NFB Listens To Number Ones: “China In Your Hand” – T’Pau

It’s probably a sign of how little I know about T’Pau – and yes, that is a Star Trek reference – that I thought I hadn’t heard this song when the RNG popped up with it. But of course I had, or at least I remembered the chorus when it came up. That might be all that this song really is though, a memorable chorus surrounded by a lot of less thrilling stuff, with some lyrics that seem to actively want to get across the sense that they are imbued with copious amount of fridge logic: just what the hell does it mean when Carol Decker’s sing “Don’t push too far, your dreams are china in your hand”? Well, enough people in Ireland were intrigued to put this at number one for two weeks in 1987.

Of all things though, the song is actually about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, though you need to hear the longer album version for this to get across properly. Even with that it’s a bit of an obtuse inspiration, bordering on the immaterial. That sort of carries through with the title, that apparently refers to how you can, according to Decker anyway, see your hand through thin china if it is held up to light, something that would indicate to me more that you need to get some new teacups and not a somewhat tortured metaphor on transparency and shallowness in your dreams. Did Frankenstein’s monster ever hold a piece of china up to the light or something? It speaks to the awkward nature of the song, a power ballad, only it really isn’t.

Decker’s voice is fine, and let me follow up that faint praise with an insistence that, whatever Gary Barlow thought, she’s not off-key. I just don’t find her that great as a featured singer, with the feeling that she’s going for a power ballad not really matching up to the way she allows her voice to be subordinated too much to the music and the “far away” effects. The song is also not set-up in the very best way, by which I mean it seems to have reached a natural end point after the second chorus, there’s a pause and then suddenly it’s time for a saxophone solo, baby! After which we get the chorus repeated a few more times, then it’s over. The jarring sax, and the reality that T’Pau didn’t know when to leave well enough alone, marks this one down a fair bit. The music video, which looks like it was shot in an afternoon, regrettably doesn’t feature electrodes or bolts sticking out of heads, instead just a mopey Decker arguing with her boyfriend in a small apartment. The video, and the song, thinks that it’s more impactful than it really is, both imbued with what I can only call a faux-cleverness. The chorus is good for a sing-along, especially of the “end-of-the-night” variety, but that’s all that’s really here.

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