Overlooked: China Crisis
Overlooked are shorter playlists and write-ups that focus on artists that, though perhaps well known in their genre, had fleeting or less attention than their music deserved in their time. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along.
What would you do if you were artists in 1979 that were swept up by the experimental and new sounds being made with electronics, but perhaps weren’t as angry as the punks, or as brooding as the goths, or as avant garde as the new wave pioneers? And what if you just enjoyed a nice, light pop song? Then you were part of a wave of music that produced the likes of China Crisis.
They have the distinction in my musical history of being the first band I recall hearing on local, and now legendary, radio station CFNY. As a young teen I grew tired of the top 40 and classic rock radio choices and one night began exploring the dial. I came across the song “Working with Fire and Steel” and it caught my ear. By the end of the song I was mesmerized. It was followed by The Assembly’s “Never Never” and I was hooked, quickly establishing a loyalty to the free form radio station that played a huge part in forming my musical tastes.
Formed in 1979 in the Liverpool area, China Crisis has essentially been a duo of Eddie Lundon and Gary Daly joined at times by additional band members and guests. Their sound has primarily been synth-based though will employ horns, guitar, and bass to fill things out. Their songs were usually laid back, with smooth melodies and an easy listening vibe, and occasionally stepped it up with a beat. Their slower ballads are some of their best moments, creating captivating moods in songs such as “Black Man Ray” and “Arizona Sky.” Their few up-tempo songs though could get your toe tapping, such as with “Working with Fire and Steel” and “King in a Catholic Style.”
Their first album was released in 1982 and was solid, reaching #21 in the UK charts. It was their next two albums though in which they’re best remembered. Working with Fire and Steel is a classic of the new wave era, with nary a weak song on the entire album. It was followed by Flaunt the Imperfection, another brilliant pop record that eased away from the new wave sound a bit and even teases with a Style Council flavoured, jazz-pop or R&B style. The next album moved more into this style, and for a listener of my tastes wasn’t engaging enough, though it did deliver one more exquisite tune, “Arizona Sky.” After that their next two albums in 1989 and 1994 didn’t sell well and they’ve since focused on live recordings and tours, though did release a new studio album in 2014.
For three years China Crisis contributed to the peak of the new wave and synth-pop era, offering a smart-pop variant on the genre’s sounds. They would never be a top seller and only received a little airplay and chart attention internationally (except on CFNY where they were a mainstay). In the UK their single “Wishful Thinking” would be the only one to crack the top (I included it in my New Wave write-up). As that era died off so did their success, unable to find a place for their sound in the guitar-heavy ‘90s. I still play their two fantastic albums often and remember the days when they led me into a new musical world.
The Playlist (song\album\year)
- African and White - Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms (1982)
- Working with Fire & Steel - Working with Fire & Steel (1983)
- Animals in Jungles - Working with Fire & Steel (1983)
- Tragedy and Mystery - Working with Fire & Steel (1983)
- Black Man Ray - Flaunt the Imperfection (1985)
- King in a Catholic Style - Flaunt the Imperfection (1985)
- Wall of God (YouTube only) - Flaunt the Imperfection (1985)
- Arizona Sky - What Price Paradise (1986)