A&M 1982 / Universal 2014
Going for the sheen, London’s rhythm-and-blues grafters come close to the edge.
1982 wasn’t the best year for purists like NBZ who found themselves between the rock and a plastic place of the new decade. More so, the band’s hectic touring apparently didn’t leave much time for writing, and when the quartet entered the studio to stir a follow-up to "Don't Point Your Finger", about a half of the new songs had been road-tested for about a year. Not that it smoothed the recording process, guided once again by Glyn Johns who cooked a punchy, if dry, sound, but then the group encountered the scenario their producer was in with THE BEATLES’ “Get Back” sessions, and, on demand from A&M, recut “Third Degree” with Simon Boswell. Now, there’s a chance to compare the two versions, as this reissue contains both sharing no less than seven songs of which “Sugarbeat (And Rhythm Sweet)” is a prime example of what the label wanted.
The initially spiky piece is much more sharply polished on the released variant that’s significantly longer – as if shaped for a 12-inch single – and features funky guitar so typical of the day and so uncharacteristic previously for Dennis Greaves, while the latest take on “You Can’t Say Yes And You Can’t Say No” is really the ultimate one. So it might be a wise decision commercially; not for nothing “East Street, SE17” pushes its reggae back towards ska while the song’s chorus migrates to the start to drive a pop hook there on which Brian Bethell’s bass hangs nicely. By the same token, opener “11+11” buries its rockabilly edge under an echo-smeared veneer, albeit Mark Feltham’s harp comes out somewhat psychedelic in such surroundings that turn the slightly slouch “True Love Is A Crime” into a taut, multilayered winner, and Boswell’s piano ups the retro appeal of “Tearful Eye.”
But when the country-tinctured acoustic strum in “Egg On My Face” takes a backseat, letting forward organ and Mickey Burkey’s backbeat, the track’s sensuality evaporates, and once “Mama Talk To Your Daughter” was discarded, the LP’s texture became less rich. The catchy “Why Don’t You Try Me Tonight” vanished, too, as did – perhaps, for good, though – “Johnnie Weekend” and these got replaced with rather regular, yet almost proggy at the solo stakes, “Wipe Away Your Kiss” and ghastly, glossy “Mystery Man” that picks up the buzzy baton left on the ground by “Why Can’t We Be What We Want To Be,” pure ’80s despite its bluesy undertow, and passes it to another not-so-memorable but tellingly titled song, “You Don’t Love Me.” It signaled the nadir of NBZ’s flight and, the album’s chart action notwithstanding, the band broke up soon after its emergence. Still, the quartet would be back for their 10th anniversary, and they’re still burning at the third degree.