Be Bop Deluxe – Drastic Plastic: Album Review

The final Be Bop Deluxe album, Drastic Plastic (as PROG called it, Plastic Fantastic, or maybe they were just being cleverer than us) makes its bow to complete an excellent reissue series.

Release Date: 26th February 2021

Label: Esoteric Recordings

Formats: 6 CD/DVD box set and 2CD digipak

Be Bop Deluxe and Esoteric are going out with a bang on this one. On top of the remastered original album, recorded in the Summer of ’78 in the South of France (check out the suntans in the collection of images) are a massive selection of additional goodies. Of the additional 88 tracks, 43 fit the ‘unreleased’ bracket. Anyone opting for the full four CD and 2DVD experience (and why not – these BBD sets have been beautifully put together) will get a 5.1 surround sound & stereo mixes from the original multi-track tapes by award-winning engineer Stephen W. Tayler, previously unreleased out-takes from the album sessions, a BBCRadio John Peel Show session from January 1978, and a CD of Bill Nelson’s previously unreleased demos for the album, A Feeling Of Playing.

Also included is an additional DVD featuring Be Bop Deluxe in the South of France, (a collection of Bill Nelson’s 8mm home movies shot whilst recording Drastic Plastic) and the band’s Sight & Sound In Concert performance for BBC TV from 1978. A booklet, photographs, postcards housed in a boxed package make a fitting tribute to Nelson’s vision of his former band.

For once it’s worth putting the music to one side and heading to the booklet to read Bill Nelson’s essay on the period. From the horse’s mouth so to speak – get a perspective and set the scene before gorging on the musical banquet.

Almost the album that never was,” is how Nelson describes Drastic Plastic as he explains his disenchantment of the business in general and his feelings of being tied to commercial considerations whilst he wanted to explore his art. Determined not to become the stereotypical guitar hero, the use of electronic instruments and industrial rhythms and sounds came to the fore. A very civilized affair it seems too. Details of dedicated cocktail hours and celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee pepper the musical memories and anecdotes including their own Royal visit from Bill Wyman. As usual, it’s a fasciniating insight.

Of course, there’s still the music and having run its course, Be Bop Deluxe bowed out with an album charting the contemporary new wave and art-rock influences that Nelson would move into. Influences that were not shyly hidden.

New Precision sounds very Talking Heads (feeling nervous and can’t relax?) and the thought arises of the Nelson and Byrne musical trajectories being not dissimilar. The jerky/marching rhythms and general insistent groove could partner them as comfortable bedfellows. The element of funkiness that cuts a swathe through the album comes to the fore on New Mysteries and if I’m not mistaken there are a few Fripp-esque guitar squeals adding the odd sparkle.

Although that element of being at a musical junction is paramount, Drastic Plastic contains a fair share of variety. It’s by no means Nelson going through the motions of a contractual obligation record. Love In Flames and possession gets back to some basic guitar rock, almost punky in execution and the quirkiness pops up on Surreal Estate (complete with the sort of whistling part that’s bound to crop up in pub quiz questions about naming songs that include a whistling – while you work – part). A quivering glamness and for a moment the ghost of the opening chords of Anarchy In The UK along with a namecheck to Bat Out Of Hell surface. Wherever you go, there’s always something to grab the attention, even down to the song title – the wonderfully named Superenigmatix (Lethal Appliances for The Home With Everything) is a killer.

However, being a sucker for twelve string guitar, the brightness of the cascades of notes, despite the title of Visions Of Endless Hopes, is a gorgeous instrumental. Check the booklet for a shot of Nelson with his Ovation 12 string in the garden surrounded by microphones and his own take on that recording. He describes it as a companion piece to album closer Islands Of The Dead – a lazy and cool piece that reflects the recording surroundings.

The last song on the last album is a peaceful farewell and the last words to Bill Nelson who calls Drastic Plastic “The halfway house between Be Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.”

And so to a glut of the other content – a sackful of live sessions and more. Plans for an EP to release Autosexual, Lovers Are Mortal, Speed Of The Wind, Face In The Rain and Quest For The Harvest Of The Stars fell by the wayside but it would have been a cracker running at almost twenty minutes. With sounds not dissimilar to the likes of Procol Harum, Bowie and Supertramp you can appreciate why some would award BBD their ‘Prog’ stripes.

The two discs that cover Nelson’s demo version and the 202o stereo mixes give a chance to compare for the audiophiles. It may be a little Philistine to comment that his demos are by their nature, a little muddier but just in need of a polish but that’s more a testament to the quality of the man and his music.

The BBC In Concert and Peel Sessions showcase the new album almost exclusively. Sunburst Finish’s Blazing Apostles sneaks in unnoticed as a cloaked intruder. The Peel Session focus on the more direct material, maybe as a concession (not that Nelson would ever concede to anyone) to Peel’s new found love for the contemporary scene rather than as a champion of early Seventies Rock.

Ultimately, and despite the band having come to the end of its natural life, Drastic Plastic remains a key part of the Bill Nelson story. Evolving with the musical climate the album is as much a sign of the times as anything Be Bop Deluxe ever did.

Here’s New Precision:

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