The love affair started with ‘Flaming Desire’. The single got played on the radio at least once, possibly more, and had me swooning with its propulsive rhythms, swirling synths and croonerish vocal – a weirder version of Blancmange, Yazoo on speed.
As was often the case, the hard choice was made in Selectadisc in Nottingham – play safe with the single or shell out some extra hard-earned Saturday job cash on the album. It was the pre-streaming age of just having to take a punt, but in the end the choice was easily made.
There was the tracklisting with exotic, ethereal sounding titles like ‘When Your Dream Of Perfect Beauty Comes True’ and ‘The Crystal Escalator In The Palace Of God Department Store’. And what about that monochrome cover with the moody looking artist pictured in the half-shadow beside a statue of the Hindu god Shiva, although this background detail was lost at the time on an East Midlands teenager. Incongruously, this sensual-looking package seemed to be created almost single-handedly by someone with a name more suited to a Bolton Wanderers left-half of the 1930s.
I was oblivious at this stage to Nelson’s backstory as front man of prog-glam rockers Be Bop Deluxe, a fact that with hindsight makes the mix of sublime synthpop and ambient instrumental interludes on ‘The Love That Whirls’ even more remarkable. Had I known in 1982 that the robotic and skittering drum sounds were made by a Roland TR-808 drum machine I’d have been equally underwhelmed, but their crisp, precise presence made it futuristic then and as fresh as the proverbial today – but this was years before acid house and Detroit techno would turn that machine into a cult.
Many of the tracks also had a Japanese feel which, in the days when that country’s tech ruled the world, added to the album’s sense of visionary modernism.
On first play, the album didn’t disappoint, and it’s never let me down since, but few could experience the same chance radio epiphany and news of its greatness didn’t spread. Just a year before, Nelson’s ‘Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam’ album, and its earworm single ‘Do You Dream In Colour?’, had raised the possibility of turning Nelson into a pop star, but the world’s indifference to ‘The Love That Whirls’ ensured a place in cult obscurity.
Even for those whose path the album crossed, it was easily dismissed as “arty” in the year of the smooth-pop sheen of ‘Dare’ and ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. And that wasn’t a good thing. But nearly four decades on, it’s worth revisiting this genuine work of art.