71. Mannequin Virtue – Vector
MANNEQUIN VIRTUE (1983)
Exit Records may not possess the largest number of releases on this countdown, but they may be responsible for more releases per capita than any other label. The 77’s, Robert Vaughan, Charlie Peacock, First Strike, Steve Scott and Vector all make the list. When considering the limited number of releases and artists the label possessed, that is pretty darn impressive.
Vector’s debut album was the third album released by the label and was one of the early hits. The album also introduced a young singer-songwriter, producer and performer named Charlie Peacock. Peacock would leave the band soon after the release of the album and only sang one song on its debut.
I was working at a Christian bookstore in Southern California and had just graduated from High School when this album hit. It became an instant hit in the area and even KYMS radio pushed the envelope to add a few songs because of the “cool factor.”
But Vector is so unique and incredibly different that a review is both enjoyable and utterly frustrating since comparisons do not do the band justice and superlative fall short of just how original and powerful the band was with this debut project.
The band may be the first truly progressive rock new wave band in music. You can hear the influences of progressive rock acts like Genesis and world music influences like that of the Police, but there is an energy, originality and offbeat center to the band that is completely Vector. The original line-up consisted of Steve Griffith on vocals and bass, Jimmy Abegg (Jimmy A.) on guitar, Charlie Peacock on keyboards and vocals and Aaron Smith on drums (Bruce Spencer would take over after the recording of the album and a short tour with Aaron before Smith joined the &&’s).
Can we just take a moment here and note what a freakin’ incredible line-up of talent this one band possessed? Seriously, it is like a supergroup before we knew who they were. And one last thing…Aaron Smith is a monster beast and no one comes close!
The album starts off with the title track, the most accessible and commercial song on the album. It is utterly unique for the time to have a “new wave” band with such an impressive rock drummer driving the song. This keyboard dominated tune has a great vibe and killer chorus. Griffith’s vocals soar Abegg’s unique and completely original guitar styling is demonstrated. Producer Steven Soles creates a wall of sound and pristine production seriously lacking in the genre at the time.
Raise you hand if you agree this song should have been a monster hit?
The funky and odd “substitute” begins to demonstrate the progressive and art rock tendencies of the band. Clearly MTV ready, the song’s “boingoish” rhythm is rife with danceable beats and intelligent lyrics. Again, Smith’s pounding is hypnotic and the drum bridge is head bobbing.
Peacock’s one lead vocal appearance is on “Running From the Light.” The wispy, high-pitched Peacock delivers with such a sensual groove that it was obvious that he was something special and would be doing his own music soon. The progressive jazz influence Peacock was noted for shows up here as well as the world music under current. The rhythm would be seen later in Peacock’s solo efforts, especially the debut. Griffith’s bass also takes center stage here.
The Bowie like musical offering of “Lost Without Love” is when I fell in love Griffith’s dramatic vocal style. His long and winding range is ever so evident here and carries an otherwise common melody to a totally different level.
“The Shore” slows things down, but by no means mellows things out. The Steve Scott like droning and building slowly pulls the listener into the song and surrounds you with a such a majestic melody.
Aaron Smith’s drum god prowess takes over on “The Hunger and the Thirst.” Though using common base themes in Christian music, the band lyrically takes them to a much deeper and more creative level. The give and take between Griffith and the backing vocals in the chorus is fantastic and it is all driven by Smith’s outrageous drumming.
A personal favorite is “Desperately,” with Abegg’s outrageous guitar rhythm juxtaposed against Peacock’s edgy and off-center keyboard work is impressive. Again, I find myself at a loss to adequately and fairly find the right words to help the reader get what is going on here musically. I continue to fall back on the progressive rock influence that shapes an utterly unique new wave/alternative vibe. The closing minute of guitar work by Abegg is worth the price of admission.
“All Around the World” is really a beautiful song. The Steven Soles influence can be felt here as well as even late 70’s and early 80’s bands like The Baby’s. Smart, well crafted pop with an ingenious melody and hypnotic rhythm.
The only song to match the title track in accessibility and radio friendliness is “Only to Fail Again.” The most pop driven and hook oriented song on the album, the chorus provides a great and memorable experience. The lyrics dealing with man’s constant failings is such a surprise couched in a fun and poppy new wave melody. Again, another hit that missed.
The album closes with the Police tinged “I Love Them All.” Released around the same time as “Synchronicity,” this song was right with the times and not a few years behind like much of the contemporaries. Beautiful and haunting, the song lingers with the listener long after it fades out. The beauty found in God’s unending love is the perfect close to t\an album filled with questions, doubts and glimmers of hope.
If ever a band’s name suited the music they create it is Vector. I can’t really explain why, but when I heard the name this is exactly what I expected, though significantly more impressive than I ever could have hoped for.