In 1987 and 1988, I was a trainee working with a group of largely incompetent painters and decorators…. Papering walls, doing odd jobs, accidentally pulling down the odd ceiling, and once in a while being ordered to take a door off its hinges and burn it because the customer was so dissatisfied with the painting. Invariably, we’d have the radio on, and Voice of the Beehive tracks such as I Walk The Earth and Don’t Call Me Baby would keep us as enthusiastic as was feasible. When this Album – Let It Bee – was released in June ‘88, combining existing hits with new or lesser known songs, I bought it straight away.
The band was unusual, amalgamating an American front line / songwriting team with a British ‘supporting cast’, and treading a fine line between indie culture and mainstream pop. Despite the beehive connection, there was no real 1960s character to the sound. The approach was about as modern as you could get in the 1980s. Typical contemporary British-style overdriven guitars with lots of palm-damping for a typical post-punk rhythm sound. Bright, snappy production. Very ‘eighties. Notably, drummer Dan Woodgate had formerly risen to prominence with the highly successful ska/pop band Madness, who knew a thing or two about finding their way into the upper reaches of the pop charts, but had their roots in ‘alternative’, cult-derived culture rather than manufactured pop. Voice of the Beehive had a good lineup, and given their capabilities and understanding of the market, were pretty much guaranteed the success they achieved.
On this album, the lyrics are pretty gruelling, and at times a bit sort of “that rhymes, put it in”. After a few songs it’s like: yeah, we get the picture – you’ve had a relationship or two go down the toilet and your taste in men isn’t very good. No wonder the album’s called Let It Bee. In terms of the subject matter, you quickly end up wishing they would.
BUT, and it’s a massive but – the music is brilliant. Incredibly catchy songs, one after another, loads of vitality, and the Amercian accents of vocalists Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland definitely stand out against what’s otherwise a totally British-sounding backdrop. My favourite track is What You Have Is Enough. It’s got a punk / new wave feel – uptempo, and very impactive. Given that there are a number of major hits on the album, and they can still be bettered by one of the ‘fillers’ says a lot about the general quality of the song crafting and performance.
The cassette is standard fare for 1988. There’s no reference to that fact that it’s a chrome formulation, but I’m pretty convinced from the look, smell and sound of the tape that it is. One of those rare musical artefacts which sounded great the day you bought it, and still has the same level of appeal nearly a quarter of a century later. Lyrics / subject matter aside, it’s impossible to fault this expertly-worked piece of feelgood pop.