The System was a great example of funk with new wave sensibilities. The flip side of that formula could be heard from Thomas Dolby and the Thompson Twins. Early in their career, the Thompson Twins made great new wave/electro pop with a touch of funk. Eventually the funk elements were diminished with mass acceptance on MTV and top 40 radio.
Like the opposite ends of a battery, funk in its distinctly mutated forms came from both sides of the Atlantic. The differences were often dramatic with European new wave bands practicing a kind of restraint that I found fascinating.
The Thompson Twins was one of those fascinations. During their creative peak, the time between 1982 and 1984, the Twins combined funk with new wave pop like no one else. Their best album Into the Gap was a hard act to follow as it manage to top the charts while maintaining the distinctive sound the band had nurtured since their club days.
I attribute much of that sound to Joe Leeway, the band’s bass player and secondary arranger. Although vocalist Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were often the face of The Thompson Twins, it was Leeway who gave them their distinctive electro funk sound.
The follow up to Into the Gap was suddenly decided to withdraw it after one of the band members got ill. The reprieve gave them time to rethink the release and eventually they re-worked it with the help of Nile Rodgers.
The renewed album gained that sudo rock edge thanks Rodgers guitar playing. It was part of a wave of rock guitar accents finding it’s way into pop and a lot of R&B during the mid-‘80s.
Here’s to Future Days featured a more mature ironed out sound with less (if any) of the perky rhythmic quirks that made songs from Side Kick or Into the Gap so catchy. Like a lot of formally edgy new wave bands from the early ‘80s, the Thompson Twins evolved into the new pop for better or worse. In the process they lost much that made them special, even with talented big name producers like Nile Rodgers at the helm (freshly popular again after working with David Bowie).
For what it was worth the album did mesh up Rodger’s knack for rhythm and traditional Black American styles with a new wave pop. “Lay Your Hands on Me” may have been the albums best example of this fusion. After Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” a year prior, using black gospel choirs became something of an obsession in pop. The Thompson Twins rode that wave with “Lay Your Hands on Me” making their final stab at the top 10 in America.
Despite the ethereal aspirations that come with using a choir, Here’s to Future Days was very grounded in its tight production. Gone were the musical abstractions of the past and in its place songs that should have connected more with a pop audience. Ironically and not surprisingly the band moving further from its hard edge new wave past to a more pop rock future. Joe Leeway might have seen what was coming and would leave the band.
When they were closer to their roots, they were sounding like Howard Jones on “King for a Day” and a handful of other tracks. Guitar bits seemed thrown in as was the trend by 1985, but there were still small moments that reminded me of the old Thompson Twins. Throwbacks like “Roll Over” featured the wonderful bass style that once drove the funk sound of past Twins albums.
The mixed musical metaphors were met with mixed reaction on the charts. While “Lay Your Hands on Me” was a solid hit in the US and in the UK, Here’s to Future Days was not nearly the monster hit that Into the Gap was. It was already clear that the Thompson Twins were over, at least the sound that got me through high-school.
The Thompson Twins continued on with three more albums after Here’s to Future Days. By then they had become a duo with only Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie remaining.