It’s not everyday that a band gets the chance to work with one of its primary influences, but that’s just the chance China Crisis got when Walter Becker of Steely Dan signed on to produce their third album Flaunt the Imperfection. The result was an album that broke from China Crisis history of complicated new wave songs with a hurried energy.
Led by Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon, the pair wrote ambitious songs tailored for synthesizers and guitar with a similar approach to fellow Liverpool natives O.M.D. As members of the Liverpool class of rock, China Crisis always stood out from the likes of Heaven 17, A Flock of Seagulls and Echo & the Bunnymen by virtue of their warm organic sound.
The fact that the band’s influences ranged from Stevie Wonder on one end to Brian Eno on the other with Steely Dan squarely in the middle only meant that the experimentation would be tempered with subtle R&B-like smoothness.
That was not always the case as China Crisis music was often harsh sounding thanks to lead vocalist Gary Daly’s quirky voice and the band’s willingness to experiment. It never stopped them from scoring a few hits however. Things did settle down with Becker at the boards for Flaunt the Imperfection. The band was so happy to have Becker, that they made him a honorary 5th member and credited him as such on the sleeve credits.
With Steely Dan still popular and Becker’s solo career still hot, much of Flaunt the Imperfection sounded like a Walter Becker of Steely Dan project, but with updated arrangements that included plenty of synthesizers. Although electronics were prevalent, they were not dominate as there was plenty of restraint, giving the songs an organic adult contemporary feel.
The upbeat, bright and cheerful nature of songs like “The Highest High” and “Wall of God” sum up the albums overall tone. There were excellent slower more introspective songs too like “Black Man Ray” that showcased the band’s shared songwriting skills. On the slower songs the adult contemporary nature of the recordings suggested a new direction. This is where Becker was most influential.
Many new romantic and new wave bands that broke out in the early ’80s had moved on to a more pop based sound and China Crisis was no different. Although there were hits in the UK, the band never quite broke through to the American market despite sporadic exposure on MTV and VH-1.
My favorite track “Bigger The Punch I’m Feeling” combines all of the influences of the band with its classic knack for catchy quirky melodies. More aggressively promoted, tracks like that should have easily made the top 40 in America. The album in general is the best possible tribute to the band’s primary influences without loosing the trademarks that made China Crisis so interesting in the first place.