As a straight man it’s easy for me to be complacent about this, but the Orwellian “THE COMMUNARDS ARE BANNED” business at the start of this video looks completely ridiculous to me now, and the fact that it does suggests genuine and positive social change. Around this time I remember reading a tabloid article suggesting that gay men be interned offshore, Anthrax-island style, until AIDS had burnt itself out: an extreme expression of the panic and fear surrounding the disease – and of who much of the public wanted to blame. From one angle it was a time of increasing, indulged, and with Clause 28 ultimately government-sanctioned homophobia, a lurch back between the several steps forward of 60s decriminalisation and 00s equality legislation.
Jimmy Somerville very much emerged as a pop star against this background – out and proud, making records with Bronski Beat about growing up gay, his falsetto keening over “Small Town Boy” as a lament and rebuke for the provincial towns which drove out young men like him. He was always a serious man, even when he made surging, celebratory records like this one. Partying was in itself political. In fact what gives “Don’t Leave Me This Way” its odd grain is the contrast between Somerville’s slightly aloof, elevated performance and the gusto the arrangement seems to demand.
Without that sense of hedonism the record feels too effortful. Somerville is acting the choirboy in a gospel song, floating over the listener when he needs to lift them up with him, and without his support the rest of the band try for Sylvester and end up closer to Black Lace – uncomplicated, manipulative party music. That whomping great hands-in-the-air “Whoooooooooooaaa – BABY!” is the least subtle moment all year, which probably explains why “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was ’86’s top-selling single. The sonics have aged terribly, though – it all sounds so thin now, which would block the song’s instrumental lunge for ecstasy, even if you didn’t leave it convinced Somerville is no fun to dance with.