Even among the varied and interesting discography of esteemed punk label Stiff Records, Passion Puppets is an anomaly. This London quintet had a decidedly pop edge, and their sole album, Beyond the Pale, was more contemporaneous with the New Romantic scene than with the punk and New Wave styles it was known for. Comparisons to Duran Duran might not have been exactly what the band wanted to hear; the liner notes illustrate a band whose post-punk self-image was somewhat in conflict to Stiff’s notions of them as a pop band.
Those comparisons are not without a level of merit, of course; “Beyond The Pale,” “Like Dust,” and “Overland” do have arrangements that wouldn’t be out of place on Notorious or Rio, and it doesn’t help that Ray Burmiston sounds a bit like Simon LeBon, or that Passion Puppets often used four-part harmonies. It’s easy to understand why Stiff tried to push them into that category. It also didn’t help that management changes meant that the executives that supported and signed the band were no longer employed there, leading to an indifference that lead to a conflict of creative vision.
Scratch the surface of Beyond The Pale, though, and one can see the glimmers of the post-punk band that once was. “Voices” starts off with a melody that is reminiscent of The Cure or Factory Records; “Terminal Culture” is a gentle pop number that would have, could have established the band as a peer of The Smiths or Aztec Camera, and the jangle of “In Your Eyes” is not to be missed. Single “Like Dust” might not have staved off those inevitable comparisons, but it was, bizarrely, a hit in Canada–though according to the band, they weren’t aware of this development!
Beyond The Pale feels like a missed opportunity; label indifference and ineptitude fueled internal squabbles, which unsurprisingly led the band to split shortly after its release. Its fate aside, this collection shows that Passion Puppets were a pop band that should have and probably could have done great things.