ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (11/22)

Album : Various/Various
Review : Rolling Stone, 13 May 1982
Author : David Fricke

To English popmusic fans, there is nothing like a good six-month fad. The punk explosion, the warmed-over mods, the ska craze and the psychedelic revival–don’t look now, but you just missed the New Romantics–have come and gone (and in some cases, come again) with such confounding rapidity that it is hard to take most of them any more seriously than Hula Hoops or edible underwear.

The country’s latest rage is synthesizer music. Every hip, young Tom, Dick and Johnny B. Goode has traded in his guitar for a synthesizer and rhythm box, buying into future cool by applying the latest keyboard and computer appliances to the brisk melodic cheeriness of commercial pop and the bubbly beat of off-white funk. But far from bowing down to the great god of automation or passing off their microchip bubblegum musings on sex and energy as the stuff of a brave new world, these synthesizer bands have bestowed an almost mock-human quality upon their hardware. The beeping, farting and whooshing of the keyboards, combined with the psycho-Sinatra cabaret croon of the singers (Soft Cell’s Marc Almond and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Andy McCluskey, take a bow), creates a man-machine tension channeled into the vigorous dance beat of many of these songs. And by dancing, that does not mean the March of the Androids but no-holds-barred Soul Train swing.

The chart success of these digital dandies and their synthesizer pop – all four of the above LPs made the U.K. Top Five and are faring surprisingly well here – is somewhat out of proportion to their artistic worth. These are, after all, only pop songs in transistor drag. But if singing the same old song with newfangled noise is no great leap, selling the public on a package of postpunk do-it-yourself ingenuity, easy-to-play technology and Top Forty classicism certainly is.

The Human League is a perfect case in point. In the four years since the group’s first single, a home-recorded slice of angry young electronic New Wave called “Being Boiled,” the original quartet split in half and evolved into a six-piece, circa-2001 Abba. Singer Phil Oakey‘s lusty saloon styling is now lightly sugared with the twee harmonies of Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley. Such songs as the Euro-fizzy “Open Your Heart” and the bright motorfunk exercise “Love Action” (both on Dare) are delightful, swinging singles free of sci-fi pretensions and uncluttered by art-school cleverness. Producer Martin Rushent‘s warm widescreen production also takes the edge off the severe chill that typified the League’s earlier import albums.

Yet, more important, the League itself now strikes an appealing balance between modern technique and tuneful charm, epitomized by the hit single “Don’t You Want Me.” Alternating between a gray doomsday riff and a smart samba strut, the song is a tasty white-soul layer cake of competing melody and harmony lines whose orchestral possibilities are pared down to a sleek, glassy arrangement by the metallic breeze and regimented beat of the synthesizers. With all the knobs and buttons at their disposal, the Human League still goes for the hook. And with eight other songs as artfully grabby as “Don’t You Want Me,” Dare keeps reelin’ ’em in.

The problem with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is that they want to have their art and eat it, too. The awkward mix of dreamy romanticism and spatial, Pink Floyd-ian abstractions on Architecture and Morality, OMD’s second American album, suggests that Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys are acutely embarrassed by their ability to pen seductive moonlight sonatas like “Souvenir” and the eerie Parisian waltz “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans).” Why else gussy up the LP with ponderous music of the spheres, as in the title track’s construction-site rattle and the overlong “Sealand,” a nuclear beach concerto of drawn-out synthesizer drones? They even sabotage the album’s one decent party track, “Georgia,” with carnival organ and holy choir sound effects. Too much sincerity and not enough spunk on Architecture and Morality make for attractive but dull fare.

The Soft Cell twosome of Marc Almond and David Ball walks on a much wilder side, bringing the brainy bop of OMD down to a lurid red-light-district level on their debut album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Their hit single, “Tainted Love” (included here), neatly captured Soft Cell’s fetish for R&B; camp; the twelve-inch single even segued into a heavy-breathing version of the Supremes‘ “Where Did Our Love Go.”

Not surprisingly, then, the best tracks on Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret–“Frustration,” “Sex Dwarf,” “Secret Life” – bump and grind with vibrant, tawdry soul. Ball, employing a limited arsenal of synthesized keyboard effects, tarts up the meaty funk beat with multiple rhythm figures and steamy extended chords. Together, these complement singer-lyricist Almond’s passion for sexual deviation (“Sex Dwarf,” “Entertain Me”) and rather vampiric fear of open day-light (“Memories of the night before/Out in clubland having fun/And now I’m hiding from the sun,” from “Bedsitter”).

Compared to Soft Cell’s smutty pop, Depeche Mode‘s Speak and Spell is strictly PG-rated fluff. A group of fresh-faced, suburban lads from Britain, they have neither the ambition of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark nor the overt commercial allure of the Human League. They simply drift aimlessly between the two, occasionally hitting a disco bull’s-eye with chirpy dance tracks like “Dreaming of Me” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Too often the synthesizers lock into dead-end grooves, and the group’s boyish caroling is anonymous at best.

There’s plenty more where all this synthesized Dream Whip came from: e.g., Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Heaven 17, the Far East fantasies of the group Japan. They’re not all completely synth, but they certainly sing the body electric. Still, the temptation is to dismiss English synth-pop as the chart’s flavor of the month. For all their undeniable pop attractions and the genuine innovative potential of electro-dominated rock, these bands so far have only bent the rules, not broken them. If this batch of records is any indication, the revolution will not be synthesized.

mp3 : The Human League – Open Your Heart
mp3 : OMD – Georgia
mp3 : Soft Cell – Secret Life
mp3 : Depeche Mode – Dreaming of Me

JC adds “The chart success of these digital dandies and their synthesizer pop is somewhat out of proportion to their artistic worth.”   Just fuck off will you?  It’s dicks like you that give music writers/journalists a bad name.

Happy New Year.  It’s great to start it off grumpy.

 

THE MUCH ANTICIPATED RETURN OF SICKBOY

Sorry if the headline and image has got you thinking this has something to do with Trainspotting. It is merely the ramblings of a man who. not long ago, was at death’s door being saved only by the love of his best friend and his best friend’s daughter as theu bring him records obtained from a charity shop. Over to you Badger…..

The Charity Shop (Record) Challenge – Part Two

The second brightly wrapped parcel has balloons on it. SWC’s daughter helps me unwrap it and she tells me a story about a balloon and squeezes of my leg (“because when I’m poorly Daddy tells me a story and gives me a cuddle”). This balloon travels up in the air and doesn’t stop until it reaches the moon when it gets there it is befriended by a lion who plays it with but pops it with his claws. This makes the lion sad, so sad that he has to do a poo (cue mad child laughter). I’ve repeated that word for word.

She’s four (just) and already tells better stories and more believable ones than her daddy.

The record has a silver grey sleeve and this is deeply unimpressive to the little girl. She wants to open up the third one which has lions and bears on the paper, I imagine these were the inspiration for the story that I’ve just repeated. She opens it and that one is a blue record which she tells me is ‘Mummys favourite colour – she should have that one’ she tells me, after listening to it I have to agree because its terrible.

Anyway back to the second one. This one for those of you who have been trying to guess is ‘Crotch Deep Trash’ by The Soup Dragons and is as Charity Chic would say ‘A real find’.

Record 2 – Crotch Deep Trash (extended version) – The Soup Dragons – Price £1.99

r-867527-1313606819-jpeg

I’ve spent a lot of time in charity shops and I have never seen anything by the Soup Dragons ever, I now own four 12”s by the Soup Dragons, all of them have been given to me, all of them have come from charity shops. Seriously. (The others are Backwards Dog, Mother Universe and I’m Free (remix)).

Now cast your eye at the title it clearly states that this is an ‘extended version’ – this is saying something as the record is pretty done and dusted in three minutes. I’m not sure by how much they extended this but it wasn’t by much. Regardless of this, its an excellent record, all shouty vocals, screechy guitars and pounding drums, it sounds a lot of like ‘Automatic’ era Jesus and Mary Chain and that folks is a very good thing.

Backwards Dog – This is also very good. Apologies for the recording quality of both though.

mp3 : Soup Dragons – Crotch Deep Trash
mp3 : Soup Dragons – Backwards Dog

Unlike Record 3 which is Why Can’t I Be You? (12” Version) by The Cure – Price £2.50

Now before you all jump up and down on my injured bollocks and expel me for ever from indie school for being rude about my elders, hear me out. I love this single. I own several Cure records and used to even have a big baggy black jumper called ‘Bob’ which I left in a pub in Leeds in 1993 and waited outside at 9am the next morning so that I could get it back. So I like the Cure.

However, why in the name of everything that is precious, they though that this 12” version would be acceptable is a complete mystery to me. Its utter bobbins, it removes all the good bits of the original and pads it out with effects and loops and soundclashes and it just sounds like Modern Romance have recorded it and not The Cure. The bastards. I would actually rather be back in hospital listening to Ron in the bed next to mine bang on about ‘Bloody Poles’ than listen to that again. Its eight minutes long as well.

The B-Side is called ‘A Japanese Dream’ and it’s a bit better but you know only just. If only because it goes on about monkeys and stuff.

mp3 : The Cure – Why Can’t I Be You (remix)
mp3 : The Cure – A Japanese Dream

(JC adds….Badger is spot on with his analysis of this. I once bought a second hand copy of this 12″ single solely with the intenion of posting ot on the blog. One play letter and that idea was ditched…..)

“Can we do one more” the little girl asks me, I agree, I’m enjoying myself, to be honest, SWC has even made me cup of tea and bought out some plates for the brownies, its nice to be around friendly people (and SWC). So we unwrap the fourth one which is back to the Peppa Pig paper “I only had three rolls of paper” he says. His daughter unwraps it and laughs at the sleeve. It’s the back of the sleeve she’s laughing at. “Bum” she says. She’s right. I’m looking at the backside of a female and a very smug looking Dave Gahan.

The fourth record is “Personal Jesus” – Depeche Mode – Price £1.99

“That’s definitely worth more than that” SWC says. He’s probably right, I once sold a 12” of a Depeche Mode song on Ebay for about £35 – they are really collectible for some unfathomable reason.

Now, you can re read my bit about the Cure here if you like because the same rules apply about Depeche Mode. They’ve taken one of their better singles and remixed it for the single and in doing that bloody ruined it. Here folks we have

mp3: Depeche Mode : Personal Jesus “Holier Than Thou” Version.

The record and the remix seems a bit smug for some reason if you ask me, still let’s have a look at the B Sides….One of them is badly scratched so we will gloss over that one but here is the other one

mp3 : Depeche Mode : Personal Jesus (acoustic)

So it’s the same song again, sorry. Its slightly better than the remix version, but the quality is so bad it sounds like Gahan is whispering his way through it, which he probably is to be fair.

So that takes us up to record 4 – records 5 6 and 7 to follow.

BADGER