Dick’s Picks: The under-appreciated debut album from Strawberry Switchblade

Yes, their biggest single might have been Since Yesterday, which was released in 1984, but it really doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how great their songs were. The earliest incarnation of the band, a four piece, had more of folk element to their sound after coming out of the bohemian scene of the early ‘80s. This was showcased on their debut single, Trees and Flowers, where the band became the duo of Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall that they be more commonly known as.

Like many bands of the day, it was John Peel who gave Strawberry Switchblade their initial push on his radio show, leading them to sign to respected independent label, Korova. After impressive numbers on their debut single, and rubbing shoulders with post-punk royalty Echo and The Bunnymen and The Sound, there were high expectations for their album.

With Since Yesterday reaching the top five in the UK singles chart, their self-titled album was expected to do considerably well. Sadly, it failed to scrape the top 20, and has been deemed somewhat of a commercial failure. Another two singles were released, Let Her Go and Who Knows What Love Is, but sales didn’t improve.

The album never got the attention that it deserves, despite gaining a cult following in certain circles and a core fan base in Japan.  Being released in the same year as such critically acclaimed British albums by The Smiths, Killing Joke, and The Sisters of Mercy probably didn’t help Strawberry Switchblade’s cause. Yet if you look closer at their debut album even now, it is one of the most perfect pop albums of ‘80s.

It’s a simple formula of digital instruments, synths, and minimal guitars, providing a canvas for McDowall and Bryson’s honest, coming of age lyrics. There’s as much bitterness and heartbreak as there is tenderness and love. Yes, their look may be a little over the top, but no one can deny that this is a world away from some of the other albums that made 1985 a great year for music.

Several non-album singles were released before they split in 1986, including a cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, but animosity and tension between McDowall and Bryson would eventually cause them to go their separate ways. McDowall continued to make music and would collaborate with a number of neofolk and avant-garde bands such as Death In June, Current 93, Coil, Nurse with Wound and more. She also formed the band Sorrow in the ‘90s, as well as release an album of dark interpretations of ‘60s pop songs with controversial noisemaker, Boyd Rice, under the name Spell. Bryson retired from music for nearly 30 years, recently returning as a member of The Shapists alongside her daughter.

Strawberry Switchblade has never been reissued on vinyl, but it is well worth tracking down. Limited issues also contain a 7” of Trees and Flowers/Go Away which is a great little addition to an already perfect album.

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