T’ Pau’s Bridge of Spies is a classic example of the changing nature of music taste that was taking effect in the late 1980’s. An album that was both well recorded and well received but which couldn’t unfortunately sustain the band indefinitely and although the 1988 follow up Rage saw the band reach another top five position, the music scene was changing, edgier, angrier and more derivative pop was taking hold. The bands that had substance to them such as T’Pau and the likes of Belinda Carlisle would fall by the way sides as casualties of pop stardom.
Bridge of Spies saw a combination of talent that in all fairness were good enough to hold their own well into the next decade but as with a lot of bands that appeared on the back of new wave and early to middle 80’s pop explosion, they would fall pray before their time. In pretty much the same way that the coming of decent and tremendous punk saw off a lot of the bands that the 1970’s had been kind to so the advent of celebrity pop saw off any musician who identified themselves with the pop/rock era of the 1980’s.
The album may be open to derision to the generation that came before it as mid 80’s Heart inspired clones and to the generation that followed as having the appeal of everything that was wrong about 80’s excess in music but the band can hold their heads up with pride in what they produced for their debut album. With writing responsibilities spread between Carol Decker and Ron Rogers the album veers between very good sentimental rock and pop driven lyrics that captured a moment in the late 80’s that has not been since. Musically comparable to the likes of Heart and even the Whitesnake revisionist album of 1987 but with none of the male bluster associated with the latter.For that, it is an album that still is possible to listen to and enjoy for what it was, a well crafted album full of very good pop-rock songs.
There will be those that say every song sounds the same and that is a pretty damning accusation that in some quarters can be labelled a large selection of songs that came between 1987 and 1991. To say that though further credence to the anti pop feel of the time and certainly with Carol Decker seems slightly unfair as aside from the usual suspects there still were few women making any type of head way in a very much male dominated genre of music.
The songs themselves are intensely listenable and more importantly enjoyable. The first single of the album, Heart and Soul may have had the added bonus of having Heart’s classic version of the song Alone in the charts at the same time, giving listeners the charm of two women with great voices to play alongside and back to back but with some very good guitar playing to back up the voices on offer. Whilst it would be a silly and glib remark to not only compare and contrast the difference between Carol Decker and Ann Wilson or even the guitar playing of Nancy Wilson, (to this day one of finest female rock guitarist of all time) and Ron Rogers or Taj Wyzgowski, they nevertheless are appropriately held up as genuinely good talent that gives Heart a run for their money around this time.
The stand out track on the album was infectiously likeable China In Your Hand, different in its styling to the single that was put out. The album version racks up the tension and doesn’t hit the hook line well into the song. It caught out fans of the bands single but added a hidden dimension to the band’s music capability. Annoyingly for some, and when these things mattered dearly, it also kept George Harrison’s version of Rudy Clark’s Got My Mind Set On You off the number one spot, quite a feat for the time and especially against the stature of the universally liked George Harrison and perhaps his most up-beat solo single.
The song starts off gently and with an appealing ring of truth to Carol Decker’s lyrics and is testament to the iconic 19th century writer Mary Shelley’s ability to inspire far beyond her time in which Carol Decker seems to be able to tap into. Though in the single version this allusion to Mary Shelley and her famous creation of the man made monster is lost, on the album it stands out as a wonderful piece of creative lyrical writing that deserves to be lauded than is given to in this day and age. Taken away from the pop edge afforded it, the lyrics are emotional in their outlook and it’s not an unfeasible jump to make them stand out in the field of Progressive rock writing and the ability to be able to tell a story that enthrals, however the song became almost a by word for an early widening shift in power in how women were perceived in music which whilst obviously admirable and much needed wasn’t helped by the video that accompanied it.
With certain irony and a large amount of bitterness, celebrity music would have one final dig at Ms. Decker as in 2011 a contestant on the television programme X Factor sang the band’s most well known single China In Your Hand. To degenerate a song in the fashion that happened and hearing a judge say that “it was nice to hear the song being sang in tune for once” is not the way to remember the song or T’ Pau.
In the end there is always nostalgia and the likes of T’ Pau would make an impact once more on the gig circuit and in Carol Decker, the flame haired vocalist of the band, and T’ Pau could show what was missing during some parts of the 1990’s and the cynicism that followed.
Ian D. Hall