I was really excited to hear that The Virgins were putting out a new album. Their 2008 self-titled debut was probably my favorite and definitely most played album that year. Every cut on that album had an infectious hook and a melody that made me feel good.
How did it slip past me that this lineup of The Virgins is an entirely different band save for the lead vocalist and writer, Donald Cumming? Because it matters. It matters a *LOT*. The Virgins’ debut sounded like an album by some great 80s new wave band that I never heard before. The bulk of the new album, Strike Gently, sounds like other 80s artists. Strike that. Other 80s artists album cuts.
There’s no “Rich Girls” here. No “Murder”. No (fill in the blank with any title from the debut).
The closest thing we get to old Virgins is the leadoff single “Flashbacks, Memories and Dreams”. This one actually sounds like it could be the same band, and has a great echoey guitar line and post-disco stomp. This one is quite a decent track, but it lacks a chorus that could rival most of the band’s past songs. Instead the guitar line is more of a hook than anything, sounding like it came from Remain In Light era Talking Heads. The album actually kicks off sounding much like some kind of lost Dire Straits album from 1982 where they utilized a disco funk bassline. The song, “Prima Materia”, is good. It’s just unexpected, and hardly lives up to its title. “Wheel of Fortune” has almost a rockabilly shuffle and Cummings definitely sounds like Mark Knopfler here. And then “Figure on the Ice” is a soft, quiet, blues-abilly ballad. I would be shocked if I found out that Donald hadn’t developed a fascination with early Dire Straits in the past couple years. It’s way more than coincidence. “Impressions of You” has more of a chorus and sounds like a far mellower “Love Is Colder Than Death”.
When we hit the proverbial Side Two, things pick up with “What Good Is Moonlight” which swipes a few ideas from The Cars circa Panorama. This is definitely one of the better and more catchy tracks here and I’m sure would be a contender for a single if they release another one. Next is “Travel Express (From Me)” which has an earlier Elvis Costello feel. This one works also. The guitar lines are quirky and the overall mood of the version is laid back but happy.
“The Beggar” sounds a bit like Cumming channeling Lou Reed, with a very hazy guitar line that feels 70s (“Band On the Run” comes to mind – the opening section). “Amelia” goes back to the Dire Straits sound of the earlier tracks. The voice, the progression, everything, but with a tad more new wave bite. To end things, we have “Blue Rose Tattoo”. This is a slow piano bar doze-along.
In time, some of this album might grown on me. I mean I do actually like Dire Straits for one, so those comparisons aren’t a slam. The band’s influences are good influences to have, but last time around it wasn’t so easy to pick out who the influences were as much as it sounded like a recombination of many influences at once. The bottom line is it’s just not at all what I expected. I really don’t understand sometimes when a band makes a great album that gets us hooked and has a knack for catchy high energy well-crafted songs, then once they get known say “I’m going to be *artistic* and not do any of what made you like me in the first place”. So, maybe this will be a good lazy rainy day album. But whatever you do, don’t buy this based on your love for the debut album The Virgins. The difference between that album and this are as big as the differences between Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and Zeitgeist. Proceed with caution.
Here’s the first video, for “Flashbacks, Memories and Dreams”