Malcolm McLaren and the Bootzilla Orchestra
36:36 min • Epic • July 13th, 1989
Criminally overlooked at the time, and long-since deleted on CD, this extraordinary album by oddball cultural maverick Malcolm McLaren just seems to grow in stature with the passing of time. It’s also changing hands at £25 minimum as I write but if you own a copy of this rare Fabergé egg of an album I’ll wager you wouldn’t ever part with it anyway. I would even stick my neck out so far as to say it deserves a place alongside Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, the Human League’s Dare! and The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead as one of the truly seminal albums by a British artist of the 1980s.
If you’ve never heard the record such a lofty claim will be difficult to justify because on paper Waltz Darling just doesn’t look like it could ever fly. Until my ears were unexpectedly arrested by the title track, playing over the speakers one day in Oxford Street’s Virgin Megastore, I thought so too. I’d read the reviews and they made it sound horrendous. A house music album by the awkward, slightly sinister bloke who used to manage the Sex Pistols? Sounds rubbish. Some old straight whitey paying tribute to New York’s gay, black and Hispanic voguing craze? Pish. A musical fusion of Strauss’s waltzes and Detroit techno involving Eurythmic Dave Stewart, hoary old blues-rocker Jeff Beck and out-there acid-fried funk god Bootsy Collins? Dog’s breakfast.
And yet Waltz Darling is as far from being a dog’s breakfast as Jeremy Clarkson is from being a sex symbol. Trust me, it’s just a gorgeous, melting experience from start to finish, like slipping off a velvet robe and immersing oneself in a lavender bubble bath with a bottle of chilled $750 Krug to the side. Somehow, all those crazy, disparate elements come together to create something unutterably beautiful; celestial, even. It’s witty, wise and street-smart, too. Take the second track (and flop single) ‘Something’s Jumpin’ In Your Shirt’ – over an infectious, jittery rhythm track punctured by these great orchestral stabs, future house diva Lisa Marie delivers a lyric that just nails all the confusing, tentative, contradictory feelings of first time love. Elsewhere you get the thoroughly stately title track, the out and out dancefloor monster ‘Deep In Vogue’ and the arch Noel Coward-esque ‘Algernon’s Awfully Good At Algebra’.
The reasons for Waltz Darling’s commercial failure – and why it’s a lost classic today – are manifold. For one, it is literally uncategorizable music, meaning it lost out on radio play at the time. As we know, radio programmers just love putting music into little boxes. When something doesn’t fit they immediately start malfunctioning like Stepford Wives until eventually their heads explode. For another, it was just too clever and way too ahead of its time. It took a girl from Detroit, Michigan, to come along a whole year afterwards, pick up McLaren’s voguing idea, strip it of its quirkiness and intelligence and represent it to the world in a more brutally literal way. And I think we all know who we’re talking about here, don’t we?