Poptone is the new band of Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and bassist Diva Dompé, who happens to be the daughter of drummer Kevin Haskins.
And yes, apparently her real name is Diva. Rock star dads, what are you gonna do? Apparently she was in a band called Blackblack between 2004 and 2008, so she was already in "the family business" before being recruited to help out her dad and his longtime songwriting partner.
Ash and Haskins have been working together for a long time now, first in Bauhaus (1978 – 1983), then Tones on Tail (1982 – 1983), then Love & Rockets (1985 – 1999). So the core of Poptone have been music partners for 21 years, plus reunions. Wow, their relationship is old enough to drink!
The LP Poptone consists of 13 tunes from the history of the Ash / Haskins collaborations, from all three of their bands, but paying most attention to the Tones On Tail era. I was always fond of that era of their collaboration, even if Tones On Tail was the hardest of their three bands to locate releases from in suburban Atlanta in the 1980s. I knew a few people who had tapes of EPs, and i cobbled together a tape of copies of those tapes. Hey, the 1980s were a technologically primitive era-- i did what i could with the equipment i had at the time.
In the mid 90s i got a copy of the Night Music compilation, which gathered together most of the Tones On Tail songs. I still rank that CD as among my favorite CDs. Overall, between cassettes (yes i still have some), CDs, and vinyl records, i probably have 10 or 15 releases from Ash and Haskins.
And you know, seeing your heroes re-record their music with their adult children is certain to make a music fan feel old.
But this sounds pretty good. I say that as a fan of this music going in, so your mileage may vary, but considering that it covers a lot of songs from their least well-known period, i feel that this recording has something to offer. Anything that gets more exposure to Tones On Tail is a good thing.
They kick things off with a studio recording of Heartbreak Hotel. There was a tape hiss-y live recording of that song on Night Music, and it is good to hear a cleaner studio version. They take the Elvis track, slow it down, and add a ton of reverb to the guitar. A lot of reverb, like, Reid brothers level. It's darker than Elvis ever was, and it makes sense to kick off a record of them covering their own material with a cover of them covering The King.
Up next is OK This Is the Pops, which was always one of my favorite Tones On Tail tracks. Haskins pounds the drums and his daughter keeps a funky rolling bass riff, as Ash's guitar is a trebly warble that is all over the place. This is a pretty faithful version, and a lot of fun.
Diva Dompé adds backing vocals to Daniel Ash on Mirror People, which was the lead off track to Love and Rockets's Earth Sun Moon record. Anyway, this version is faster, and Dompé seems to harmonize better with Ash than her uncle David J did. I like this updated version.
They make an odd choice for the next tune, the Tones On Tail song Movement of Fear. This is a weird song with Ash whispering while Dompé keeps a bass riff that drives the sparse, eerie song along. I have always felt this to be an uncomfortable song, which i guess it is supposed to be, given the title. Ash's sax solo here is nice and echoing, and in fact it feels like the whole song is stretched out even thinner than the original, which increases the creepiness of it. Well done.
Moving from fear to Happiness we have a lighter Tones On Tail tune, in fact a song that i have always thought to be a sibling to The Cure's Lovecats. It has that same kind of silly bouncing melody, especially in the prominent bass riff. Ash's voice is distant, but on the first chorus, Dompé comes in to sing alongside him, and then she harmonizes the rest of the song. That extra layer in really nice. Huh.
Up next No Big Deal from 1989s self-titled Love and Rockets album, which is the most recently written song on this record. Just contemplate that for a minute, and know that i saw them play at the Fox Theater on that tour... This song is all clattering percussion and fuzzed out guitars. This version is punkier and noisier than the slick stuff L&R were doing when they recorded this the last time, and i like this version better.
Lions is another Tones On tail song that i have always loved. The core of it is an odd little pulsing keyboard riff, courtesy of Haskins. Ash's guitar is more prominent and the song is drawn out a little compared to the original. This is a nice update.
Love Me is an Express-era L&R tune. This version is stripped down a little, spread out, sparser. Dompé sings backup, which is nice, and on the chorus the guitar is a fuzzy haze and the drums a rapid clattering as Ash really blows it, man! Feel that saxophone! This is great fun.
The next track is the one on this record that i am least familiar with. It is called Performance. This is a Tones On Tail song that did not make it onto the Night Music compilation. It has a nice syncopated keyboard riff, and the guitar is noisy and all over the place. It sounds more like Depeche Mode than anything else here, but still sounds pretty good.
The really change things up on Christian Says. Ash's guitar is sharper, really grinding along here. I love the droning keys and the muddy percussion. They make the song even fuzzier and messier than the Tones On Tail version was, and i approve.
Ball of Confusion was a weird cover for L&R to do. In fact, check out the original. I have an old inherited copy of the record that song was on (my mom was a big Temptations fan) and it was a weird song on a weird album even for that band. On this version, Ash ramps up the guitar distortion, making this even noisier. Dompé sings harmony with Ash actually works better than her uncle's harmonies did. This is still weird, but it's pretty fun.
The second to the last song is the one Tones On Tail song that everyone seemed to know. I think that Go! was a minor club hit in the US, or at least got played at teenage dance parties in the 1980s. I always loved this song -- the fuzzed out guitar, the clattering, stomping percussion, the band chanting "yeah yeah yeah yeah yow." And is has a great line that seems really deep when you are a teenager: "The fear of being really you". This is excellent, but not that different than the original, which is fine because it was such a great song to begin with.
And finally, we end with the only song on this record from their first band, Slice of Life. Although this is a Bauhaus song and was released on the final Bauhaus album (of their original period), it was essentially a Love and Rockets song since it was recorded without Peter Murphy. I always liked this one because the vocal harmonies and general rhythm of the song are almost Beatles-y. And yet, it has a Bauhaus feel, getting dark and rapid like a fever dream on the choruses. This is a good version.
So i like this record. However, i also liked the records that featured the previous versions of these songs. Since it is two thirds the same personnel, do these count as cover versions or not?
Two things though. In general, a lot of the tracks here feature the drums a little more prominent than they were in the old ToT and L&R songs. Which is ... an odd choice, but not unwelcome here at all. It is unusual to hear the drumming so front and center, but i think that it really works.
And also, i guess what Bauhaus / Tones On Tail / Love and Rockets was missing all those years is a female backing vocalist. Who knew?
At any rate, i enjoyed this a lot. And these are some great songs. You should check it out and then go back and listen to the originals. Ash and Haskins have collaborated on some amazing music over the years, and Poptone is just the latest act in their collaboration.
I wonder what they will do next.