[11 May 2003]
I may have been a mere babe in the woods at the time, but when I first heard “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, the first single from the album Mosaic, I knew that something was fishy in Wang Chung Land. Until then, the group had mastered a balancing act that kept it poised nicely between the worlds of mainstream pop success and arty new wave respectability. This balance was best exemplified by the single “Dance Hall Days”, taken from the band’s 1984 major-label debut, Points on a Curve. Unlike other contenders like the Kinks on “Come Dancing” or Paul McCartney with “Ballroom Dancing”, Wang Chung was able to write a song about the good old days that was modern enough to come off sounding cool instead of old-fashioned. Wang Chung’s cool factor only increased when it composed the soundtrack for To Live and Die in L.A., directed by William Friedkin of The French Connection and The Exorcist fame. Then came “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and the accompanying Mosaic album, and all artistic pretensions flew out the window. Wang Chung was a hit-making pop act, for better or worse.
“Dance Hall Days” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” are just two of a string of hits by the British duo of vocalist/guitarist Jack Hues and bassist Nick Feldman compiled on The Best of Wang Chung. Most of those hits were well deserved, and if Wang Chung sold out just a tad with “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, at least it can be said in the group’s defense that selling out was what the ‘80s were all about. Even if a few of its songs haven’t aged well (the overly synthesized “Hypnotize Me” from the movie Innerspace and the pseudo-funk “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good” leap to mind), it’s a shocker to hear how many good songs Wang Chung produced in its day. You’ll likely remember “Dance Hall Days”, one of the greatest singles of the ‘80s, but if you’ve forgotten the catchy choruses of songs like “Don’t Let Go” and “Let’s Go”, you’re going to find a treasure trove of lost ‘80s classics on The Best Of.
This is the second collection of Wang Chung’s hits (its predecessor was 1997’s Everybody Wang Chung Tonight: Wang Chung’s Greatest Hits) and seems to be the superior disc. All the hits from the first compilation are here, including the enjoyable trip-hop-tinged “Space Junk”, which was specially recorded for Everybody Wang Chung Tonight. The only difference between the two compilations is that the new disc omits the inessential “Big World” from the band’s final album, The Warmer Side of Cool, a demo version of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, and a remix of “Dance Hall Days”. As expected, everything has been through 24-bit remastering so The Best Of is not only more concise, but boasts superior sound.
If that’s not enough of a sell, though, let me state that The Best Of is almost worth the purchase price just for the three photos of the band’s pre-Mosaic lineup, including drummer Darren Costin. Costin’s hilarious flared-nostril sneer in two of the pictures is worth the retail price alone, but my personal favorite is the one in which Jack Hues tosses his impressive blond mane as Costin swoons and Nick Feldman stares blankly. Is this the unintentionally amusing result of an arty ‘80s photo shoot gone wrong or is it actually supposed to be a send-up of the photos on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk? I’m not sure, but it’s hilarious either way. The music, on the other hand, might make you giggle on occasion but will mostly bring a nostalgic smile to your face. While Universal’s Millennium Collection discs often fall short of the mark, this is one that delivers.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/wangchung-best/