“Women Around The World at Work” b/w “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati”
DinDisc Records DIN 34 (UK)
Released on August 28, 1981
Produced by Martha and the Muffins and Daniel Lanois

In 1981, Martha and the Muffins were back in Canada for good; they wouldn’t have known it at this time, but they would never perform before a concert audience across the Atlantic again. Two members of the classic six-piece lineup, Martha Ladly and (at the end of 1980) bassist Carl Finkle, were out. New bassist Jocelyne Lanois was in, and then came brothers Daniel and Bob Lanois, who ran a studio on Grant Avenue in Hamilton that recorded a strictly Canadian clientele. (That said, Daniel had just begun recording with a new collaborator, Brian Eno, about whom the Lanoises knew surprising little.) The London record people were rather annoyed by these changes and reduced the budget for Martha and the Muffins’ third album. Saxophone player Andy Haas recalled for the alternative weekly NOW Toronto, “I received $1,000 for making This Is The Ice Age, a two-month project, and though we were supposed to receive an additional $1,000 afterwards, we did not due to overshooting our budget.”

(DinDisc’s austerity also means there were no alternate versions for any 7″ a-sides from This is the Ice Age, and this would remain the case for all future albums by Martha and the Muffins and their later incarnation M+M, even when they could look to more generous budgets. From here on out, every remix and edit is hatched behind a recording desk without a full band.)

Despite DinDisc Records’ bad faith, This Is The Ice Age represented Martha and the Muffins’ creative breakthrough — a startlingly inventive album that left their old new wave sound behind for the transatlantic frontier of postpunk. Crucially, its first single, “Women Around The World at Work,” erased any one-hit-wonder tags they might have had, at least in their home country where it made the top ten. With its plain-spoken politics, it became a feminist anthem of sorts for Canadian new wavers coming of age. Yet the song was written by guitarist Mark Gane, who once again mined a previous job — in this case, as a shipper’s assistant in a Toronto wire-winding factory — for inspiration.

I kept a whole diary while I was working there. I had never really been immersed in a working-class environment, because here I was, this white, at that point high school educated, about to go into college. And all of these people, 90 percent of the workforce were women; I think they were all Portuguese; and some of them had been working there for decades without any kind of raise, and no health benefits. There were girls maybe who quit school at 17, a whole wide range in there. And then there was the shipper, and me, and maybe the office people were male. But it was owned by this guy who was a total stereotype: balding, huge, bad-fitting gray suit, and smoked cigars. He’d go down, and all these women were winding bobbins for electronic parts, so all this copper wire would be wired and made into components. And he’d go cruising down the aisles looking like Daddy Warbucks or something.

The “Women Around The World at Work” a-side is the same version heard on This Is The Ice Age, where it’s the most accessible track by a long stretch. In the place of a complex riff of the kind he created for “Echo Beach,” Mark starts this song with a modest strumming of two chords. Brother Tim Gane responds with a drum fill of counter-rhythmic triplets, introducing an artful undercurrent to arguably the most straightforward single the Muffins ever recorded. No longer deployed for irony, Martha Johnson’s vocal is forthright without belting, strengthened instead by the clarity of Lanois’s mix. Andy Haas delivers a pair of gorgeous, sighing solos over instrumental passages of unexpected calm within this upbeat song.

“Twenty-Two in Cincinnati” is (following “1 4 6” and “Girl Fat”) the third and most successful of the Muffins’ b-side musical collages. It floats on haunting pianos and ethereal synth swells found elsewhere on Ice Age; a crisp, subdued drum rhythm is supplemented by a metronomic drum machine, harkening back to the percussion approach on “Trance and Dance.” Jocelyne Lanois utters spoken passages in sotto voce; on her first Muffins tour, she was in fact twenty-two years old when the Muffins performed at Bogart’s in Cincinnati. (All these songs about places!) If any unreleased Muffin b-side deserved a place on the album, this is it. The 2003 CD reissue of This Is The Ice Age rectifies that.

 

The 7″ catalogue:
introduction
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Suburban Dream” (MM 001)
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Cheesies and Gum” (DIN 4)
Martha and the Muffins – “Echo Beach” b/w “Teddy The Dink” (DIN 9)
Martha and the Muffins – “Saigon” b/w “Copacabana” (DIN 17)
Martha and the Muffins – “Paint By Number Heart” b/w “Copacabana” (VS 1115)
Martha and the Muffins – “About Insomnia” b/w “1 4 6” (DIN 19)
Martha and the Muffins – “Suburban Dream” b/w “Girl Fat” (DIN 21)
Martha and the Muffins – “Was Ezo” b/w “Trance And Dance” (DIN 27)
Martha and the Muffins – “Women Around The World at Work” b/w “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati” (DIN 34)
Martha and the Muffins – “One Day in Paris” b/w “Women Around the World at Work”; (104.209)
Martha and the Muffins – “Swimming” b/w “Little Sounds (Excerpts)” (VS 1136)
Martha and the Muffins – “Danseparc (Everyday It’s Tomorrow)” b/w “Whatever Happened to Radio Valve Road” (WAKE 1)
Martha and the Muffins – “World Without Borders” b/w “Boys in the Bushes” (WAKE 2)
Martha and the Muffins – “Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing” b/w “I’m No Good at Conversation” (WAKE 4)
M+M – “Black Stations/White Stations” b/w “Xoa Oho” (WAKE 7)
M+M – “Cooling the Medium” b/w “Big Trees” (WAKE 8)
M+M – “Song In My Head” b/w “Riverine” (WAKE 14)
M+M – “Someone Else’s Shoes” b/w “Million Dollars” (WAKE 16)
M+M – “Only You”; b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down” (WAKE 18)