Perhaps one of the least-known bands of ‘80’s pop, the Lover Speaks came to wider public knowledge not during their days as a working, functional band, but years after their demise. Annie Lennox, who had turned a surprising about-face with her lusciously dramatic debut Diva, followed up with an album of covers which included the Lover Speaks’ minor 1986 hit, “No More I Love You’s”. Lennox’s cover climbed to the number two spot on the UK chart and earned her a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Pop Performance, finally granting the song the justice it was due. The original version is worlds away from Lennox’s cover, opting for a far more baroque and windswept drama of romance and pop — an apt description of exactly what the Lover Speaks was all about.
Their 1986 self-titled debut came and went, with nary a stir in MTV’s glistening pop-market of musical artifice. Perhaps audiences didn’t get the band; their gothic romantic-pop bled with Byronian drama, a flush of velveteen sentiments and rhapsodic arrangements which may have puzzled listeners used to the more standardized practices of pop music. It also didn’t help that the Lover Speaks achieved a sound that was at once British and American, deploying their danceable Californian pop with the grey and dour lines of British new wave guitars. It was the sound of early Talk Talk doing time on Venice Beach, an intriguing synthesis which may not have sat well with audiences at the time.
Full of bouncy, ebullient grooves and an atmosphere of high drama, the Lover Speaks’ lone album (reissued by Cherry Red Records) is, in fact, a solidly written and performed work which still maintains its charm nearly 30 years later. The album’s most passionate and regal piece is “No More I Love You’s”, an echoing blast of cinematic pop which feels like a Keats poem embodied in song. Other numbers, like “Every Lover’s Sign”, evince the sunny and clean jubilance of America’s West Coast beaches. Singer David Freeman has a powerfully commanding baritone which he accents with a slightly overwrought, Jacobean flourish, infusing these ringing pop tunes with a sense of Olympian grandeur. Offset by the strangely Beach Boys-esque background vocals (provided by a seemingly prepubescent girl choir) Freeman’s voice suggests an ironic and caustic humour, lending these numbers an air of eerie dissonance.
The more subdued ballads exude all the amatory splendours of new wave pop, slowing down the melodrama for the understatements of love. The band captures a sobering portrait of emotional longing on the sparkling gloom of “Absent One”. The slow-rising urgency of “Love is: ‘I Gave You Everything’” cascades with the liquid grace of running water, offering Freeman’s beseeching voice a moment of soothing respite on the sombre verses.
For every high-strung, swirling moment of emotional disquiet, there is a tempered restraint in the band’s playing which anchors the listener to the melodious structures of these tunes; the atmosphere may be thick with the woes of broken hearts and unrequited love, but there is the always the device of a reliable pop hook to keep the music grounded. If Freeman’s heaven-bound vocals provide just a tad too much distance from what the rest of the band is doing in the more earthly spheres of sound, his histrionics must be forgiven, for that is what drama is all about.