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What a Whopper!

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Album Review

The Monochrome Set have more compilations in their discography than actual albums, because Cherry Red Records executives seemingly have no end of ways to repackage their music. What a Whopper!, from 1992, is one of the group's most puzzling releases, however. From the sitar-and-chat-show opening ("So to explain how you can look mean and moody and still be Asian, here's Bid!") to the just plain weird closing track, "Sukra Sawdhamani," which features a huge and unrehearsed children's chorus singing in Bengali to an unrelated Monochrome Set instrumental track, the album plays up both singer/songwriter Bid's Anglo-Indian heritage (to the point of reprinting his recipe for cashew halvah in the liner notes) and the trippier psychedelic pop elements of the group's sound. More intriguingly, although several of the song titles are familiar (well over half of these songs appear on other Monochrome Set albums, from the title track to 1980's Strange Boutique to the 1985 single "Andiamo"), these are all alternate versions. They sound more like re-recordings than early demos, but the liner notes are mum as to when or where they were recorded. The El Records/Cherry Red catalog hints that this album was recorded and abandoned in 1985 as a psychedelic side project, but there is also the claim that the 1988 compilation Westminster Affair is the soundtrack to a French film, so veracity cannot be assumed. Mysterious provenance or not, What a Whopper! is a terrific album. The opening track, "Black Are the Flowers," makes excellent use of backwards guitars, and these versions of "Ten Don'ts for Honeymooners" and "Straits of Malacca" actually improve on the better-known renditions. ("Expresso" and "Goodbye Joe" are somewhat less successful than the original Strange Boutique versions, however.) The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well for an odds and sods collection, possibly bolstering the idea that it was all recorded at the same time. On the other hand, the songwriting credits span both the era of original guitarist Lester Square (Tom Hardy) and his replacement Foz (James Foster), making that unlikely. Whatever, it's a goodie.


Formed: 1978

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '10s

When the British art school punk band the B-Sides changed their name and direction to become Adam & the Ants, guitarist/vocalist Bid and guitarist Lester Square opted out to form their own group, the Monochrome Set. Founded in London in 1978, the band (also comprising ex-Gloria Mundi and Mean Street bassist Jeremy Harrington and former Art Attacks drummer J.D. Crowe) was quickly snapped up by the Rough Trade label, and during 1979 issued three singles -- "He's Frank," "Eine Symphonie des Grauens,"...
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What a Whopper!, The Monochrome Set
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