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Platinum Blonde: Standing in the Dark

April 4, 2011

Today’s roll: 3 – 2– 5
Result:
Standing In The Dark by Platinum
Blonde.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this album, which might make me the preeminent Standing in the Dark scholar working today. That’s probably a fairly accurate statement since image searching Platinum Blonde brings up fewer and fewer results for the band every year. Once the biggest Canadian pop-rock act working, the group is almost forgotten and, for the most part, rightfully so. Their 2nd and 3rd albums were exercises in rapidly diminishing returns, but for their debut album to be swept under the rug as well… well, that’s a crime against Canadian culture.

In the 80s a DJ on Vancouver’s top-40 hit machine LG73 said it best: “Wheee-hay! If you’ve seen their videos, you know these guys were born to be rock stars! Here’s Platinum Blonde on all-hit LG73!

I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist. And like all profound truisms, it stuck with me throughout my life and provided me guidance in dark times. Whenever I felt like I’d lost my way, all I needed to remember was Mark Holmes + Sergio Galli + Chris Steffler + Aquanet + tight red pants + dramatic lighting + blush and eyeshadow + a kick-ass power trio = Rock’n’Roll.

If all you know (or remember) of Platinum Blonde is material from their mega-hit sophomore release, Alien Shores, that statement could only seem, frankly, absurd. The hits from that album “Crying Over You” and “Somebody Somewhere” were the worst possible blend of top-40 pop and middle-of-the-road Canadian rock and were the antithesis of their debut.

Standing in the Dark is an entirely different animal. At its heart, it’s just a pop album. In fact it’s a top-40 pop album very much of its era (1983). But it’s also a thumping post-punk album. And a balls-out rock album. And, in spite of being somewhat of an amalgam of a handful of obvious contemporary influences (The Police, Billy Idol, Duran Duran), it’s somehow unique and original. There are plenty of new wave records from the early ’80s which sound like carbon copies of each other, but none of them sound exactly like Standing in the Dark.

This is due to (unlike with the overly produced and session-musician plagued follow-up) the fact that it’s the creation of tight, balanced power trio (guided by Split Enz producer, David Tickle). Like all great bands, Holmes, Galli and Steffler add up to a whole greater than their sum.

The rhythm section of Holmes (bass) and Steffler (drums) lock into punk/funk grooves that thump out of your sound system. New wave records have a tendency to dial back the attack, this one pushes it forward. Steffler had a knack for using electronic drums to their full advantage—playing to their strengths instead of using them as a cheap techno-gimmick. Holmes’ basslines are economical but solid as a freight-train with just the right blend of funk and rock.

Over top of this textbook-perfect rhythm base, is Galli’s criminally under-rated guitar work. One of the most unique guitarists ever produced by the great white north, he displays his signature arpeggiated style on Standing in the Dark which was later, bogglingly, completely abandoned by the band.

Though clearly influenced by the likes of Andy Summers, The Edge and Steve Stevens, what set his sound apart from his contemporaries was his ability to combine the delicate, counterpoint melodies of minimalist new wave and post-punk players with a straight-ahead rock crunch of an LA hair metal band. Not a balancing act easily accomplished, yet he did it while retaining the best parts of both schools and discarding the weaknesses. Though it’s easy to say “Yeah, that’s just typical ’80s guitar playing” when you hear it, it’s really something more. It’s perfectly quintessential 80s guitar playing with every note working in sync with his two band mates.

If nothing else, Standing in the Dark is a testament to a trio working in perfect synergy, appealing to pop and rock audiences simultaneously. This is really put into focus with the aforementioned sophomore release, Alien Shores. Instead of allowing the trio’s musical chemistry to evolve (the way U2’s or The Police’s did), they essentially broke up the band. Bassist Kenny McClean came on board seemingly so Holmes could prance around the stage more as a front-man. The adventurous, punky side of their sound was abandoned in favour of safe, calculated pop-rock and their musical personalities were all but erased.

I could wax poetic about the virtues of tracks like “Not In Love” and “Take It From Me” but all you really need to know about Platinum Blonde and Standing in the Dark is in this video for “It Doesn’t Really Matter“. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for fans of ’80s glam painted with the broadest of strokes, it doesn’t get any better than this. And, to some of us, it still really does matter.

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One comment

  1. the bass guitarist went on to become a hairdresser – i had my hair cut and streaked with copper highlights about 12 years ago. He did an ok job. I also saw them live back in 1985 in Trenton, Nova Scotia, population 10 and to their credit they announced that they would, “play all night despite the fucking rain.” Because that’s how rad they were.



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