13
Aug 09

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – “Two Tribes”

FT + Popular125 comments • 20,491 views

#536, 16th June 1984, video

In 1982, armageddon came to the pages of 2000AD. The Sov-Bloc, sworn enemies of Judge Dredd, invented a missile defense shield that allowed them to strike at Mega City One with impunity. They did so, having first maddened and weakened its already-decadent populace. In one memorable scene, as the missiles fall, citizens in as yet unbombed zones take advantage of the radiation heatwave to strip down and dance, singing a catchy tune called “Apocalypso”. It was a typical 2000AD touch, absurd but with a kernel of resonant truth. In the face of certain annihilation, what else to do but dance it on? “Two Tribes” – as thrill-powered a record as has ever hit the top – asks the same question and gets the same answer.

The first three Frankie singles, according to their ideologue Paul Morley, took on the biggest themes going: sex, war, religion. But which was which? “Relax” restaged sex as an arena fight, with the British public as the scandalised and delighted audience, thumbs twitching up or down. “Two Tribes”, on the other hand, takes the “Relax” blueprint and makes it even sleazier. More driving and more grandiose, yes, but Holly Johnson’s barks and gasps sound just as depraved, and the crazed robo-bass that thunders through the track – black leather on metal hips – gives “Two Tribes” an anchor in rock’n’roll “Relax” had lacked.

Like several hit records, “Two Tribes” is notionally about the futility of war: like few of the others, it reacts to this with a nihilist lust. If sex and horror are the new gods – and the lipsmacking way Holly asks the question leaves no doubt it’s rhetorical – then what better way to worship than a world sacrifice? Like a Shangri-La’s record, “Two Tribes” taps into pop’s doomed-youth death-drive, except it’s not just some Jimmy or Johnny on that fatal motorbike ride, it’s all of us. The video ends, modestly, with the planet exploding.

The song stayed on top for weeks, then months, thanks to the string of 12″ remixes ZTT rolled out to the public. Each emphasised different elements in the song, threw particular spotlights on its madness: one looped the band’s unbothered scouser voices from an interview: “My name’s Pedz, my name’s Mark, my name’s Nash…MINE. IS THE LAST VOICE YOU WILL EVER HEAR.” Another took the record’s bombastic intro and built it up into Wagnerian muscle disco. A third made too great a use of a somewhat ragged Reagan impersonator. You got the feeling that somewhere there must exist the perfect mix, the one which caught the very best moments of each version. If it were ever played, perhaps the world would end.

The single mix almost works as this imaginary highlights reel – the inhuman bass keeps the juxtapositions and sudden flourishes from seeming too wild, and only the abrupt ending lets you down. Horn had really cracked the technology by now, too, not just triggering the right samples at the right time but making them work in the song’s headspace, so the Eno-esque synth washes float over the hi-NRG thunder like battlefield mist, and the symphonic blurts sound like Pedz (or Mark or Nash) had stepped forward and simply pulled a full orchestra out of his pocket. As that summer wound on and the holidays started, I went round a friends’ house and saw the new walkman he’d just got for his birthday. I asked to give it a go and this was inside, on tape – the first thing I’d ever listened to on headphones. It was the most exciting sound I had ever heard. Still is.

10

Comments

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  1. 1
    MBI on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Other party at the apocalypse songs: “1999,” “Party at Ground Zero”

  2. 2
    mike on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Ah, but there IS a perfect mix! It’s the 15-minute version on the cassette single, which splices together the best bits of the other mixes in a gloriously maximalist fashion.

    “Two Tribes” was, for me, the absolute peak moment of 1980s New Pop, and a kind of logical conclusion to the path that it had followed. To this day, I see it as a peak which, viewed from a certain angle, chart pop has never quite surpassed.

  3. 3
    Matt DC on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Absolute nailed on 10/10 for me as well, the synth hook blew my mind even hearing it for the first time relatively late on (ie in about 1991). Pretty much the high point of bombastic 80s synthpop really.

  4. 4
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    A third made too great a use of a somewhat ragged Reagan impersonator: “too great”? What mean?

  5. 5
    johnny on 13 Aug 2009 #

    watching the video, i realized i’ve never heard this before. i honestly don’t know what to make of it. seeing it given a 10 confuses me further still. i’m almost positive i am missing some context here, so i will basically take you on your word that this track is as good as you say it is. this is clearly an Event Song, and an Event Video (the first?), and being there for The Event is sometimes the key to understanding the thing itself. For me, the Event is an embargoed 1991 song by a Pop King returning to his throne. phenomenal at the time but in retrospect the Event seems to cover up a song i consider to be fairly weak. it’s a bit how i interpret this Frankie track. it sounds like “Relax” stuffed with steroids and drained of humor, though the video is quite humorous. did they really mean this or are they being ironic? both?

  6. 6
    rosie on 13 Aug 2009 #

    I’m not going to be so crass as to say I don’t think this should be a ten. I can see how it might be because this really is the beginning of the domination of a pop which, for the first time, I felt unable to respond to. To me it’s the ultimate triumph of style over substance, producer over performer. When I listen I hear a distant voice filtered through a fog of techno-noise and it moves me not one millimetre. If it’s a ten it’s a ten for a generation that I never belonged to. To me it’s a 4 at best.

    In terms of the soundtrack to my life it is of immense significance. During its reign I went camping in the Forest of Bowland with my friend Jenny, and on the day after I got back home – which I now recognise was exactly twenty-five years ago to the day at the time of writing – I went down to London to meet a friend of a friend who had asked me down for lunch. Lunch turned into afternoon drinks which turned into an Italian meal which turned into takeway gin, and I never did get home again until after work the following day. I know I crept out into the streets of Notting Hill at six in the morning and saw a London I’d never seen before, a London quiet and bleary in the half-light, a London suddenly vulnerable and loveable. Hey, I thought, I’m crossing your actual Portobello Road! Am I dreaming? And then a tube station deserted but for the smell of disinfectant and the constant rumble of escalators; an echoing platform, a distant light of a train in a tunnel, and then I’m on my way and the spell was broken. But it never was completely broken, and here begins the final stretch of my involvement in the Popular project before the life to which it has furnished the soundtrack finally changes forever.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Knew this was coming, still prefer Relax! This one is too “sporty” in a way that can irk a little (not significantly tho, still pretty much love it).

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The difference in tempo between the two seems important though. ‘Two Tribes’ obviously shifts gear so I can see how that would provide a greater thrill. Easy to imaging ‘Relax’ at this bpm though with only the familiarity of the original making this seem a bit wrong (the ’93 remixes were faster tho and it survived the process, just about…less so in that Zoolander scene, amusing tho it was).

  9. 9
    Alan on 13 Aug 2009 #

    the 7″ single (pictured!) is the best version. not too long and it has the PROPER INTRO.

    i used my copy teaching Yr 7 science classes in the standard demo of sound as a wobbly line, cone of paper and pin style. very misguided – not because this was 10 years after the song was #1 and thus about the same age as the kids themselves – but because they had no idea what a vinyl record was, so the basic lesson is lost. doh

    (oh and a deep spoken voice comes out well in those cone of paper and pin demos, so the intro to 2Tribes was perfect)

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Yes, ten for me too, and the best nuclear paranoia song I know. At least the one that preyed into my teenaged nuclear paranoia, with its obvious but great lyrics coaxed into unbearably high levels of IMPORTANT ENERGY by the production. As for the biscuits.

    That said, I can completely see how anyone outside of the perfect age for it (eight to twenty say) at the time could be completely baffled as to what exactly makes it so good. An event record yes, though I remember it coming out when Relax was still in the charts (and not being played) so this was the Frankie it was OK to like? And its political (YAY!) and aggressive (YAY!) and there’s a shit Ronald Reagan impersonator in the video (NOT SO YAY!) It is one of those wonderful songs which is clever, though not as clever as it thinks it is*, and thus makes you the audience feel better and cleverer for liking it and them.

    *This’ll be the Paul Morley influence!

  11. 11
    Lex on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Like Johnny @ #5, I don’t really get this either. It’s…very loud and leaves me very cold, rather like Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”, and ends up boring me by about halfway through. It has elements of dance but no groove to actually dance to. I hate it when people do that. It’s ::political:: but not actually about anything. The video is totally stupid, how come this doesn’t get the mockery that poor Lionel did? 4, I guess? I like it better than “Relax” because it’s not as overplayed.

    The more I learn about this “new pop” business, the less I think I’m down with it or its values.

  12. 12
    lex on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Also, the past few No 1s are ably demonstrating why “80s” was a byword for naff, uncool music when I was growing up. I thought that was unfounded prejudice when I began discovering 80s artists I liked (so sad that Sade won’t be showing up here!) but it was obviously all too true.

  13. 13
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The video is RUBBISH compared to Relax by the way, and wasn’t as big a deal at the time – IIRC even in the playground everyone was very excited by the concept and mildly embarrassed by its execution. Mark purely for the record here!

    (It doesn’t help that the soviet leader in question – is it Chernenko? – had a shorter spell in power than Relax’s chart run)

  14. 14
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    #2 Yes, this is it for the New Pop really.

  15. 15
    lonepilgrim on 13 Aug 2009 #

    YES! ten! ten! ten!
    I forget how many versions of this I bought – somehow it made consumption seem subversive at the time (not the most coherent philosophy I realise now).

    I downloaded the Carnage Mix recently knowing this was coming up and was blown away by how wonderful it still sounds. Holly Johnson cut-up lyrics are the post-punk grit at the heart of the pearl polished by Trevor Horn’s production, Anne Dudley’s orchestration and Paul Morley’s provocations.

    I’ve been struck by how much Frankie’s first two records put me in mind of the Stones with HJ an OUT version of Jagger’s sexual ambiguity – ‘I modelled shirts by Van Heusen’ – ‘that man comes on to tell me How white my shirts can be’ ; ‘Relax. don’t do it’ – ‘I can’t get no satisafction’ – and the nihilism of both hits is cut from a similar cloth to ‘Paint it black’.
    It’s a recurring mood in many UK hits – one that I’m not sure features so heavily in the US charts – although perhaps it takes a different form – Country maybe?

  16. 16
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The video is like a (well-edited) Spitting Image parody of itself, all bad rubber masks and cheap models — I hated it at the time, which impacted on my feeling for the song (contra Rosie, not ENOUGH auteurist rigour at the director’s end, rather than too much).

    The problem with L.Ritchie’s video is more in the territory of unintended consequences, isn’t it? That the story (and tone) of the video clashes with the story (and tone) of the song, to comickal effect.

    haha i’d forgotten the chernenko problem — oops!

    dear god sade was such a drip — she is the indie of soul

  17. 17
    ace inhibitor on 13 Aug 2009 #

    ‘apocalypso’ = better title. I do see the appeal of this, but my main problem with it is the line ‘a point is all that you can score’ which is a bit rubbish – anticlimactic (when 2 tribes go to war, yes yes, what happens? Oh), not entirely meaningful, rhythmically clunky (the stress on ‘you’ doesn’t feel right)

  18. 18
    ace inhibitor on 13 Aug 2009 #

    and I seem to remember an interview where Holly explained it as a reference to fencing?! which didn’t improve matters

  19. 19
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Lex to continue the discussion elsewhere I think you’d like a lot of 70s from the 70s just on the basis of “80s = naff and uncool: so look to the opposite”

    (tho in a way I think Frankie is the apotheosis of certain strands of 70s music — Pleasure Dome as a remake of Tarkus!) (i only just thought of that: Horn’s — correct — line on prog is that it needed more gleam and stricter editing and sense of form; but he made a mistake doing away with the actual musicians perhaps)

  20. 20
    lex on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Dunno what Sade is/was like as a person but her music is impossibly decadent and gorgeous. To me she stands for penthouse suites, cocaine and champagne, expensive shit and great sex. She is the balearic of soul.

  21. 21
    johnny on 13 Aug 2009 #

    did this track or video cause any controversy upon its release? i imagine the public sighing with relief at this one – “whew! it’s ok, dear. the pop stars are only singing about war on this one.” a bit anticlimactic after “relax”, no?

  22. 22
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The lyrics of Apocalypso (the bit I can remember)

    “Apocalypso! Apocalypso! The bombs they come to fry our fat!”
    “Apocalypso! Apocalypso! The population going – SPLAT”

    This last an actual missile landing right on top of the singer.

  23. 23
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    i’ve always assumed that “one is all that you can score” (which is indeed rubbish) was something to do with Game Theory, and Zero-Sum outcomes as poorly understood by a.n. pop group

    Their next single should have been “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”, then they could have called PleasureDome “Panopticon”

    (ignore me i am trying to write something elsewhere and it is going badly)

  24. 24
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    great sex WITH ROBERT ELMS (= indie)

  25. 25
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    penthouse suites, cocaine and champagne, expensive shit and great sex = David Lee Roth

  26. 26
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Certainly nobody banned it. The main controversies were i) around the video, which was a bit of a feeble one and everyone involved – makers and banners – were going through the motions on it ii) genuine crossness at how badly FGTH were scalping the public with the endless 12″s (they changed the chart rules I think).

    Only anticlimactic if “Holidays In The Sun” is an anticlimax post “God Save The Queen” I think.

  27. 27
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    “The Power Of Mutual Co-Operation Strategies”

    (The Bunny’s Dilemma)

  28. 28
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Can’t remember if I said this on the “Relax” thread: I meant to — I think Frankie’s relationship to “Rave Culture” was

    (a) some of Frankie themselves were regulars at gay dance clubs, and
    (b) Trevor Horn had a deep but rather abstract understanding of where the technology was taking music which is more like an evolutionary convergence — the multiple mixes, the sense that everything is done in the studio, in layers relating to timed effects, build, groove and so on, the indifference to “song” as a formal skeleton at any stage — but he WASN’T a DJ, even if he know what DJs were doing, so while it’s a kind of mainstream precursor of rave in some ways, a lot of it is subtly off (and in fact NOT so subtly if you know a lot about club music)

    I *loved* the whole “too many mixes to keep up with” thing: it really appealed to me, more than anything else about them I think (not sure if i bought *any*).

  29. 29
    Alan on 13 Aug 2009 #

    “one is all that you can score” is a slogan-sharp flip of the WarGames “The only winning move is not to play” tag. WarGames was out (in the UK) in 83.

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Paul Rutherford made a couple of (probably quite good!) house tunes e.g. ‘Get Real’

    may be interesting to compare Horn with rising contemporaries SAW wrt getting a handle on the changing dance culture. Horn surely loved Dead or Alive.

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