It’s been nearly five years since the release of The Virgins' self-titled debut, during which time all the original members of the group have left except lead singer and chief songwriter Donald Cumming. In addition, the group was released from their major recording contract. All this would point towards a band in freefall and my expectations for this record were pretty low.
I was pleasantly surprised by their first single 'Flashbacks, Memories And Dreams', a sleazy slice of funk-punk pop which had all the elements that made me a fan of the band in the first place. However, it becomes quickly apparent that this track is a bit of a curveball, with the influence of one band in particular which has none of these features being very prominent – Dire Straits.
I remember watching Dire Straits’ videos as a teenager and just thinking how naff they looked and more importantly sounded. They became synonymous in my head with middle-age so I was repulsed by the very idea of enjoying their music, thinking it would be a sign of the end of my youth. As a result, the Dire Straits records I acquired languished in my CD collection, unloved and gathering dust.
Nevertheless, despite its influence, I found myself rather enjoying 'Strike Gently'. The songwriting is assured with the lyrics unsurprisingly being far more introspective given what Cumming has been through. Opener 'Prima Materia' shows the band still know their way around a chorus, while 'Figure On The Ice' finds Cumming romantically crooning about the subject of his affection.
The first four tracks are the strongest on the record, which means when the quality of the songs dips, the album badly drifts, especially given its laid-back feel. Happily, the heavier 'Travel Express', featuring an enjoyable guitar solo regains the early impetus of the album. This continues through to 'The Beggar', a jaded country-tinged effort which has a Crosby, Stills And Nash vibe.
The Virgins aren’t any more the hyperactive kids at the party begging for attention but a maturer outfit at ease with themselves. Such mindsets can well lead to complacency but Strike Gently is in the main a success. If Dire Straits are the 'Sultans Of Swing', then The Virgins are the 'Sultans Of Sleaze', fruitfully adding New York cool to the former’s classical rock sound. Now where is that copy of 'Brothers In Arms'?
'Strike Gently' is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk. Find more info at returnfromthevoid.com.