Released barely 18 months after their debut album, General Public’s sophomore effort found their sound packed up and sent to the future. For Hand To Mouth the band largely ditched the stale reggae and Brit-pop influences, and looked across the Atlantic for inspiration and came back with a shiny R&B sound. While Hand To Mouth doesn’t have the same proletarian rage of its predecessor, it sparkles in a different way, and still sounds fresh over 35 years later.
When Hand To Mouth hit the streets in 1986, General Public had a few minor shifts in personnel, but still revolved around the core of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger. While their musical palette had widened exponentially, they haven’t learned many lessons in the production department, and like much music from that era, Hand To Mouth sounds thin and reedy. Opening shot ‘Come Again!’ sparkles and fizzes, it’s the musical equivalent of a champagne flute filled with the finest vintage, yet the drums pad, whereas if they had more on the bottom end with each beat delivered like a punch,, the whole thing would be much more powerful. Yet, there’s no denying Dave Wakeling’s songcraft (he had a hand in writing 8 from 10 of these tracks) and ‘Come Again!’ is a delicious piece of fluorescent candyfloss that rocks along like Business As Usual-era Men At Work. However, even with a lithe production, General Public can still manage to sound big and bold, take the elasticated ‘In Conversation’ for example, which comes bursting from the speakers as if the band are hiding in the amplifier.
The first two tracks on Hand To Mouth might give the impression that General Public have torn up their past, yet any such fears will be allayed by ‘Forward As One’, a return to their reggae roots. Powered by a buoyant beat and some sublime skanking saxophone, it subliminally works its dark charms upon the listener to alter your very consciousness. Using the old trick of marrying serious lyricism with upbeat tempos, ‘Murder’ comes out swinging with bass bouncing and guitars scything. An old trick it might be, but it has never been done with the chutzpah that General Public display here. If there was one album you could pinpoint with historical accuracy, then it would surely be Hand To Mouth, and not only because of its production values. General Public were always bang up-to-date with their biting social commentary, yet the downside to such an approach is that it can age songs quite quickly, while many of the social ills explored here are still relevant, others are not. The words and music combine to perfectly replicate the aesthetic of 1986 and Hand To Mouth transports the listener right there.
Although they were largely ignored in their native UK, General Public were warmly embraced in the States, and just like its forbearer (‘84’s All The Rage) Hand To Mouth placed highly on the Billboard Charts. However, the songs on this record don’t have the same adhesive quality as those found on their debut, but it makes an intriguing branch on the musical timelines of all involved.
- Hand To Mouth is released via BMG Records on 4th August 2023.
- Come Again!
- Faults And All
- Forward As One
- Cheque In The Post
- Too Much Or Nothing
- Love Without The Fun
- In Conversation
- Never All There
- Cry On Your Own Shoulder