For those of you that have never heard, nor heard of Spray, 'Living in Neon - An Introduction to Spray, Vol. 1' will prove a godsend. As a remedial tutorial, Spray is a Brit synthpop band consisting of bro-sis duo Ricardo Autobahn (synths, programming, production) and Jenny McLaren (vocals), active since 2001. (Prior to that, Ricardo and Jenny were with the Cuban Boys...maybe you caught the Hamster Dance, aka "Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia" on YouTube ?) 'Living in Neon' was their 2002 debut album, and here it is in all its glory, and then some. Since the release of that, Spray has done two more albums (one of which I reviewed not too long ago) plus a bunch of singles and EPs. Now for you Spray fans, you may be saying, well, I already have 'Living in Neon', why should I buy it again? Well dude (and dudette), because there is an extra CD in this package containing remixes, and previously unreleased and non-album tracks, and most of these are pretty neat. This is coming from a reviewer who usually LOATHES remixes. So obviously, this review is going to be more about the 2nd CD than the main CD, which has probably already been reviewed to death elsewhere by people more glib, insightful and snarky than me. However, I DO have a few observations, as I haven't actually heard the whole album previously.
First, it's rare that a band has such stellar professional production on a debut album, and kudos to Spray for that. Even the non-A list tracks are given a big huge sound. The B-siders such as "I Kill With My Car" and "She's a Brainiac" are songs that other synthpoppers would be lucky to come close to. Spray's sound on 'Living in Neon' is uber-commercially viable, but unlike other guilty pleasure and slightly underground acts, you will find yourself rooting for their unbridled success. Everything on 'Living in Neon' is bright, happy and poppy, but there's a big tongue-in-cheek element here. It's sort of like crossing Julie Brown with Abba; you're not really sure... So yeah, 'Living in Neon' is a killer album, and this version dispenses with the bonus track remixes of "Child of the 80s," "I Am Gothic," and "Spaced," and adds "Whizz for Atoms," "The Story of My Life is an FX Showreel," "Don't You Know Who I Am?," "Don't Go" (cover of the Yaz song), ""Mean Green Mother from Outer Space," and "Living in Xenon". While a few of these songs have appeared before elsewhere, none of them surpass the best material on 'Living in Neon,' but they're good fun and quite enjoyable all the same. 19 tracks makes this one CD a very worthy item all by itself.
Now for CD 2. It opens with the Alternative Main Titles version of "Living in Neon". Reminds me a bit of The Birthday Massacre's "Happy Birthday" sans guitars and gone orchestral. Occupant's Occumix of "I Am Gothic" is a stripped down synth-forward version of the mega-hit. Vocals are a lot clearer in this version. Thumbs up! Alternate version of "I Keep Missing the Love Boat" is beat-heavy and clubby. "We Are the Martians" was a demo for the Smashed mashed potato martians (whatever that is), a fun, but not essential track in Spray's oeuvre. Raindancer's remix of "I Am Gothic" is typical of club remixes; put it in a new groove, extend it and leave just enough of the original to know what song it is. Strictly for club DJs. "The Debonaire Spy Theme' is a previously unreleased instrumental that's kind of nice. "We Read It On the Internet" (It Must Be True) is another previously unreleased track, rejected from the original 'Living in Neon' album. Manic and amusing, it will take a few listenings to absorb it all. "Singing for England" was previously released as a single and is bonafide hit material. "Theme from the Manchester 2001 Film Festival" is a cool, heavy instrumental, but a little filler-esque. The Synomatik mix of "I Am Gothic" is novelty nonsense with pitched-shifted vocals and other effluvia. "Playing with the Big Boys" is another previously unreleased 'Living in Neon' reject. Don't know why it was rejected as it's actually very good. "Steppin' Up (Steppin' In)" is just club fodder rubbish. "Child of the 80s 2008" was taken from the compilation album 'Macabre Park' and doesn't sound radically different from the original to me. The 12" version of the feminist anthem "Leave It to the Girls, Boys" extends the song by a few minutes and mixes in some chauvinistic dialogue to prove its point. The manically paced "Tim Eames (The DJ of Your Dreams)" is a bit of a Brit spoof on the BCB radio dj, but of course, I have no idea who he is, except maybe the wanker Spray make him out to be. "We Are Gothic" is yet another version of "I Am Gothic," anthemic in its plurality, I can visualize a big production dance number in a graveyard for the chorus; maybe film it at Whitby 2017. There's also an unlisted (hidden) track, a tougher, compact version of "I Keep Missing the Loveboat" that has a vocal that sounds a lot more like Alison Moyet than Jenny McClaren. Liked that one more than the original.
All in all, this is an incredible "bang for the buck" even if that buck is going to set you back 10GBP ($12.50 or so, U.S.) so I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. For some, this may be all the Spray you ever need, but for many, the expanded 'Living In Neon' will open the door to becoming a diehard Spray fan.