What do you do when you become an overnight, one-hit wonder with a bizarre song that is, allegedly, about masturbation? If you’re The Vapors, you go back into the studio and record a concept album about heartbreak, cult leaders, and the assassinations the Kennedys. The Vapors first album, New Clear Days was far from the upbeat, quirky pop that the big single would seem to suggest, but Magnets, their followup left behind almost any attempt at being misinterpreted as a silly pop band. Not surprisngly, it got lost. A shame, as it’s actually even better than New Clear Days highest points.
Beginning with “Jimmy Jones,” the first single, there’s a similar sound to their previous work, but the subject matter and lyrics can’t be dismissed as mere pop. It concerns itself with the Reverend Jim Jones, and the massacre at Jonestown, nothing so upbeat and quirky as “Turning Japanese,” eh? The music video featured the band performing on a stage of hay bales in front of a wall with the Ten Commandments painted on them probably didn’t help to get them up the charts, either. “Spiders” is the closest the album probably comes to pop—a crunchy synthesizer driven number that almost hides its sinister, paranoid lyrics. The first side’s other tracks keep the theme going: “Isolated Case” is a tale of betrayed friendship, while “Civic Hall” tells a story of police abuse. “Live at the Marquee” is a nihilistic ode to escapism through rock shows, and the first rock song (I think) to refer to the growing video game craze: “And they’re all playing Asteroids / There’s a score on screen / Not a soul in the world’s / gonna beat my one shot lead.” “Daylight Titans,” the album’s second single is less impressive, but still keeping up the dark, opressive themes.
There’s love songs on side 2, though nothing close to conventional. “Johnny’s In Love Again,” “Can’t Talk Anymore,” and “Lenina” both look at relationships with a dark, sarcastic overtone. The sci-fi overtones of “Lenina,” along with its title, also evoke Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s also probably the poppiest songs on the record. The next number, “Silver Machines,” however, is the album’s weakest track. Just sort of forgettable. “Magnets,” though, the title track, is where it all comes together. Its lyrics evoke the assassination of JFK and RFK, and the concept of fate. If anyone ever makes another film about a political assassination, they’d be wise to stick this in the soundtrack.
Sonically, the bass is turned up quite strong. Occasional synthesizer and production effects are used to great effect as well. The mix is dense, suffocating at times, adding to the sinister, dark feel of the record. David Fenton‘s voice is in solid form, nervous, angry, and occasionally plaintive. Thankfully, this one’s been put on CD, with three bonus tracks: the forgettable B-Side “Galleries for Guns,” a pro-gun control tune, and single versions of “Jimmy Jones”, and “Daylight Titans”. If all you, dear reader, know of The Vapors is their one big hit… that one about becoming a natively ethnic member of an Asian island nation… you know the one… you’d be well served to track this one down. If you can, get ahold of the LP. The album art: a crowd of people surrounding an assassination works best in large form.. When viewed from afar, it appears to be an eye. It was drawn by Martin Handford—best known for the “Where’s Waldo” books. Go figure.
(Next time: “What Else Do You Do?” A collection of quiet songs.)