30 Years Ago: Wang Chung Embrace Commercial Sounds, Then Hit the Big Time With ‘Mosaic’
A number of avant garde bands edged toward the pop mainstream in the '80s, but perhaps none did so more savvily — or effectively, albeit briefly — than Wang Chung.
Starting the decade as the trio Huang Chung, the band released a little-heard LP through Arista before making their first move toward Top 40 success by inking a new deal with Geffen and overhauling their sound for their second release, 1984's Points on a Curve. A Top 40 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, Curve gave the rechristened Wang Chung their first big single with "Dance Hall Days," which earned heavy pop rotation in the U.S. as well as their native U.K. while topping the Billboard dance chart in the States.
With their first hit came pressure to deliver another, but to their credit, Wang Chung — now winnowed down to the duo of singer/guitarist Jack Hues and bassist Nick Feldman — made a decidedly less radio-friendly turn with their next project, the largely instrumental soundtrack for director William Friedkin's 1985 action thriller To Live and Die in L.A.. The band's new label, understandably, was somewhat less than enthused, and the project performed more or less to expectations, topping out at No. 85 in the States while presumably confounding more than a few Wang Chung fans who bought it hoping for something in the vein of Points on a Curve.
But with To Live and Die in L.A. out of their systems, Hues and Feldman were more than willing to bank back toward the pop center for their next effort. To that end, they enlisted producer Peter Wolf, who'd recently taken Starship to No. 1 with "We Built This City" by swaddling the band's sound in utterly up-to-the-minute instrumentation and arrangements.
"After Points on a Curve, I certainly had this sense of wanting to do something more arty again, and To Live and Die in L.A. was perfect for that. I remember at the time that Geffen were not super happy with us for doing it," Hues laughed years later. "So we hired Peter Wolf, who had produced 'We Built This City,' which was not one of my favorite records, but they all seemed to love it. I’m sounding like I’m distancing myself from it, and that’s not right. I was eager to take advantage of the situation that we were carving for ourselves. That was the way the horse was riding."
That collaboration bore fruit in the form of the fourth Wang Chung album, Mosaic. Released Oct. 14, 1986, the LP added an extra level of radio-friendly sheen to the duo's sound; although they didn't necessarily forsake any of the musical complexity they'd explored with previous efforts, Hues and Feldman — with Wolf's expert guidance — weren't shy about gussying up the chord changes with synth splashes and singalong choruses.
Watch Wang Chung Perform 'Let's Go'
Summing up the album's aesthetic was the opening track, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight," which started out as an ironic midtempo number before being reshaped by Wolf into a cheerfully absurd pop anthem.
The new sound paid huge dividends. "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" peaked at No. 2 in the States, followed by another Top 10 hit ("Let's Go") and a final Top 40 single ("Hypnotize Me"). Although Mosaic itself rose no higher than No. 41 in the U.S., it gave Wang Chung their first gold album, and seemed to point the way toward further success. Their name might have sounded like potentially vaguely offensive nonsense, but they clearly knew their way around a hook.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite turn out that way. After years of working together, Hues and Feldman started drifting apart toward the end of the '80s, and the disconnect in their partnership took the spark out during sessions for their next release, 1989's The Warmer Side of Cool — a reunion with Wolf that produced little more than the minor hit "Praying to a New God." By 1990, Wang Chung had split, with Feldman co-founding Promised Land with Culture Club vet Jon Moss and Hues moving on to a recording career that produced an unreleased solo LP and Strictly Inc, a short-lived joint venture with Tony Banks of Genesis.
Eventually, like so many of their peers, Hues and Feldman reformed after the grungy buzz-bin '90s gave way to '80s nostalgia in the new millennium, notably coming back together for a well-received performance of Nelly's "Hot in Herre" during the 2005 singing competition series Hit Me Baby One More Time. They released a "double EP," Abducted by the '80s, in 2010, and followed it up with a new full-length effort, Tazer Up!, in 2012. Neither reunion effort came anywhere near achieving the impact enjoyed by Mosaic — but that said as much about the project's initial goals as it did about the passage of time.
"We wanted to be more concise musically, to write music that was more to the point. We also really wanted people to know about us, to know Wang Chung music," Hues told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "We wanted to broaden the sound and get further away from that English-band sound. We have nothing against being commercial either. Mosiac is a very commercial album. We don't mind reaching as many people as possible."
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