Science Fiction by Tom Bailey – Wonderful Escapism

As I mentioned in my post about influential albums

Science Fiction – Tom Bailey. Was so happy when Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins started making new material. Doesn’t disappoint.

But I wanted to do an additional post, adding to other posts related to albums that I have been doing (see, for example, 432-1: Open The Vein by Nasher, Essential by T’Pau, and Strings Attached by Berlin).

As with with the review for 432-1: Open The Vein by Nasher, the fact that the album came out a few years ago (in 2018) is largely irrelevant – after all many of us still listen to music from many years, if not decades, ago. But, particularly as an independent artist (and I have the same issue as an independent author) or someone not backed by a major record label or in the contemporary pop charts, it can be difficult to get your work known. So I wanted to do my bit to help raise awareness of the album.

Another reason for doing the review now is that I came across a podcast, Don’t You Forget About Me – The New Wave Music Podcast, which recently did a review of Science Fiction as well as Transcendance by Berlin in one episode. I have covered Transcendance in another post, but listening to the podcast inspired me to do this one about Science Fiction next in this series of music reviews.

As noted on Wikipedia,

Science Fiction is the debut solo studio album by English singer Tom Bailey, best known as the lead singer of pop band Thompson Twins. It was released on 13 July 2018. In addition to the standard release, a limited edition double CD hardback mediabook version of the album was released, featuring a bonus disc with seven alternative versions and remixes along with a companion book

I got the limited edition version of the CD so that I could both get the additional remixes and to better support Tom (I hope).

Some additional background information about the album (also from Wikipedia) is that:

After being seduced back into playing Thompson Twins songs in concert, Tom became increasingly interested in the challenge of creating new and contemporary songs. Despite not being interested in science fiction, Bailey found the concept of using science to shine “new light on old problems” to be a fascinating topic, and found that the songs he had written all shared this theme. After writing the aptly titled “Science Fiction” he realized that it would make a perfect title for the album itself.

I wasn’t particularly aware that Tom isn’t that interested in science fiction. It’s a bit ironic as I always associate The Thomsons – the characters in Tintin which inspired the name Thompson Twins – with science fiction as about the only Tintin book I had was one where they go to the moon. The cover of Science Fiction nicely reminds me of this book – which I enjoyed most for the pictures since it was bought on holiday in France and I never bothered to work out all of the meanings (I had a similar issue with Asterix).

Anyway, let us turn to the album itself…

“Science Fiction” – the title track is just so much fun. While it’s primarily about a person’s obsession with science fiction, it could stand for practically any hobby/obsession. The lyrics are great and the track has a enjoyable pop-feel to it, backed by a strong base. You could easily be mistaken for thinking you had been transported back in time and ended up in the recording studio for one of the Thompson Twins’ 1980s albums.

“What Kind Of World”. According to the Wikipedia article

The futuristic subject matter present in “What Kind of World” was inspired by the death of David Bowie and the visions of Elon Musk. Bailey believed Musk’s ambitions to colonize Mars were both intriguing yet troubling. He explained, “His plan to send people to Mars to save the Earth…is sort of an exciting thing, an optimistic thing, [but] I really worry that the idea that Elon’s going to send some rich people to Mars means we don’t have to save the Earth anymore.” “What Kind of World” would serve the purpose of tackling both arguments.

As for the track itself “What Kind Of World” follows on very naturally from “Science Fiction” and I could still imagine this song being written in the 1980s, albeit the issues alluded to above were much more of a world away that point. It’s a great pop track that addresses some real issues that need to be thought about more.

“Shooting Star” alludes to yet another spacial experience, but the lyrics are much less science fiction than the previous two tracks. Perhaps because of this the song is less clever in its contents – it is, at its heart, a bubbly love song.

“Feels Like Love To Me” follows on from the previous track in terms of its theme of love, but the pace has slowed dramatically. With the slower pace, more time is available to consider the words and their meanings. The whole track has a great, poetic feel to go with its view point on an ethos for life.

“Blue” is another slower track. Perhaps its my football allegiance with supporting the red team of Sheffield that means I cannot warm to the track as much as the others on the album. It’s essentially another love song, but it feels like the album is catching its breath before some more powerful tracks to come. Not a bad song by any means, just not one of the strongest.

“If You Need Someone” picks the pace back up again with a return to 80s-style new wave pop. If someone said this was a Thompson Twins’ track, I think the only thing that would make people question would be the absence of Joe Leeway and Alannah Currie. At one level this is precisely the sort of track that I would expect from Tom Bailey if he followed the Peter-Pan-never-grow-old-style of pop. It’s lot of fun and very easy to listen to.

“Ship Of Fools” is a sudden change of pace after the previous track. Furthermore, although it’s still got that Thompson Twins (and science fiction) feel to it, it hints much more at Tom being prepared to discuss bigger issues, even if the tracks backs off from dealing head on with what they may be.

“Work All Day” picks the pace back up and although I find some of the lyrics a little nonsensical, you can’t help but start tapping your feet to it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also the track that links the most to the Thompson Twins as the tune is identical to much of “Rock This Boat” on the 1989 album Big Trash.

“Bring Back Yesterday” is another slower track and hints back to days gone by… particularly the time of Thompson Twins’ track “King For A Day” (“I get down on my knees“). Is this Tom wishing it was still the 1980s? At the very least it shows that Tom has an awareness that he’s not Peter Pan and time has moved on.

“Come So Far”. What can I say about this track? In many respects, there are degrees of escapism on this album. But the final track brings you well and truly back down to Earth. For, as summarised on to Wikipedia,

“Come So Far” tells the story of a young man who tries to travel from Afghanistan to London to save his life. It documents what he has to give up–both materially, culturally, and emotionally–in order to make the move.

“Come So Far” is a very powerful and fitting way to bring the album to a close.

As mentioned earlier, one of the things that had inspired Tom to go back to making music was when he started to do more concerts again. I finally got to see him live for the first time in 2018 when he was “supporting” Culture Club, along with Belinda Carlisle. Although he was apparently one of the two support acts, he was the main reason I was there. It was amazing to finally hear Thompson Twins’ tracks live, as well as hear some of the new songs. (Belinda Carlisle and Culture Club were also very good, by the way).

I am now looking forward to seeing Tom in concert again – December 2021 – this time “supporting” The Human League, alongside Altered Images. I hope we won’t have to wait long for another album from Tom. His own solo concert (even if in a smaller venue) so that we get a full 90 minute set would be great too. In the meantime, I continue to enjoy listening to Science Fiction.

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