Pelican West

Haircut One Hundred

Arista, 1982

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


So the first thing you hear are steady percussive guitar, xylophone and horns. Then the smooth, deep voice of chief songwriter Nick Heyward. This sounded like nothing else back in 1982 and certainly like nothing that’s put on the radio these days. It’s a perfect moment captured in a time capsule. It was also Haircut One Hundred’s biggest, and arguably (especially in the States), only hit. “Love Plus One” is followed up by its equally catchy and impossibly speedy B-side “Favourite Shirts,” though the UK loved the band so much that it too became a top five hit.

There’s a sunny, tropical feel to much of Haircut 100’s debut album, Pelican West. This is in stark contrast to the stuffy cable knit sweaters and dress pants the six male members are wearing on the sleeve and video clips. Whatever the season, this is likely as New Wave as Arista would ever allow itself to be. The Calypso music of songs such as “Lemon Firebrigade” may not be to everyone’s liking, but at least it was different. The problem going forward as a viable band with staying power was a distinct lack of musical variation. They settled on one formula and in the process, backed themselves into a corner. Plus, there were SO many UK bands vying for supremacy in the ‘80s that it eventually became the survival of the fittest.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Consider Haircut One Hundred the six boys you wouldn’t be afraid to take home to mum. Gays and girls both adored these blokes in equal measure. Who knew sexual fantasies would arise from men fully clothed? It’s an ironic and clever notion the image makers clearly latched onto early on in marketing the band for MTV. And they brought highly proficient jazz music into the mix too, proving that they weren’t just pretty faces. Somebody like Sade would appreciate what Haircut One Hundred tried to do musically, though I’ve always maintained that Sade could’ve at least attempted upbeat material such as this. At any rate, one listen to “Kingsize” should silence any doubting Thomases who felt Haircut One Hundred couldn’t possibly play.

Another highlight on Pelican West is the song with the title that says it all, “Fantastic Day.” It almost sounds like a TV theme, with a hook so big it’s a mystery why it was never released as a single in the States. We Americans give up on and discard things so quickly. We’re the most fickle country in the world and I’m not ashamed to say that either. It’s almost as if we’re all trained to say “next” and “no” all the time! As a music critic myself, I strive to be fair and objective. Even listening to this album, I had an internal struggle going on, “Do I like it…or don’t I?” It’s interesting revisiting these gems from the past. Some have gotten better with age, while others clearly have rotted on the vine. Haircut One Hundred is one of those rare acts who find themselves in a perpetual state of purgatory.

The horns take center stage on “Baked Bean,” but I can’t get past that ridiculous title. Then, “Snow Girl” is a snow BALL you’d rather throw far, far away. At least they finish strong with the surprisingly funky “Love’s Got Me In Triangles” and the ultimate closer “Calling Captain Autumn,” clearly a reference to the fallen leaves in the cover photo. If mid-tempo jazzy pop is your thing, then you’ll love Pelican West. For me, though, the jury is still out after all these years.

Rating: B-

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.