Album of the Week, May 3: Quick Step and Side Kick by Thompson Twins

TTwinsQSSKNamed for a pair of bumbling detectives in The Adventures of Tintin, Thompson Twins contains no relatives and most famously had three members, ranging up to seven in early incarnations. The original group was a quartet formed around singer, guitarist and writer Tom Bailey in 1977. They played edgy, guitar-driven new wave with some interesting Asian and African influences. By 1981, most of the original group were gone but the group grew to seven members including Alannah Currie on percussion and vocals and Joe Leeway on drums and synths. They released two albums in the UK — A Product of… and Set — to moderate success.

Steve Lillywhite produced a song tossed onto the second album at the last minute, a synth-driven dance number unlike most of the group’s output. In the Name of Love was a dance smash in the US, leading the group to rethink its direction. Bailey also began playing keyboards as the core trio jettisoned the rest of the band. Bailey, Currie and Leeway headed to the Bahamas to get a fresh start, hooking up with producer Alex Sadkin, known for his work with Grace Jones. The trio took the best elements from previous Thompson Twins work and filtered it through In the Name of Love. The result was an amazing set of quirky, often dark, always danceable synth-pop songs.

Title Quick Step and Side Kick aka Side Kicks
Act Thompson Twins
Label Arista Release Date February 1983
Producer Alex Sadkin
U.S. Chart  #34 U.K. Chart  #2
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Love On Your Side [#45]
  2. Lies [#30]
  3. If You Were Here
  4. Judy Do
  5. Tears
  6. Watching
  7. We Are Detective
  8. Kamikaze
  9. Love Lies Bleeding
  10. All Fall Out

Things kick off with a stunning dance pop number. Love On Your Side has a smart unrequited love theme delivered in magnificent vignettes. Everything Bailey offers the object of his affections falls flat, but he keeps coming back. It’s a great dance song and a fun lyric delivered with just the right balance of confusion, whimsy, and pain. Bonus points: when Bailey mentions playing “all my favorite records” the synth riff from In the Name of Love kicks in. It’s a nice touch that works perfectly. Lies is another song in the same vein, just a bit darker. This lover isn’t just negligent but downright dishonest. It was the breakthrough hit, featuring some catchy, distinctive drumming and creepy/funny backing vocals from Currie while compressing the dance groove into a radio-friendly three minutes.

In a master stroke of sequencing, the mood shifts to something more quiet and brooding. If You Were Here is a short, powerful song that shifts the darker forces to the first person. Bailey delivers a near-whisper of a vocal over a well-layered synth backdrop. The result is one of the finest moments in the TT catalogue.

Judy Do is an ode to the late Judy Garland, a reflection on the pressures of stardom. Currie and Bailey weave their voices together in a tight lament while the music drones on like a manic music box. The effect is lovingly crafted and manages to be both menacing and sympathetic. On Tears, the trio returns to the dance beats that launched the disc, with clashing synth and pounding drums. It’s a great dance song that would stand out on a less remarkable album.

Grace Jones lends her unique power to the proceedings on Watching, an eerie, paranoid little fantasy. It pairs smartly with We Are Detective, a campy look at similar themes that features one of Currie’s best vocal contributions. Where Watching is haunting and menacing, Detective features cartoon sound effects and light-hearted drums. The two tracks set up a one-two punch of sneaky fun, all the while keeping up the dance beats.

Like side one, side two sets its quiet powerhouse in the middle of the tracks. Kamikaze is softly evocative, capturing the spirit of someone who knows he will never return home. The faintly Asian sounds are nicely crafted, creating the mood without seeming forced or derivative. While the title subject is specific, the themes of loss, sorrow, and fear are universal. This is another standout in the whole of Thompson Twins history.

Love Lies Bleeding is a short, snappy death-of-the-relationship song. Borrowing its title from an epic Elton John track, it compresses the destroyed romance into less than three minutes. It’s fast and furious, a danceable kiss-off. The album winds down with All Fall Out, a slow groove that’s unremarkable on its own but works nicely as a graceful exit.

Over the course of ten tracks, Thompson Twins announce themselves as a force to be reckoned with in synth-pop and the growing new wave dance movement. Blending three distinct talents into one cohesive mix, they offer fun, smart, diverse tracks that flow into a single great series. Quick Step and Side Kick is one of the best albums of the early 80s and holds up a something both of its time and transcendently timeless.

VARIOUS ITERATIONS: Quick Step and Side Kick had a confusing array of versions from the start. The North American release was retitled Side Kicks for no discernible reason, and the tracks were re-ordered in a way that brutalizes the energy and flow. All versions of the cassette release featured six additional tracks, mostly dance mixes. They’re interesting artifacts but don’t add much to proceedings. The 2008 reissue includes the cassette version (fortunately with the original UK sequence) plus a second disc of B-sides, single cuts, and remixes. It’s great for completists, but the best presentation of this album is the original 10-track UK edition.

FURTHER LISTENING: Thompson Twins broke big with their next release, the multi-platinum smash Into the Gap. Their catalogue divides nicely into three periods.

  • THE START: A Product of… and Set are interesting but mostly unremarkable. They were merged into the compilation album In the Name of Love for the US, the best quick look at the early years. Its title track is far and away the standout.
  • THE HITS: Thompson Twins rode the new wave, MTV-fueled second British invasion to great effect. Into the Gap is a nice album with some fun hits and one amazing album track (Sister of Mercy), but it’s a bit bland after Quick Step and Side KickHere’s to Future Days is more energetic and features some betters songs but less consistency.
  • THE WANING DAYS: As musical tastes shifted, Thompson Twins lost some of their audience. Joe Leeway departed, and the remaining duo lasted for three more albums of adequate dance pop that each produced one decent hit. After that, Bailey and Currie released two albums as Babble, an electronica-based duo without the charm of even the latter Thompson Twins work.

The best bet for casual fans is the 1996 compilation Thompson Twins – Greatest Hits. It features 16 tracks that truly represent the best of the singles.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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