From the opening crickets that haunt “The Monochrome Set (I Presume),” I was very glad Ron “The God” Kane had talked me into spending the paltry $8.50 on this, sparking a re-acquaintance with one of those bands that just didn’t stand out enough back in the flood of great music exploding out of the late 70s/early 80s “New Wave” scene.
I’m normally wary of compilations of individual bands, but Ron’s sage guidance assured me that this one (which I later found out was a repackaging/retitling of an earlier version called Colour Transmission) was simply the entirety of the first two TMS albums (Strange Boutique and Love Zombies, respectively) with no cuts or abridgements, so I went for it.
Apart from a random hearing here or there, I think my first real exposure to the band’s music was on my beloved Indie Scene 79 and Indie Scene 83 CDs. Again, mixed in with the outstanding stuff on those samplers, somehow TMS just didn’t seem brilliant enough to warrant further searching. All I can say in retrospect is to quote the great sage, Homer Simpson: “DOH!”
TMS might slot somewhere between The Yachts and early XTC in their style, which features very retro guitar stylings (even for the time) and the classic “detached” vocals so popular in French, Italian and (later) arty-er New Wave pop records. This gives TMS a bit more of a “continental” feel, something you might hear wafting from a radio on the beach in Marseilles. I might almost say “imagine the Stranglers merging with Weekend,” at least for these early efforts. Heather says the selected “example” song (see below) reminds her of Cicada Sings only with a male singer and by gum, I think the girl’s got it!“B-I-D Spells Bid” from Love Zombies
In some bands, one personality (often the lead singer) dominates, but that is definitely not the case with TMS. Lead singer Bid’s cool vocal style allows the other instruments to be studied without distraction; thus one can much appreciate the drumming (J.D. Haney), the distinctive guitar work of Lester Square (great name!), and the sterling bass work of Andy Warren. Additional praise must be heaped upon keyboardists Bob Sargeant (Strange Boutique) and Alvin Clark (Love Zombies).
What probably turned me off collecting them back in the day is precisely what I love about them now; every song skids off in unexpected directions, never daring to stay the same from opening bar to closing chord. The jarring use of farisa and "squealing-helium-balloon" theramin on the first album in particular allows TMS to rise above mere “pop band” into something more artful, aided in no small part by the clever and often very funny lyrics.
Overall, this disc (or one of the other variants on this exact same material) makes for an excellent introduction (or re-introduction) to a band that, without careful listening, might be mistaken for ordinary or casual euro-swing, but like an oyster, reveal its pearl only upon close examination.