What happens when you lose your band shortly after releasing a promising and moderately successful debut album? In 1985, Matt Bianco frontman Mark Reilly faced such a dilemma when vocalist Basia and bassist Danny White decided to leave the group shortly after the ironically titled Whose Side Are You On?. The shocking decision to leave the band couldn’t have been more inconveniently timed, as the band’s debut single had charted in the top twenty, as had their debut album. Reilly made the decision to soldier on, and in 1986 the band released Matt Bianco, which has now been expanded and remastered.
Reilly’s new creative partner, Mark Fisher, was a superb choice, as was the addition of a new female vocalist, Jenni Evans, who didn’t possess the same potency of Basia but was a fine vocalist in her own right. Musically speaking, Matt Bianco doesn’t sound like the work of a new band; the transition from the first iteration was so seamless, had you not looked at the credits, it’s likely you wouldn’t have noticed that it was a new band, and it’s easy to understand why Reilly would want to carry on; he’d found a winning pop formula, and his instinct to follow his muse served him well.
Matt Bianco is an up-tempo delight; the album’s ten songs are enhanced by a groove that’s catchy and dancefloor-ready. Though the more overt jazz moments of the debut album are eschewed in favor of a contemporary pop sound—the instrumentals “Up Front” and “Smooth” being delightful exceptions—it’s hard to resist the charms of “Dancing In The Street” and “Yeh Yeh,” while the mellow “Fly By Night” is a superb example of the best parts of the “sophisti-pop” genre. “Undercover” is also a delight, and the bonus material offered here show just how the song served as a transition between the two iterations of Matt Bianco; originally recorded with Basia, the song was prepped for single release shortly before she left the band, but rerecorded with Evans. Two unreleased mixes feature Basia on vocals, and sounds quite like what she’d soon release on debut album Time & Tide. The bonus tracks featured here are primarily remixes, and are of varying quality; better are the four live tracks that highlight the potency of their 13-member touring ensemble, especially the take on their early hit “Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed.” Also included is “Love Situation,” a Mark Fisher solo single released around the time he joined the band, featuring Dotty Green on vocals, with accompanying remixes.
Matt Bianco would go on to release a steady stream of albums and singles of varying success, and over the years have been rejoined by Basia and Danny White, and are still going strong. Sadly, shortly after last year’s essential reissue of Whose Side Are You On? Mark Fisher died suddenly of a heart attack. Reilly vowed to continue the Matt Bianco legacy, and a few weeks ago released a new album, Gravity, featuring Fisher’s final work with the group. Matt Bianco is a pop delight from a band just beginning to hit its stride.
Matt Bianco is available now from Cherry Pop.
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