“You have to play this album,” says Vincent, a fellow record dealer in Lincoln where my secondhand vinyl store lives. It’s 2005, and we have just bought all the stock from another shop called Ed’s Music (the owner was called Eric – no me neither!). In that pile was an album by a local post-punk band called 4,000,000 Telephones that I had put off listening to for months.
Vince was not wrong. The needle drops and an enthralling mish-mash of sound unfolds. ‘4,000,000 Telephones’ remains, to me, one of the most intriguing debut albums of the 80s.
On its original release in 1985, on their own Enterprise Allowance-funded Bunker Records, the Lincoln-based six-piece were pegged as “most likely to” by Sounds, they toured Germany, released one more record with just one original member and disappeared into obscurity.
‘4,000,000 Telephones’ is like connecting to countless musical conversations, all in different styles, happening at once. Built on an underlying punk-funk style, it journeys through myriad genres infiltrated by electronic treatments and samples provided by the wonderfully named Jack Rabelais.
Sure, fans of PiL, 23 Skidoo and The Fall will find much to love, but so will fans of krautrock, electronic experimentalism, and 80s pop such as Spandau Ballet – it’s an indefinable maelstrom of a record.
Opening with a stark, ambient instrumental before exploding into the treated bass and big beats of ‘Big House’, a scratchy punk record infiltrated by electronics that sound like marching soldiers and a synth/violin breakdown that echoes Don Henley’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’. It’s a mad start.
Paranoid, frantic, half-sung, half-spoken, sometimes yelped vocals drive the whole thing along from this point on. ‘Cereal Commercial’ is a slower affair built on simple beats and a slowed down funk riff that is permeated by spoken word samples and manipulated voice.
‘Stop’ starts with the kind of anthem guitar that U2 would have been peddling at the time, before mutating into a rogue Pop Group cut. ‘Safe’ is a harmonica-driven dancefloor banger collapsing in on itself through panted vocals.
‘Do That’ samples phone sex lines over lounge jazz that gives way to funky bass lines and scratched guitar. An 80s movie sex scene interrupted by Liquid Liquid! ‘Horses’ is slowed down electropop with guitar and rhythms that mimic galloping before a country guitar break down heads of into the strangest sunset ever.
There’s so much to uncover with each listen. Vince forcing me to connect with this album has given me a winning card in Obscure Album Top Trumps ever since. Reissued in 2006 and available online, you can dial into this lost post-punk masterpiece with ease.