REVIEW: Nonnie and The Onnies – I’m in Love With A Rent Boy EP (1985)

Nonnie and The Onnies is far from a household name. The group’s singular 12″ release isn’t much more than a relic of an industry in an era, but perhaps we can find new respect for such an album.

I’m in Love With A Rent Boy‘s sound is what’s to be expected from an American pop group only 2 years after the release of Madonna’s self-titled debut, albeit lacking Madonna’s synthetic-disco sound for something straddling the Bangles.

The mix is delightfully punchy, the album’s cover art amusing, and its absurdity somewhat intriguing. Rent Boy may be brief, but that only makes it more consumable.

Titular a-side opening track Rent Boy comes with all the trappings of new wave overindulgence and electronic trend following, much to the anguish of any current listener. The absurdity of I’m in Love With A Rent Boy may be the only thing not somewhat forgettable about this track, unfortunately.

Under all of Rent Boy’s commercial cheese is an extravaganza of American generica. Flavorless, plugged in, and devoid of self-reflective or interpersonal emotion. An overproduced musical jingle reminiscent of over-the-top TV ads.

A swing and a miss perhaps, as following track My Hearts in Bondage (Dance Mix) is so satisfyingly engaging. Hearts inches towards EBM with pounding drum machine rhythms driving under dark synth pads. Choppy self-sampling punches up the song’s pop vocal delivery. Its lyrics may not be particularly inspired, but Nonnie’s performance sells me on the emotions at play.

A shame, really, that a track so good would be hidden behind a pop single so bad. Hearts in Bondage may have been overlooked by a loving audience due to the EP’s titular track, but perhaps our current state of retromania will help unearth previously overlooked gems.

Rent Boy‘s A-side closes out with the instrumental …And The Car Was Stolen. It explores a further industrial element over it’s 42 second runtime before disappearing into the void. Far from a substantial song, Car Was Stolen functions as the perfect cinematic mood-setter for a would-be album of Hearts in Bondage.

The album’s b-side should at least be mentioned as a formality; a radio edit of Hearts in Bondage with an instrumental remix of Rent Boy to close out the EP. Unforgivably 80s in an unlovable way.

There is good work to be found on Rent Boy, if only the right crowd were to find it.

L to R: Gary Pozner, Nonnie Thompson, Ariel Powers.

If you’re curious what Nonnie Thompson has been up to since, this article from 2006 will have to suffice. Ariel Powers wracked up some more credits to her name throughout the 90s, and is still playing to this day. Gary Pozner, last I heard, is playing music around the south-west US.

For fans of: Madonna, Bananarama, Ministry (With Sympathy-era)

Like Nonnie and The Onnies? Give these a listen: Nocera, Front 242, Glass Candy

REVIEW: Riki – Riki (2020)

Riki is an electro pop album just shy of Italo disco. Long moody vocals and synth layering may remind you of Hounds of Love era Kate Bush, while heavy use of counter point melodies make Riki’s opening tracks shine with emotion (even if bordering on busy at times).

Lead single Napoleon sounds straight out of Italo disco icons Glass Candy’s playbook. Swelling pads and blippy high melodies complement upbeat drums and driving bass synth. Nearly everyone has a playlist this is a must for. But we begin see more artistic risks being taken with Know, an ethereal psychedelic track full of reversed snares and notable panning. Slow throbbing momentum is built up slowly, leaving a trail of fading reverb in its path.

Unfortunately, the second half of Riki is very true to most 80s pop albums: forgettable.

Earth Song’s excessively processed (auto tune?) vocal layering not only feels out of place with the song’s production, but also with the album’s overarching pastiche. There is something about Earth Song that doesn’t feel as thought out as much as the other songs. Neither fun or well crafted, the listener is left unable to escape from Earth Song’s cheesy lackluster lyrics (okay, what’s more 80s than that?).

Second to closing track Come Inside redeems some interest in the album. Wobbling synth kicks things off before a steady disco beat comes driving in. Riki’s short Ladytron-esque vocals are a rewarding departure from previous tracks. In a way, Come Inside would make a better Gorillaz track than any of the songs on Gorillaz – Humanz (2017). What can be learned from this? I’m uncertain.

Even when rolling on the rear wheels, Closing track Monumental is able to get us across the finish line. An ethereal vocal intro brings us to one of the album’s greatest dance-floor potential tracks. A processed break beat fill and its choice of synths divert from the album’s rigid 80s retro A-side but, at this point, that was long abandoned.

B-side filler or a lack in care of crafting each song have stained the album’s high marks. A shame, as there is great work on this album. The craft behind songs Napoleon, Böse Lügen (Body Mix), and Come Inside just aren’t shown on most other tracks. Aside from its lead single hit potential, Riki is a lukewarm electro pop album unable to reap the seeds it has sown.

But “don’t panic” if you like Riki. We have some recommendations we really believe in.

For fans of: Kate Bush, Glass Candy, David Borden

Like Riki? Give these a listen: e•motion, Knitted Abyss, Peter Zimmermann

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