to oral sex'.
James also understands the workings of the pop machine, and has cannily set out to make it work for her. Thus, she has spent past year and half carefully preparing the way for the new album, enhancing and fine-tuning her image as a sexy rock bitch. It could be seen as commercial, except that James turns even her machinations to her own advantage - she portrays herself as a manipulative sexy rock bitch. There 'Aint No Rules' James sings on the album, yet Transvision Vamp are perfectly willing to play be the rules when it suits them, while carefully biting the hand that feeds them - a couple of the songs on this album hit out at the press and the pop industry, yet both have been tools in the bands success. They are anarchists playing within and with the system.
But coming back to the album itself, it is good stuff. The album is definitely tighter and denser. The album opens with I Just Wanna B With U, the new single which is very much in the same vein and as good as Baby I Don't Care.
This is followed by Aint No Rules, a medium paced song about liberation and feeling free. Following that, the next two songs, If Looks Could Kill and Every Little Thing, keep largely to the basic Transvision Vamp formula. But James voice - she always sounds like she wants to have, has just had, or is having (!) sex - prevents the songs from ever becoming ordinary. However it is the last song on side one, Twangy Wigout, that truly stands out on this album. This is Transvision Vamp at their most laid back, almost a walking pace, and the effect is startling. James's voice has never been more alluring, and the band supplies a suitably twangy accompaniment with an infectiously repeated guitar hook.
On this cover of a Serge Gainsbourg song, the 60's infections that have been lurking in the background throughout the album also become more obvious, altogether creating a atmosphere of dusky laziness that is nonetheless charged with sensuality.
Side Two begins with 'Don't Believe The Type', a song about the press ( the dumb little jerk / with his mind up my skirt ) and it's distortions. 'The truth about me / Is that nothing ever written about me is true.' sings James. But the irony of that statement is evident, since Transvision Vamp, and James, in particular have never shied away from the tabloids gaze.
Of the remaining four songs on the album, Crawl Out Your Window is most likely to raise eyebrows - Transvision Vamp cover Bob Dylan. However there really isn't much to be said for this combination. With the exception of Twangy Wigout the band does better on their own songs. Pressure Times is about the stress of living in modern society, while You Put A Spell On Me is a typically hard-edged Transvision Vamp song. The album ends with another slowish song, Back On My Knees Again, about the bands return to the pop celebrity grind.
It's impossible to ignore the role a well-crafted image has played in Transvision Vamp's success. However, at least as important is the quality of their music - they play pop-punk music better than most. This album is a clear representation of that ability. At the same time it's something of a transitory album, a slight shift away from punk towards a musically challenging brand of rock.