Loose Ends

Loose Ends cultivated an art in supreme sophistication with their groundbreaking experiments in British soul and R&B during the '80s. Decades later, their music remains as potent as it was when it first graced the airwaves and clubs of both the UK and US.

Once the band had been firmly established (with Nick Martinelli as producer), work was cut for their first set of material, which would become 1984’s A Little Spice, an album that not only bridged the gap between American and British pop influences, but also set the precedent for British contemporary R&B.

A Little Spice’s velvet-ensconced sophisti-pop is an entire world within the world of R&B, hovering just beneath the twilit atmospheres of smooth jazz. It retains a remarkable edge because it borrows just as heavily from funk and disco as it does hook-laden pop. It shouldn’t have budged from the quiet storm stations it was expected to be consigned to. But the album’s revisionist nature helped to ensure that it would find a niche in a market that had pegged new-wave as the hub of pop radio in the 1980’s. A sultry mix of champagne-pop, new-wave accents and the grooves of a richly delectable brand of R&B, A Little Spice captured listeners’ imaginations in a big way. Selling club-goers on dreams of penthouse decadence and refined living, Loose Ends’ debut signaled a new understanding and respect for British R&B that had not been previously established in such a manner by the band’s preceding contemporaries.

Released a year later in the US, A Little Spice’s American edition replaced a track originally available on the UK version with a number that would prove to be the band’s signature tune and biggest hit. Also made available on both the UK and US edition of Loose Ends’ sophomore release, So Where Are You?, the signature tune in question, “Hangin’ on a String (Contemplating)”, was one of the most definitive British R&B singles of the decade.

Crossing over into the US whilst doing massive damage on the charts in their homeland, the song achieved a poised and seamless balance of two respective musical cultures, straddling the line that lay between America’s street-smart urban funk born out of New York hip-hop and the smooth, refined gloss of British soul. Over a warm, glowing, synthetic bounce and slices of organ-grinding funk, the band members each lay down a vocal of impossible delectation, heralding a wave of British R&B talent that would soon flourish in the wake of the song.

A moment of sheer resplendence, “Hangin’ on a String” has been a go-to sample favorite of hip-hop artists everywhere 30 years on after its initial release; it’s a goldmine of sonic resources that is never exhausted. Furthermore, the song epitomizes supreme urbanity and demonstrates an interminable freshness so rarely achieved.

The hit single’s parent album featured a set of even groovier exploits, paring back much of the lush sonics of the debut for a stronger emphasis on dance club rhythms. In addition to their smash hit single, Loose Ends explore the darker neon hues of nightlife on 1985’s So Where Are You?, discovering a playful sense of mystery on colorfully textured numbers like “Magic Touch” and “New Horizon”. Aiming for a more nocturnal vibe of love and excitement on their sophomore effort, Loose Ends rev up the synthesizers, capitalizing on the ever-expanding technology of electronic dance music culture. If Kraftwerk humanized the synthesizer, then Loose Ends sensualised it, injecting blue-mood soul into their mechanized grooves.


Credit: Imran Khan  - Pop Matters