Alien Shores is one of the bestselling Canadian new wave albums of the 80s. Why it never became a hit across the border remains a mystery to this day.
Platinum Blonde was among the first wave of homegrown talent to dominate the MuchMusic airwaves. If you attended high school in Canada from 1982 to 1984, they likely played a concert in your gymnasium. Their debut full-length, Standing In The Dark, and savvy foray into the music video medium rocketed the trio to national recognition. With their big hair and equally big, shoulder-padded, shiny outfits, Platinum Blonde was the epitome of the Canadian music scene big-time, building their audience the old-fashioned way: one gig and one can of hairspray at a time.
All *ahem* teasing aside, Platinum Blonde’s second full-length, 1985’s Alien Shores, is both indicative of popular music in the mid-80s and something of an anomaly. As its AllMusic profile suggests, Alien Shores is one of the bestselling and most successful Canadian new wave albums of the 80s. Building upon their debut’s formula for success — infectious pop hooks slicked up with new wave synths and sturdy drum machine beats — Alien Shores upped the ante by adding a permanent bassist and recruiting Canadian rock royalty to add rock ballast to the mix. It was as clear then as it is now that Platinum Blonde was making a play for America. Why the album never became a hit across the border remains a mystery to this day.
The band certainly had the looks for success in the curled lip allure of Mansfield, England-born lead vocalist Mark Holmes and teen fan mag favourites guitarist Sergio Galli and drummer Chris Steffler. Alongside newly recruited Scottish bassist Kenny McLean, Platinum Blonde was ready to stage its own American invasion. At a time when style more often outweighed substance in popular music, Platinum Blonde had the musical licks to match their superstar looks. If the geeks in 1985’s Weird Science had programmed their computer to spit out the perfect pop song instead of an objectified woman, it wouldn’t have topped the supremely satisfying “Crying Over You”. Alien Shores’s lead single blends new romantic swagger with blister-inducing guitar (courtesy of Rush’s Alex Lifeson) in a way that few of their contemporaries were able to pull off. Like Eddie Van Halen’s contribution to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, Lifeson’s guitar shredding provides the perfect counterpoint to “Crying Over You”’s overt pop stylings. The song’s success overshot the band’s previous hit singles by lightyears and rocketed the quartet to cross-country stardom.
As much as twelve-year-old-me loved repeatedly listening to the album on my Sony Mega Bass Walkman that played both sides of a cassette without having to stop and flip it over, thirty four years later, Mid-Life-Crisis-me has to concede that much of Alien Shores lacks the staying power of “Crying Over You”. Above-average album opener “Situation Critical” and sentimental ballad “Somebody, Somewhere” (the only single to make headway into the U.S. charts) both stand on their own as singles, as does the melodically superior album closer “Hungry Eyes”. Still, four out of ten songs isn’t enough to tip Alien Shores into classic album status. As strong as its A-side is, it’s not enough to carry the weaker B-side, a loose collection of songs built around a science-fiction narrative that never takes hold. It also doesn’t help that “Lost In Space”, “Temple of the New Born”, and “Animal” feel blatantly derivative of more successful new wave acts of the era.
All that said, there’s no denying that in 1985, Platinum Blonde most certainly caught the crest of new wave’s slick, synth-up sound and rode it for all its worth. Alien Shores has all the hallmarks of the Hot 100; any of its singles could easily have taken a-ha on for the #1 spot, left Tears For Fears sobbing at #2, and bodied-slammed Wham! right out of the Top 10. Sure it has its faults, but when I see lesser, stranger works by their contemporaries inexplicably getting retrospective recognition, I feel it’s high time Alien Shores and Platinum Blonde finally gets their due.