Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: new wave (page 1 of 3)

Sad Lovers and Giants – Epic Garden Music

This English band flew under nearly everyone’s radar, which of course is an abysmal shame. This debut record of theirs, which I’ve only discovered in the last year, is a delightful surprise to an old post-punk/new wave fan such as myself. First, a word on the track listing. The original LP which appeared in 1981 contained eight songs and began with Echoplay.

The re-release, which I’ve been listening to almost religiously on Spotify, has seven more tracks, which are affixed to the beginning, and this is the version that Allmusic.com has reviewed here. And what seven glorious tracks they are. It begins with the transcendent Imagination which is frankly, one of the best things I’ve heard. Chiming keyboards, a steady beat, accusatory yet wistful lyrics sung in a clear tenor. Imagination was re-recorded for their next record and that version is slightly different, just a little less driving.

Of our starting new seven, When I See You and Things We Never Did are just brilliant, especially the latter with its saxophone. Colourless Dream and Lost in a Moment aren’t that far behind either.

Echoplay, Clocktower Lodge and Clint are shatteringly brilliant tracks, notably the last with its piping keyboards and the album closer Far From the Sea ends things on a vibrantly eerie note.

Really, this is post-punk at its most playful and melodic. There’s doom and gloom here, mostly in the lyrics, but it’s wrapped in such sparkling music, it hands it to you gently, velvet gloved.

A wonderful record.

epic garden music

Icehouse – Man of Colours

Of course, this record was Icehouse‘s commercial peak, the one that spawned megahits like Electric Blue and Crazy. Oddly, these two songs are among the lesser tracks on the record.

On Man of Colours, Iva Davies manages to sound like Once Upon a Time era Simple Minds while still hanging on to his David Bowie kink. He definitely was not shy about wearing his influences openly. Anyhow, the record is full of big 80s synths and drums and if anything is a definitive product of its time, this would be it. If you were wondering what that “new wave” thang is you keep hearing about, check this album out – it’s a key indicator.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a sequel to Measure for Measure. As I said in the review for that record, Man of Colours is pretty much more of the same, though in its defence, it is a tad rockier. It is also a better record, with marginally less filler. The album highlight would be the dreamy The Kingdom, which seems like a sequel to Measure for Measure‘s Angel Street, and Davies is probably singing about the same woman here. The same woman caught in the same blah limbo, anyway. Perhaps she’s the Hey Little Girl from Primitive Man, too.

Other choice cuts include the charging Nothing Too Serious and Anybody’s War. The title track could be Icehouse’s most atmospheric outing, reminding me a bit of the first album‘s tack-on instrumental Paradise Lost. Other grand tracks include the single My Obsession and the hazy record closer Sunrise.

Icehouse reached the recording artist apex with this record, taking Australia and parts of the world by storm. They would never again scale such heights. The following album Code Blue is a bland and just there record that died in the charts and Big Wheel which followed later…well, nobody’s ever heard of it.

Davies has sporadically kept the Icehouse name alive, releasing an album of covers, music for an opera and other bits and pieces but for mine, he effectively brought the band’s thing to a logical end with Man of Colours.

man of colours

Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Rattlesnakes

Way back when, 1984 to be precise, I heard this jaunty jangle/country rock tune on the radio. That tune was the titular song of this record. I did the logical thing and bought the album on cassette, where I proceeded to give it numerous, repeated listens. On the record I discovered ten very literate, articulate and eminently pleasurable songs.

The title track is the standout, but there are many others – there isn’t a weak song here, Charlotte Street, Four Flights Up, Perfect Skin…Yes, it’s one of those records, I’m happy to say. Ten tracks of gently, swaying music that ranges from vibrant country rock to reflective new wave with an intelligent and literate edge. I’m also happy to say that unlike a lot of 80’s music (yes, looking at you Icehouse, INXS), the sound hasn’t dated at all. This record could have been feasibly released yesterday.

Lead singer Lloyd Cole‘s background as a literature major ensures that the lyrics repay careful listening, and there’s no sign (thankfully) of any baby, baby stuff, not unfacetiously anyway.

Their next album, the sterile sounding Easy Pieces was an acquired taste, and I’ve not given anything subsequent a proper listen so I can’t say how things panned out, but this debut record seems to be the high water mark for the artist.

rattlesnakes

INXS – INXS

OK, let me say immediately that this debut effort is far from a good album. It’s fair at best. It sounds like a rough collection of unrelated material cobbled together. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in an INXS review, the band was better at singles than albums. There’s always filler on their records. Of course, this is no exception.

It’s Australian pub rock infused with a healthy dose of keyboard-heavy new wave. In fact, on a few tracks like Learn to Smile and In Vain (both equal highlights here), the synth is out front and blaring. It has a rough and crude sound too, indicative of the cheap, early 80s relic that it is. To be honest, INXS never really got away from this sound completely until Listen Like Thieves. For all of the production money sunk into Shabooh Shoobah and The Swing, they’re really just updated versions of this record, with slightly better songs and stronger songwriting.

There was only one single released from this record – Just Keep Walking, and it’s a doozy. They wanted to release In Vain but were vetoed by their then record company. Apart from the aforementioned Learn to Smile, the only other standout track is album closer Wishy Washy. Everything else is pretty much faceless. Not a great start IMHO, all things considered, but it got INXS in the charts and got them going on to greater and more global things.

inxs first album

The Expression expressed

A long time ago in a galaxy right here, there was a Sydney band called The Expression. According to a DJ on a radio station at the time, they were “the new band that everyone’s talking about”. I only ever heard one of their songs – 1983’s With Closed Eyes, which was about their only song you could classify as a hit. There’s two videos for it, a world-wide one showing the band involved in some unnamed warzone (though there’s an assumption out there it’s Nicaragua), and another they made so they wouldn’t offend American sensibilities, which just showed the band mostly playing live.

(Edit: it’s not letting me embed them any more)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgVy8UNo-e8
The US release

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOkPA_WXN08
The world-wide one

To be fair, of everything of theirs I’ve heard, it’s their best song by some way. The remainder of their material, which can be found on Youtube and sites like this one, is undistinguished new wave/synthpop with their second album veering into spacey adult contemporary territory. Nothing on either album really stands up and takes notice like With Closed Eyes though Total Eclipse is an OK track and some of the fretless bass work is pretty good. Yet, I’ll be brutally honest, and say they created two albums of filler. Anyone who bought their first record on the strength of their biggest single probably has cause to feel ripped off. There’s nothing else even remotely like it on the LP.

Faced with a distinct lack of chart success, they disbanded in 1985. The lead singer Tom Haran, has released a couple of solo records.

So why did I post about them and their music? I’ve had the chorus of With Closed Eyes jiving through my mind lately for whatever reason, so off to Youtube I went and did some rediscovering. There you have it.

Men At Work – Cargo

This is album number two and no, it’s not as good as Business as Usual. Of course not, it couldn’t be. But on its own merits, it’s quite a good record.

It’s more of the same – the overall sound hasn’t changed much since the first record, the same grooves, the same rhythms etc. So why isn’t it as good? For starters, the songs are definitely more downbeat. More morose, more political…now that’s not so bad, but the songs themselves aren’t as catchy or as hook-laden. There’s simply nothing on this record as attention grabbing as I Can See It In Your Eyes or Be Good Johnny. The downbeat songs on Business as Usual, like the aforementioned I Can See, are bursting at the seams with sing-along hooks and beats. Not so on Cargo. It’s far more of an acquired listen.

It starts off brightly enough with the pseudo-jokey Dr Heckyll and Mr Jive and you’re reassured that you’re back on familiar ground, then we get the morose Overkill, which was the record’s big hit. Things after that waver between serene and bleak, interspersed with some throwaway dross like I Like To and Settle Down by Boy, the first of which is quite frankly an embarrassing song.

There are some gems though – High Wire masks its political overtones with frenetic energy and the album closer, No Restrictions, is probably the record highlight. There are a couple of B-sides they released (Shintaro and When the Money Runs Out) which, in my opinion, should’ve replaced a couple of songs on this album – it would’ve improved things overall.

Cargo doesn’t hold a candle to the first record, but as I said, standing on its own pluses, it’s by no means a dud, but it’s the last decent thing they did. After this, Men At Work disintegrated (losing their drummer and bassist) and they put out the over-produced and synth-drowned Two Hearts, which really is an awful record. Logically, the band died a natural death not long after.

cargo

China Crisis – Flaunt the Imperfection

Record number three from these northwestern English purveyors of edgy softish new wave. I was recommended this LP from reading a review in Smash Hits which gave it a 9/10 rating. I’d heard some of their earlier stuff like Wishful Thinking (one of the most beautiful things ever recorded) and the rollicking Working with Fire and Steel. Well nothing on this record sounds anything like their previous stuff.

In truth, it’s a stretch to call it new wave. For sure, there are plenty of synths (especially on King in a Catholic Style), but there’s a jazzy sophisti-pop feel about the whole record, probably courtesy of producer Walter Becker, of Steely Dan fame. It’s very pretty music, and while I do recall the band being slammed in some parts of the media for making “wimp music”, I feel it’s an unjust accusation. From the opening confident refrain of Highest High to the languid airs of Blue Sea, what we have here are ten songs of gentle, melodic pleasure. There’s no filler here. While the songs do kind of blend into one another, it does so in an effervescent and positive manner.

It’s soft and breezy, without falling into the realm of background or elevator music.

The highlight would be Gift of Freedom, which starts off Side Two but I said before, there isn’t any filler and there’s no real weak track. I bought their next album, What Price Paradise and the band had moved on into the realm of big drums and big synths. Very disappointing, but it was to be expected alas.

Yet, there was no difficult third album syndrome here – this record is a wonder.

flaunt the imperfection

Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle

This album came out shortly after his last Tubeway Army effort was released. I mentioned there that this record is generally viewed as his magnum opus. On the strength of its songs, I’d agree, though I have a greater personal liking for Replicas simply because I heard it first.

In many ways, it’s more of the same. The major exception to that broad statement is that there’s no guitars on this record. It’s all synth and drums. It’s a showcase for the Polymoog.

As with the prior album, you’re in android territory here. Nearly all of the songs are from the view of a robot or a human caught in a robotic world and/or mindset. Even Cars, the world-wide hit, sounds like a product of an android’s fevered mind. It’s wonderfully impersonal music, though I have to say, it’s a lot warmer than its predecessor. The ballad Complex sounds far more human than the corresponding Down in the Park on the prior record.

There are no real weak tracks on this record, though you could argue it lulls a little through songs like Observer and Conservation. Some of the best music Numan has made is to be found right here, from the opening surging instrumental Airlane to the closing, pulsing Engineers. Apart from the aforementioned Cars (which isn’t even the best thing on the record) you have the classical groove of metal, the sad fey of Complex, the soaring charge of Films (album highlight), the mechanical pity of M.E and the steely reflectiveness of Tracks.

Make no mistake, this is a landmark record and it’s possibly the last great thing he ever made. The next album, Telekon, has its moments but it goes downhill from there as Numan moved away from the sound that brought him fame.

All hail this android masterpiece!

the pleasure principle

Tubeway Army – Replicas

This is album number two for Tubeway Army, before Gary Numan went on to do greater and lesser things solo. The first, self-titled, record has its moments, but it’s not the cold metallic and joyfully soulless robotic outing this record is.

From the opening pulse of Me, I Disconnect From You, you are aware you have entered a grey land that promises inorganic miserable delights. There isn’t one track on this record that you could describe as warm. Far from it. Even the touching instrumental I Nearly Married a Human is an electronic approximation of an end of the world lament.

The lack of warmth is what gives this record its eternal appeal. It’s an android’s paradise, even if many of the songs are from the point of view of humans. The precise and concise metallic rhythms here are right up a robot’s alley, jerking and pulsing forth with positronic energy. Even the hit Are Friends Electric? sounds like the sort of thing C3PO would’ve composed had he been given studio time.

There’s no filler here and there are plenty of highlights. From the tight grooves of The Machman, You Are in My Vision (album highlight) and When the Machines Rock to the reflective grey skies of the title track and Down in the Park, it’s a glorious journey through a post-Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine world. Critics say Numan’s next album is the classic and in a way I agree, but he was never as cold and concise as he was on this record.

I love it, miserable thing that it is.

replicas

Icehouse – Measure For Measure

This is record number four for Icehouse. It sounds absolutely nothing like anything that came before it. In fact, the evolution of this band’s sound from the nervy hard rock/new wave of their first album, to the “bottled” sounding fake-rock of Sidewalk (I’ll get to Primitive Man one of these days) is all quite amazing.

Measure For Measure is all smooth textures, round edges and dreamy rhythms. In fact, it’s Iva Davies approximation of Roxy Music’s Avalon and Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream ’81-82-83-84.

Keyboards are front and centre here, and the music tries its best to float by on some ethereal current. It works sometimes, especially on the opening track Paradise, and other album cuts like Angel Street and No Promises. It falls flat too namely on tracks like Baby You’re So Strange and Lucky Me. Strangely, the B-side to Baby You’re So Strange, Too Late Now, is probably one of the best things Icehouse have recorded. They wisely included it on the CD release of the album.

But it’s intriguing listening to Mr Big, then going back in time six years and comparing it to the first album’s Fatman, which I think are two connected songs. The change in sound…talk about rapid evolution.

Anyhow, Icehouse were to hit the big time with their next record, Man of Colours, which is more or less a continuation of this. This isn’t a bad record, but it’s certainly an 80s relic. Big drums and big synths. And there’s a little too much trying to be Bryan Ferry or David Bowie (or Simple Minds) here. Iva Davies never quite did sound like himself on a record.

measure for measure

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