Single Review: Kim Wilde “Cambodia”

Cambodia
Album: Select
Year: 1981

While searching for some 80s pop music to add to my CD collection, I came across Kim Wilde, whose major hits include “Kids in America” and the cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On.”

Kim Wilde, however, is similar to today’s pop stars such as Beyonce and Britney. Her family (specifically her father, Marty Wilde) is managing her career. She was also being marketed towards young kids in the 80s by giving interviews to teenybopper magazines. Wilde also marketed herself as a just a regular 21-year-old…but with a famous father. She gets starstruck, particulary when it comes to her favorite singer, Elvis Costello. She was also reported as saying “sex does not exist for me” for the German Magazine, Bravo. However, unlike some of today’s pop stars, she came across as articulate and self-aware.

Written by Marty Wilde and Ricky Wilde (her brother), “Cambodia” is a heart-wrenching new wave single. The single revolves around an air force wife whose husband leaves for Cambodia. In the first single, the listener learns that the couple is living in Thailand and her husband flies during the weekends. So far, it’s risk-free and not dangerous. Then one day he gets a call to report to Cambodia. (“Well he was Thailand based/she was an airforce wife/he used to fly weekends/it was the easy life…He had a job to do/flying to Cambodia”).

In the second verse, she thinks of how much she misses him. But he is haunted by the images he’s seen in Cambodia. Unable to sleep or function, he is no longer the person she used to know and love. (“She tried to trace the past/the way he used to look/the way he used to laugh…He used to cry some nights/As though he lived a dream/And as she held him close/He used to search her face/As though she knew the truth/Lost inside Cambodia”).

He comes home a year later and they plan to meet. She waits for him, but a year goes by and she never hears from him (“But then a call came through/they said he’d soon be home/she had to pack a case/and they would make a rendez-vous/but now a year has passed/and not a single word/and all the love she knew/has disappeared out in the haze”).

The songwriting is the reason to listen to this obscure single. Covering a relationship that has to deal with the effects of seperation and war, it’s still relevant today. War changes people as it did her husband. It made him emotionally unstable and feel as though he couldn’t relate to his wife anymore. Heartbreaking but not overwrought, “Cambodia” does not exploit soldiers or war.

Kim Wilde narrates the single with a naive and sympathetic voice. Wilde’s voice is also different from the pop stars from the era. It isn’t rough or throaty, instead it’s pretty and light.

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