Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 review

26 09 2022

Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 is a 3CD Box Set containing the albums Immunity (1981), Waving Not Drowning (1982) and The Wildest Wish To Fly (1983). The three early 80s albums have been newly remastered by original engineer / co-producer Stephen W Tayler. The boxset also includes an illustrated booklet featuring an essay and interviews.

Rupert Hine - Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 cover

The three albums were a partnership – with music written by Rupert Hine and lyrics written by Jeannette Obstoj. Hine had success as a member of Quantum Jump and also had an amazing career as a songwriter and producer, going on to produce more than 160 albums, including collaborations with Tina Turner, The Fixx, Howard Jones, The Members, Chris de Burgh, Jona Lewie, Rush, Bob Geldof, Stevie Nicks, Thomson Twins, The Waterboys, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Underworld, Kevin Godley and Duncan Sheik.

Rupert Hine - Immunity cover

The first album in the collection is 1981’s Immunity. Guests on the album include an appearance by Marianne Faithfull on Misplaced Love, and Immunity includes performances from renowned guitarist Phil Palmer, drums and percussion from Trevor Morais, along with Phil Collins contributing percussion on two key tracks.

I Hang On to My Vertigo sets the scene for this trilogy. Immunity is driven by early 80s suspended piano and deep synths, expertly processed (I love the decay effects and the use of the Eventide harmoniser on the album) topped with a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion. The songs mostly have a sombre, dark feeling with a heavy reliance on mood and atmospherics, giving the albums a timeless feel.

Samsara is a haunting piece, with heavily processed synth percussion, and layered choral vocals from Hine. Hine is often rightly praised for his production work, but was not given enough credit for his solo recording career. He had a unique, instantly recognisable vocal style that perfectly suited the material he released in the 80s, and it is easy to see how these three albums influenced other musicians of the time.

Credit must also go to lyricist Jeannette Obstoj, whose often dystopian, and always interesting lyrics clearly fed and inspired Hine’s imagination.

The album reaches a peak of darkness with I Think A Man Will Hang Soon. An initially sparse arrangement, with sharp peaks and troughs, and the album’s first appearance of live percussion and heavy guitar, adding to the feeling of fearful apprehension.

“I think a man will hang soon
He’s hiding in a back room
His morals are confused now
Like walls they’re bound to crack soon”

The title track and Another Stranger feature Phil Collins on percussion. Marimbas pepper Immunity throughout the verses, for one of the lighter, more uplifting songs on the album. Another Stranger has a heady mix of electronic with acoustic instrumentation. Phil Palmer adds some delicious heavily chorused guitar, and Collins contributions are understated, serving the song well.

I always wondered if the “Boredom–boredom–boredom” from the chorus of Psycho Surrender was a lyrical nod to the Buzzcocks track from three years earlier? Psycho Surrender includes some of the techniques that came to the fore in electronic music a few years further down the line, when sampling technology arrived, although in this case, the “samples” are bottles being smashed and recorded in real time.

Make a Wish is once again driven by synth percussion and multi-tracked vocals, amongst the fractured mechanical arrangement, that has the feel of an old AM radio tuning in and out of the static. The moment the noise is tuned out and Hines vocals and synths cut through, offers up one of the most powerful moments on the album.

Immunity ends with two bonus tracks, the dark Scratching At Success and the brutal minimalism of Introduction To The Menace.

“He’s scratching at success
Like some poor dog locked in a room”

Waving Not Drowning from 1982 was my introduction to Rupert’s work, and remains one of my favourite albums from the early 80s. I first heard the album on one side of a cassette lent to my by a flat-mate, and along with the album on the other side of the tape (Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food from 1978), Waving Not Drowning was a constant companion for my Walkman accompanied early morning commutes to the NHS hospital where I worked at the time. I lost track of the album (when I eventually gave the tape back!) and did not hear it again until buying a CD reissue (from Voiceprint in 2001) and then tracking down an original vinyl copy from Discogs.

Rupert Hine - Waving Not Drowning cover

The Phil’s (Palmer and Collins) plus Trevor Morais are joined by Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) for Waving Not Drowning.

Waving Not Drowning is the album I am most familiar with from this collection, so to me the improvements from Stephen W Tayler’s remaster is at its most pronounced here. The songs on Waving Not Drowning are amongst Hine’s strongest, with a shift to more conventional arrangements whilst keeping most of the quirky, innovative production in place.

Eleven Faces sounds so powerful with this remaster, utilising a Hine signature – the vocal line closely following the keyboard melody.

“Do I remember how he held the woman down
His shadow made a pool so deep she had to drown”

It is also noticeable in this remaster how the volume increases slightly at key points in the arrangement of songs.

The Curious Kind has a wonderful, addictive chorus with background vocals from Christopher Thomson.

“The slow recurring point unwinds
We always were the curious kind”

The Set Up has one of those chorus’s that sticks like glue. The production is so clever on this track, a metronomic rhythm, with vocal and synths offering an unconventional bassline lurking behind an emotional synth backing.

Jeannette Obstoj provides Hine with wonderful lyrics about conformity and social shaping.

“They did it with kindness
They did it with a smile
They did it all, with a licence
They did it, according to the rules
They did it, with good advice
They did it, from inside
They did it, for some reason
They did it
Well they tried”

Dark Windows uses stormy weather as a backdrop to introduce the percussion, with swirling organs and drenched in reverb piano serving the perfect mood for the lyrics.

The Sniper details a list of ways in which one can get killed, and features stellar guitar work from Phil Palmer, alongside one of the albums most powerful percussive performances. The end section, with discordant guitars and saxophone from Ollie W. Tayler (aka Stephen W Tayler!), reminds me a little of Bill Nelson’s Red Noise.

“The sniper knows his time has come
and the life he takes means nothing more
than bullets to the gun”

Innocents in Paradise features Phil Collins on marimba, timbales and tom-toms. House Arrest was dedicated to Donald Woods, a South African anti-Apartheid activist and friend of Stephen Biko.

The Outsider is one of my favourites on the album. A mix of found sounds, utilising Synclavier and PPG Wave synths.

The pre-chorus of

“So to the spider the web is home
Now the fly lands
The fly must stay”

works so well as a pre-cursor to the bold, crashing section that comes next. The Outsider is very unsettling, and a must listen on headphones to fully appreciate the production touches.

The album proper ends with the mixture of synth-pop and cymbal heavy rock of One Man’s Poison, followed by ‘b’ side Kwok’s Quease, the only track that I always skip!

The Wildest Wish To Fly did not feature two Phil’s this time, but two Palmers. Joining Phil Palmer was Robert Palmer, who added vocals to several tracks. James West-Oram (The Fixx) also features on guitar.

Rupert Hine - The Wildest Wish To Fly cover

Rupert Hine was working with Robert Palmer around the time of The Wildest Wish To Fly, and the sounds and feel of Palmer’s wonderful Pride album seep through, along with a somewhat more conventional and less challenging set of songs, which is a shame after the landmark of the previous years Waving Not Drowning.

There is still plenty to enjoy though. Palmer guests on album opener Living in Sin, with its infectious chorus. No Yellow Heart retains some of the sonic charm of the previous albums, and the lyrics remain interesting throughout.

The simplicity of Firefly in the Night is a highlight of The Wildest Wish To Fly, reminding me of the use of acoustic instruments alongside electronics used to such great effect by Thomas Dolby and his The Flat Earth album that came out a year later.

“Then I thought I saw your face
But it was no more than a firefly in the night”

Picture Phone features another appearance from Robert Palmer, and remarkably predicts the rise of our reliance on smartphones and technology. The more commercial single mix appears towards the end of this CD. The Most Dangerous of Men feeds off the chant vocals also used on Palmer’s Pride to good effect. The organ and piano backing, allied with a steady beat, works so well.

The title track is just under a minute shorter than the original release, due to a plethora of remixed and re-edited releases in different territories. It is one of the more experimental pieces in terms of the arrangement, and features some plaintive chorused guitar from Phil Palmer and another vocal appearance from Robert Palmer. A slightly progressive feel seeps into the central section of the song, and it adds a welcome new flavour to the mix.

Four bonus tracks complete this version of the album, the highlight of which is the stripped back An Eagle’s Teaching, which offers some lovely bass work and subtle guitar lines.

The remastering by Stephen W Tayler adds so much to these versions of the classic Rupert Hine early eighties albums, that will appeal to fans of the original releases as well as anyone interested in early 80s synth based music. There is so much to enjoy in this new collection.

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Amazon

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Burning Shed

CD1
Immunity
I Hang On To My Vertigo
Misplaced Love
Samsara
Surface Tension
I Think A Man Will Hang Soon
Immunity
Another Stranger
Psycho Surrender
Make A Wish

Bonus tracks:
Scratching At Success
Introduction To The Menace

CD2
Waving Not Drowning
Eleven Faces
The Curious Kind
The Set Up
Dark Windows
The Sniper
Innocents In Paradise
House Arrest
The Outsider
One Man’s Poison

Bonus track:
Kwok’s Quease

CD3
The Wildest Wish To Fly
Living in Sin
No Yellow Heart
The Saturation of the Video Rat
Firefly in the Night
A Golden Age
Picture Phone
The Victim of Wanderlust
The Most Dangerous of Men
The Wildest Wish to Fly

Bonus tracks:
Blue Flame (Melt the Ice)
An Eagle’s Teaching
Picture Phone (remix)
No Yellow Heart (later version)

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Amazon

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Burning Shed








%d bloggers like this: