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Spectators of Life

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Album Review

Belgium's the Names occupied one of the lower branches of the Factory and Factory-related family tree, releasing only one full album on Crépuscule, 1982's Swimming, and a handful of singles and compilation appearances prior to dissolving. Like the early Simple Minds, their jerky rhythms and bold keyboards recalled Magazine. And like many other bands with any tangential relationship to Factory whatsoever, the Names were shortsightedly looked down upon in the press as a Joy Division clone. Released in 2001 by Les Temps Modernes, Spectators of Life compiles the 1979 single of the same name with an early Belgian radio session of high quality, a number of selections from a couple decent-sounding shows, a compilation appearance, a pair of stray B-sides, and the fruits of a mid-'90s reunion that includes a version of the Passions' "I'm in Love With a German Film Star." It's frustrating to hear the obvious strengths in songs like "Foreign Rendezvous" and "Other Enquiries" and be struck with the reality that much of the group's best material was never recorded properly in a studio. Though rather derivative of Magazine on more than one occasion, the Names shared another thing in common with their forebears that stood against a lot of bumbling bands of the time: sheer, genuine, musicianly skill. The obvious highlight is "Spectators of Life" itself, which, along with "Nightshift" (found on the reissue of Swimming), is one of the two must-own Names songs for post-punk completists. Boasting a peppy lock groove between the bass and the drums, simmering keyboard textures, and a catchy coed chorus, there's little doubt that the song deserves a prime spot on a Nuggets-style compilation of post-punk obscurities, should such a thing ever see the light of day.

Spectators of Life, The Names
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