[Review] Sailor: Trouble (1976)

The band takes a tropical vacation (sort of) with nickelodeon in tow for their best album yet.

Kronomyth 2.0: Trouble in paradise.

For their second act, Sailor ditched the sailor suits and moved their narrative-driven songs partly into the tropics. The trouble with Trouble is that Georg Kajanus remains an idiosyncratic songwriter who, in his own words, is “an old-fashioned dreamer… out of date like the old-fashioned steamer.” There’s also plenty of good old-fashioned sexism at work in songs like Panama, Trouble in Hong Kong, Coconut and Girls, Girls, Girls that seemed out of place even in 1976. So, what you get for your Trouble is ten theatrical songs about women (mostly) from a chauvinist who fancies himself a romantic.

But that’s only one side of this album. The other, far more interesting side is the music itself. Where the nickelodeon served as a weighty novelty on Sailor, it’s much less of a liability here. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was some kind of synthesizer or electronic keyboard half the time. And then there are the rich vocal arrangements that appear on nearly every song. Suffice to say someone had been listening to Queen or Sparks or both in the interim between their first and second albums.

Initially, I compared this album to a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and Brian Wilson, which is misleading (though not nearly as misleading as Trouser Press’ assessment of this as “ersatz Roxy Music.”) Today, what comes to mind are acts like Sparks (again), John Cale (on the eerie love song, My Kind of Girl), Harry Nilsson (People in Love) and, presciently, XTC (on the terrific single, Glass of Champagne). I would even point to 10cc except that, like the Roxy Music comparison, that’ll just set you up for disappointment.

Although the album unravels beginning with the tale of “Panama,” the first seven songs stand as perhaps Sailor’s finest moments. The fact that “Glass of Champagne” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” both charted gave the band some much-needed exposure, albeit mostly in Europe. And the addition of Latin American instruments is admirably eclectic for a band that was already unconventional. If you’re planning to tie your fortunes to Sailor for forty minutes, Trouble is probably what you’re looking for.

Original elpee version

A1. Girls, Girls, Girls (3:02)
A2. Trouble in Hong Kong (3:07)
A3. People in Love (3:29)
A4. Coconut (2:24)
A5. Jacaranda (2:15)
B1. Glass of Champagne (2:41)
B2. My Kind of Girl (3:04)
B3. Panama (3:26)
B4. Stop That Man (3:07)
B5. The Old Nickelodeon Sound (2:58)

All words and music by Georg Kajanus.

The Players

Georg Kajanus (12-string guitars, charango, Veracruzana harp and lead vocals), Henry Marsh (nickelodeon, accordion, piano, marimbas and vocals), Phil Pickett (bass nickelodeon, guitarron, piano and vocals), Grant Serpell (drums, percussion and vocals). Produced, engineered and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser; associate producer: Rupert Holmes.

The Pictures

Design by Roslav Szaybo. Photography by Peter Lavery.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in January 1976* in the UK (Epic, S EPC 69192), the US (Epic, PE 34039), Australia and New Zealand (Epic, ELPS-3757), Canada (Epic, KE 34039), South Africa (Epic, KSF-7033) and Spain (Epic, EPC/40-81241) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #45 on the UK charts. (*First appeared on 1/17/76 issue of Billboard.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *