“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” goes the platitude. A lot of entertainment-biz careers work the same way.
Allez Allez was a Belgian new-wave/dance collective that existed from 1981-85. Its architects were the songwriters Kristiaan Debusscher and Nicolas Fransolet. American singer Sarah Osbourne brought the biting attitude, the unpredictable personality… the razzle-dazzle, basically. The group had a couple of club hits, back when that was still kind of an underground thing: the eerie, slinky, dub-derived “African Queen” and the whooshing “She’s Stirring Up.” Those grabbed the attention of producer Martin Ware, of Heaven 17 eminence, who made all sorts of promises to Allez Allez: We’ll go for a slicker funk sound. We’ll get you your international breakthrough. He probably mentioned Talking Heads. Judging from the tracks assembled on Best Of, these were realistic hopes.
Of course, nothing materialized. Osbourne abruptly quit, pulling out the band’s lungs and ego, and was never effectively replaced. The next single stiffed, and Allez Allez faded into crate-digging oblivion. But while they were hustling for their break, they made some of the richest, strangest dance music of the era.
There’s so much going on here. It’s loud. It’s intense. It’s backed with dueling hooks, whiplash African rhythms and all sorts of dissonant intrusions (check the warped trumpet vamps that emerge from the mix as the tracks are steaming up). Its moods range from the double-speed proto-pop-rap of “She’s Stirring Up” (which is more “Rapture” than “The Message,” but which features, by virtue of its speed, a level of vocal immersion from Osbourne that Debbie Harry never would’ve attempted) to the syrupy darkness of “Valley of the Kings” (a cryptic lament punctuated with a barking chant) to “Wrap Your Legs (Around Your Head)” (which plays disco fairly straight until its cathartic breakdown). Most producers couldn’t keep this many balls in the air and keep the whole thing danceable. But this is loaded headphone-disco that still serves as dance music. It’s from the baroque end of the new-wave pool, but it’s a perfect balance of craft and creativity. Considering how much noise is going on here, nothing ever seems to lose the beat. The beat isn’t just god – the beat is gravity.
Allez Allez never got the mass audience they… “deserved” always sounds dumb here, so let’s go with “could have handled, easily.” But, in the process of failing, they created some of the boldest dance music of the epoch.