For an album that typified early ‘80s electropop, The Age Of Consent has aged remarkably well. It helps that those ‘80s sounds are currently en vogue but, with the aid of the remaster, this record could conceivably pass as a new release. While the reputation of the band is built mostly on the hi-NRG singles, The Age Of Consent mostly consists of loungey, midtempo jazz. Although the base of the music is the electronic duo of Steve Bronski and the recently departed Larry Steinbachek, the music is dominated by brass and woodwind. The clarinet solo on their version of George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ is provided by future Communard and radio host, Richard Coles.
The Age Of Consent is a showcase for Jimmy Somerville’s incredible tremulous falsetto. Everything else is secondary to his enchanting performance. He could be singing the most inane lyrics imaginable and still sound incredible. The fact that he is providing snapshots of gay life in ‘80s Britain, and pushing for social and political change with these songs only makes it more awesome. Some people can really sing. Some can infuse songs with deep meaning. It’s a rare talent that can do both, and package it as pop music. Few singers can take on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and emerge with any credibility. Somerville duets with Marc Almond on a medley of Summer’s songs and John Leyton's ‘Johnny Remember Me’. Even with Almond at the peak of his powers, he is overshadowed by Somerville’s performance. You can see why he left the band shortly after this record.
The highlights of the second disc are the Kid Jensen radio sessions. The stripped back arrangements of ‘Why?’ and ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ distil Bronski Beat’s sophisticated pop into two minute smash-and-grabs. The minimalist ‘Memories’ and the wordless ‘Crazy Maraquitta’ illustrate the bands musical palette and willingness to experiment, even in front of a wide audience.
Some of the album tracks are immediately forgettable but with ‘I Feel Love/Johnny Remember Me’ and ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ sitting beside the likes of ‘Why?’ and ‘Smalltown Boy’, the overall quality is undeniable. The 12” mixes of those four tracks are the sparkling centrepiece of this two disc set. The second disc with the BBC radio sessions and assorted demos will be a treat for longtime fans, and offer value for money but it’s those 12”mixes and their shorter counterparts that make The Age Of Consent worthy of your time. These are essential tracks for any fan of popular music.