Today’s POP RESCUE is the 1989 debut solo album of Frankie Goes To Hollywood front man Holly Johnson, titled Blast. Is this album a total blast to listen to, or should you blast it into space? Read on…
I must admit that I am no stranger to this album. I originally heard it not long after it was released, having hired it repeatedly on CD from my local library. I loved it, yet didn’t own it until now.
The 10 track album opens with third single Atomic City, which is the only track on the song that isn’t solely written by Holly. Here he’s joined by hit-maker and producer Dan Hartman (writer of Instant Replay and Relight My Fire etc). The song opens dramatically with lots of synth stabs as Holly’s familiar sounding voice gets plenty of echo – harking back to his Frankie hits Relax and Two Tribes. The verses of this song aren’t so catchy, and seem to be packed full of lyrics, but the chorus is far catchy vocally and musically. There’s a nice segment where you’re left with Holly singing ‘beat the system‘, the backing singers, and a great beat. Musically this song has a lot going on, perhaps a little too much. It runs for 6m 17s, which I think is about 1.5mins too long.
Fourth and final single Heaven’s Here follows this and this is a much more gentle pop song. The synths and beats perfectly support Holly’s softer vocals, all of which helps the song flow wonderfully through verses and chorus. Despite the track having the benefit of producers Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, New Order, Peter Gabriel and Melanie C to name a few) and Marius de Vries (Sugababes, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Darren Hayes etc) working on it, the song sadly stalled in the UK singles chart at #62.
The biggest track here for me is up next – the wonderful second single Americanos, which is such a wonderful song. This song felt fresh at the time, but as my musical taste has widened through the years, I can see that it is also quite reminiscent of 50’s or 60’s sounds – which the video also plays on. Holly’s vocals are sounding perfect here, and the tempo and balance of vocals and music works perfectly. This is a brilliantly sing-along song and one of my favourite 80’s tracks. It reached #4 in the UK singles chart.
Deep In Love follows this, and this opens like an early Pet Shop Boys track, before giving way to Holly’s vocals and a fairly bouncy sounding song. This track has a great bassline, with some well placed synth brass and backing vocal sections.
This is followed by S.U.C.C.E.S.S, which sounds like the most Frankie track so far. Holly’s vocals are strong and commanding, as a steady 80’s rock-pop beat carries a myriad of synths and samples. This track is more catchy than Deep In Love.
Lead single Love Train is next and this is a great piece of pop. The track is catchy, flows perfectly, and it gives plenty of space for Holly’s non-Frankie style of vocals to shine. There’s plenty of pop guitar here – supplied by Queen’s Brian May and session guitarist Neil Taylor – reminding me a little of something you’d find on a Living In A Box album. Holly took this single to #4 in the UK charts. Again Stephen Hague and Marius de Vries are in the credits for this track.
Got It Made comes bursting in laden with guitar and synths. These help the track bound along, and together with some wonderful 80s beats, give the song a pretty catchy pop feel. Kudos to Holly for giving me the only song i’ve heard ever to include the lyric ‘escaped from the hands of the Marquise de Sade‘.
Eighth track Love Will Come is a much slower track – almost a ballad. Here, Holly sounds a bit like he’s singing for an ABC record.
Penultimate track Perfume is almost a Prince track – musically and vocally. There’s plenty of brass stabs here, set over a great smacking 80s beat. The backing vocalists and guitarist have their work cut out and they do a wonderful job.
A gentle synth swirls and swells, signalling the closing track Feel Good. This is a ballad, and a great way to close this album on a positive uplifting note. At times, Holly’s vocals in this song remind me a little of his vocals from hit The Power Of Love, although it’s not as catchy and it’s definitely in the pop rock genre and therefore musically heavier. The song swirls out to fade just as gently as it arrived.
Where is Holly Johnson now?
After the success of Blast, Holly joined other music stars in 1989 to record Ferry Cross The Mersey in aid of The Hillsborough Disaster. This song reached #1 and stayed there for 3 weeks.
In 1990, a remix album of Blast was released, titled Hollelujah although it failed to repeat the same commercial success. A second studio album – Dreams That Money Can’t Buy – was released in 1991 but due to there being no promotional budget for this album, Holly departed his record label and the album suffered commercially.
Later in the 1990s, Holly turned his hand to painting, exhibiting in the Tate Liverpool and Royal Academy.
He continues to perform, backed by his early success and that from his highly successful career as front man of Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
His most recent album, Europa was released in 2014, and he supported it with a tour.
POP RESCUE RATING
Over all, this is a great example of late 80s pop music and agenda lyrics. The singles picked from this album were the right songs to release, and perhaps only Perfume could have stood as a potential fifth single.
Holly’s prior success with Frankie Goes To Hollywood continues to shine throughout this album, and it’s no surprise that the album scored him a #1 hit album, and success for the first two singles.
Frankie fans should not be disappointed with this at all.
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1989 UK CHART POSITION: #1, certified Platinum.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a That’s Entertainment store.