Like all back catalogues worth their salt?or in the case of this great early-’80s Scottish pop group, sweeties?the three Altered Images albums together provide a narrative arc. Play the records back to back and you can hear a band emerge blinking from the post-punk darkness, embrace New Pop and become chart sensations, before splitting up at the peak of their powers because they wanted a happy ending.
Look at the producers of each record and you get the same story. For Happy Birthday, now with extras such as the brilliant kindergarten shadowplay of “Dead Pop Stars”, Steve Severin was brought in because the band idolised Siouxsie & The Banshees. That debut, released in September 1981, is mostly scratchy, angular Joy Division-influenced gloom-rock enlivened by the squeaky vocals and effervescent presence of Clare Grogan, a frontgirl unlike any other in the history of the form, all cute charisma and giggly hypertension.
Martin Rushent, who produced just the title track?and No 2 hit single?of the first LP, was drafted in for 1982’s follow-up, Pinky Blue. Rushent gave the second album the sort of electronic polish he brought to bear on The Human League’s Dare!, enabling the more-thana-little-strange Altered Images to become chart regulars?and a disconcerting, ubiquitous fixture on kids’TV?with “I Could Be Happy”, “See Those Eyes” and “Pinky Blue” itself.
And then, just as self-parody was about to set in with all those songs about bursting with fizzy sherbet fountainfalls of joy, they made 1983’s Bite with Mike Chapman (Blondie) and Tony Visconti (Bowie, Bolan). On the cover, Grogan had suddenly become Audrey Hepburn. The music is no less sophisticated avant-pop and post-disco with Chapman and Visconti adding a “Heart Of Glass” gloss to “Bring Me Closer” and “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”. On “Love To Stay” and “Stand So Quiet”, Clare doesn’t so much sing as exhale sugar hiccups. Best of all, the sublime “I Don’t Want To Know”, previously only available on the cassette version of the album, finally makes it to CD. Will we ever see their like again?