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Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Hard On

Album Notes

Although the entire Frankie Goes to Hollywood oeuvre stretches to just two albums, seven singles, and a bunch of catchy T-shirts, no such economy guides their legacy. Each of those singles was released (and re-released) in a mind-boggling array of mixes and permutations, while their videos, too, were to be cut and recut according to times and timing. Hard On is subtitled "the complete ZTT Frankie Goes to Hollywood videos" and one sincerely hopes it is. 14 tracks are indeed split across just seven individual songs, but with the trend-setting triumvirate of "Relax," "Two Tribes," and "The Power of Love" each appearing three times, and the epic "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" making it on twice, clearly Frankie had no qualms about being seen in the same outfit two nights in a row. Of the 14, the most attention is certainly directed towards the opening vision of "Relax," a feast of homo-eroticism that was, upon release in 1983, decreed a little too provocative for regular television broadcast. Even before the accompanying single was banned from radio broadcast (the word "come" was considered too suggestive), the Bacchanalian revelry that underpins the video's nightclub setting was raising eyebrows. Once Frankie's "true" intentions had been revealed, there was no way the video would ever be seen again -- at least until attitudes loosened up a little more. Two fresh videos were promptly produced to fill the void, a straightforward live performance shoot and an artier "laser" version. Both, of course, are included here. Controversies continued to follow the group, although not to the detriment of their marketability, and with no lasting value either. "Two Tribes," in which Soviet and American presidential lookalikes duke it out in a wrestling ring, now seems more quaint than querulous, while the eight-minute "Welcome to the Pleasuredome," though touching on many of the same sexual themes as the ill-fated "Relax," was certainly a distinctly diluted version of the vision. Both remain exquisitely entertaining, however, and remakes dating from 1993 and 2000 hold none of the trenchant allure of their predecessors. "The Power of Love," a rather lovely retelling of the Christmas nativity story, is also present in two "original" versions, plus a somewhat pointless "2K" version, but the videos for 1986's "Rage Hard," "Warriors of the Wasteland," and "Watching the Wildlife," while eminently enjoyable in their own right, clearly cannot hold a candle to the incandescence of the group's early work -- one reason, of course, for Frankie's disbandment, shortly after their sophomore LP was released. Of course, entire generations have now grown up to whom Frankie is simply a name on MTV; where the DVD really comes into its own, then, is with a wealth of bonus material that includes entertaining interviews with past band members and associates Paul Rutherford, Paul Morley, Trevor Horn, Paul Lester, and Gary Farrow, an entertaining Morley-penned band history, and a photo gallery of magazine covers and memorabilia that reminds older fans just how pernicious Frankie's influence was on the mid-'80s. All told, the extras more than double the actual videos' hour-long running time, establishing Hard On as, perhaps, the last word on the entire Frankie story. Perhaps. But you wouldn't want to bet your T-shirt on that. ~ Dave Thompson



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