Sunday, February 5, 2023

Duff Review: The Selecter "Deepwater" (Single Version) from the 40th-Anniversary Deluxe CD Reissue of "Celebrate the Bullet" (Chrysalis Records)

The album cover features a TV displaying static and a gloved hand adjusting one of the dials.(Review by Steve Shafer)

I've written a fair amount about The Selecter's brilliant but unfairly maligned second record, Celebrate the Bullet (read my appreciation of the album and my interview about it with Selecter guitarist/songwriter Neol Davies first published in my book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone). So, I didn't expect to have too much more to add to the (late to the game) 40th-anniversary release of Celebrate the Bullet, which has been remastered and issued on heavyweight, clear vinyl and as an expanded triple-CD deluxe version (which contains a 20-page booklet with new liner notes from the band; the unreleased "Deepwater" single and its version; the Celebrate the Bullet BBC sessions from 1980; and an unreleased live concert recorded at Birmingham's NEC in 1980).

Both editions sound fantastic and are worth picking up--particularly if your old LP or cassette copy of Celebrate the Bullet has seen better days (or some misguided review put you off buying it in the first place). But the Rarities disk in the CD box set features a real gem--a previously unreleased take on Pauline Black's track "Deepwater" recorded with The Jam's producer Pete Wilson in April 1981. The intent was to issue it as the record's second single, but Radio 1's ludicrous ban on the "Celebrate the Bullet" single obliterated sales of the album, which quashed any thoughts of releasing a second single. ("Celebrate the Bullet" is an anti-gun/violence song, for Pete's sake--shouldn't Radio 1 have played that in the wake of John Lennon's murder and the shooting of President Reagan?)

As Neol Davies explains in the liner notes: "Even though disco had become unfashionable, I felt that dance music was about to re-emerge in a different form. We tried a new arrangement, keeping a mix of rapidly changing styles of pop music at the time in mind." And in 1981, that new style of pop music in the UK was driven by the New Romantics and synthpop. While it seems shocking to characterize it this way, the re-recorded take of "Deepwater" sounds like Selecter-meets-Duran Duran (whose sound at that time was deeply indebted to Japan and their Quiet Life album and associated single "Life in Tokyo," produced by Giorgio Moroder). But when you consider the timing of Duran Duran's debut single--"Planet Earth" was released on February 2, 1981, and skyrocketed to the #12 spot on the British charts by the end of that month--it all makes sense.

In an audacious move, the single version of "Deepwater" was refashioned with atmospheric synths, a disco bass line, Nile Rogers' Chic-era guitar work, and a Scary Monsters-influenced distorted/processed guitar solo (Davies was listening to Bowie's latest album at that time). As preposterous as this seems typed out on the screen, the results are super catchy and shimmeringly brilliant (and the altered chord progression and Black's vocal line during the "I never wanted to be in Deepwater again" lyric that leads into the chorus--is phenomenal!).

If you're listening Chrysalis Records, please consider releasing the single version of "Deepwater" and its instrumental remix on a vinyl 45 for an upcoming Record Store Day.

For a band attempting to figure out how to stay relevant in an ever-shifting pop landscape (and spark sales for a superb album that was tanking commercially), this radical departure might have worked had it been released--and permitted The Selecter to live on for a bit longer.  It would have been fascinating to see what they might have done next, had they survived. Many diehard 2 Tone fans surely would have cried "sell-outs," but consider the musical paths most of The Selecter's peers went down within a year or two. Later in '81, Fun Boy Three split from The Specials (right after the triumph of "Ghost Town"!) to make minimalist African rhythm-driven new wave pop. Madness were releasing increasingly pop-filled albums (with hit singles like "It Must Be Love" and "Our House"), and The Beat died so Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger could play Motown new wave pop.

In her notes for this song, Pauline Black explains her motivation for writing "Deepwater": "Once we had been the big fish in a small pond, now we were an international band with four hit singles. I felt as if we were drowning in the big pond of the music industry, unable to set a course and direction in the wake of an onboard mutiny [the departure of Desmond Brown and Charley Anderson just as the band was starting to record Celebrate the Bullet]." How ironic it would have been if the "Deepwater" single had been released back in 1981 and turned the commercial tides for the better for Celebrate the Bullet...

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