Review: “Dreams That Money Can’t Buy” by Holly Johnson (CD, 1991)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain, is the 1991 second solo album Dreams That Money Can’t Buy by Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman, Holly Johnson. Will this album be a Dream come true, or should you pay someone to take it away? Read on….

Holly Johnson - Dreams That Money Can't Buy (1991) album cover
Holly Johnson – Dreams That Money Can’t Buy (1991) album

This 10 track CD opens with the album’s second single, Across The Universe. ‘Space‘ Holly whispers teasingly at the start before an avalanche of energetic synths, stabs, and pop beats blast you into the song. Holly and those synths very much sounds like he’s channeling Erasure. However, despite the Major Tom reference, and the futuristic lyrics and bleeping synths, the chorus falls flat, failing to be catchy or dodging a few cheesy lyrics. The UK singles-buying public agreed, and it flopped at #99.

Next it’s When The Party’s Over and a nice snare-laden beat drops in, alongside a party sounding background before Holly leads into the first verse. I love the beat, and this track seems to have a bit more structure that Across The Universe. There’s a ton of samples here too, but it all fits in with 1990/1991 sounds.

The People Want To Dance follows this, the introduction reminding me a little of his earlier hit Americanos, meets Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. By this third track, I can hear that the lyrics are very topically similar – environmental, and anti-capitalist themes, and this track is no exception. This track isn’t particularly catchy, and as it was the album’s third and final single, it failed to chart in the UK. The backing vocalists, used sparingly, and including Claudia Fontaine (Beatmasters, Tina Turner, Howard Jones), do a great job of adding some variance and contrast to Holly’s verbose vocals.

Some gentle percussion wafts in, taking us into slower number I Need Your Love. Here we get a smooth rich set of vocals from Holly. It’s a great contrast to the earlier songs, and these slower songs really show off Holly’s voice (remember, he did The Power Of Love). There’s even some ‘doobie doo wah’ from the backing vocalists. It’s a nice little song.

Then it’s on to the track Boyfriend ’65’ which has the late-Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals. This is an upbeat little song, almost comedic in its retro style. Kirsty is just about audible in the mix, but it would have been great to have given her a full duet lead role. Why invite her to the party and then stick her in the corner?

The album’s lead single Where Has Love Gone? follows that, and it bursts in with urgency, and lots of those familiar ‘yeah’ and ‘oohs’ that instantly made me think of his Relax hit. The orchestra stabs and occasional ‘ow’, and long-held vocal note samples really do show this to have been a product of 1990/1991. It’s a nice enough burst of energy, but when it hit the charts, it was rightly kept low on the charts, presumably by something better from Erasure or Pet Shop Boys. It reached #73 on the UK singles chart.

Next up is Penny Arcade, opening with the sound of robot voices and sharp dance synths. Slightly unnervingly, Holly’s vocals are affected heavily, and he’s joined with a deep robot vocals until the chorus. This track is produced by Dan Hartman (Instant Replay, Relight My Fire), we’re also joined on saxophone by Courtney Pine. There is a nice energy in this track, but again the downbeat lyrical messages about being overworked are tiresome and just lack appeal.

That’s followed by Do It For Love – which musically sounds quite a bit like a missing Pet Shop Boys album track, however, Holly’s vocals often sound jarringly out of key. The layers of synths and synth strings are warm and flow effortlessly like a PSB song, but it just doesn’t quite work vocally.

Penultimate track You’re A Hit is next and takes a slightly harder sound with a thumping beat and bass. Randomly the lyrics are about Marie Antoinette and dragons. The chorus is quite catchy, and the backing vocals really make it so. The track is a fairly upbeat song, earned partly from the beat. I could also imagine Right Said Fred enjoying this song.

The album closes with The Great Love Story, and we’re once again returned to a floating world, much like the space that we were introduced to in the opening track. It’s a mid-tempo track, allowing Holly to show off his stronger, richer vocals that suit him better than faster pop songs. He does hit a couple of dodgy notes, but they’re forgivable in the wider context of the song.

Holly Johnson’s lead single ‘Where Has Love Gone?’ (1990)

Verdict

Over all, this album strongly smells of contractual obligation, and Holly is clearly resenting this with his somewhat miserable lyrics that are loaded with references to a tired generation of workers that need to rebel. The label went on to reduce marketing of the album, and eventually Holly was dropped from the label.

There are a few nice little tracks here, with When The Party’s Over, I Need Your Love, Do It For Love, and The Great Love Story being the best. The remainder are mediocre or a little cringeworthy lyrically, and musically dated, but that’s the cost of having been brave enough to be cutting edge and experimental – sometimes it doesn’t pay off. This is one of those times.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1991 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Didn’t chart in the UK.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 99p from a Discogs.com seller.

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