Review Summary: is your finger aching?
Pointed, biting and sharp without collapsing into either heavy-handed sloganeering or vitriolic gnashing; the sexual and gender disparity and displeasure that form the back-bone of Playing with a Different Sex
’ intention are as dexterous as they are striking. Faced with both a lack of recognition during their tenure, and the fact that these lyrics are as depressively on-topic today as they were in 1981, the LP becomes a sort of self-enclosed watershed, an intimate catharsis for a woman made as infuriated, discouraged and tired as a being can get. Most every erotic and political aspect that plagues modern co-existence gets a nod here - open relationships forged under false pretenses, erotic sojourners posing as prime fetishists, domestic abuse, emotional manipulation, the cult of dieting, sex turned into little more than another suburban chore and on and on, all of which reaches a boiling point on the unflinching and jagged “Armagh,” with the lead singer Lesley Woods chanting “We don’t torture!” as she dives headlong into the rumours of rape and debasement that swirled around Northern Irish political women’s prisons, an issue raised and re-raised that ultimately gained no worldwide exposure. The track, made insidiously catchy by an elastic bass-line that flings itself around searing guitar salvos is a shuddering marvel, earworm writing and grimly meaningful subject matter pulsing away in obscene apposition.
That juxtaposition marks the length of Playing with a Different Sex
, involved topics subversively tackled, all bolstered by infectiously deft songwriting. There isn’t a single moment on the Au Pairs’ debut that it isn’t a head-nodding, feet-swaying, dance-your-ass-off good time from a musical standpoint. And in through every crack left open between sax freak-outs, guitar shredding, and Jane Munro’s supremely agile bass-work, Woods and co. snuck in social consciousness by the song-load. Once funk-tinged closer “It’s Obvious” charted in Britain, all that insurrection left the band exposed to middle-class scrutiny, but it’s glumly telling of just how deeply base puritanism runs through civilized society that for all of “Armagh”’s fierily controversial war-calls, it was “Come Again,” a song that talked openly about women coming (and not) that got them banned from the BBC. Though the Au Pairs disbanded soon after the release of their sophomore LP, here’s humble hope that the far-seeing, unabashedly honest and lastingly classic Playing with a Different Sex
finds a new generation of listeners as we crest the umpteenth rung of gender strife.