Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: new wave (page 1 of 3)

Icehouse – Primitive Man

I remember buying this on vinyl back on 1982, and hoping Icehouse had kept up the rocking new wave, borderline hard rock they did on their debut. Nope, no sirree. This is synth heavy, Linn drum-machine laden and very representative of the era it was released. Only one song here really rocks, and overseas releases didn’t even include it, and that’s Break These Chains.

The band that recorded the debut no longer existed, and though John Lloyd was still part of the band, he didn’t drum on this, and it’s all via  machine. More than any other record, this one could be labelled a Davies solo project. Davies still thinks he’s some lovechild of Ferry and Bowie here, and he never really sounded like himself on a record till Big Wheel, and that’s perhaps debatable too.

Bare-faced influences aside, Primitive Man grew on me. Apart from the obvious songs that were released as singles, there are tracks that have a slightly eerie edge even if Davies hadn’t intended such a thing. More than any other Icehouse album, this one goes into mystic places, if only briefly. The whole album has an “abandoned” feel to it, like it’s the soundtrack to empty, open spaces where humans no longer exist, and it’s not just Great Southern Land that conveys that. There’s only one filler track here and that’s Mysterious Thing, which sounds like a B-side. The remainder of the record varies for dreamy to hard rocking. It’s a widely ranging thing, but held back by production excesses and Davies’ imitating his favourite performers.

There’s a case to be made this is Icehouse’s second best record, though Big Wheel may have something to say there.

Choice cuts: Trojan Blue, Break these Chains, Street Cafe

howlers yo

Xmal Deutschland – Tocsin

his group dispensed with their Siouxsie and The Banshees imitations for their second record. Fetisch had some great moments and the low-key production gave it a real feral quality, but it wore its influences on its sleeves and every other article of clothing. It put the “d” in the word “derivative”.

With Tocsin, Xmal Deutschland go deeper into Goth territory and less into rock. The results are immediately appealing as Mondlicht is one of the finer songs from this period. Things don’t change much through the remaining eight tracks though the instrumental Xmas in Australia is an odd break from the poppy and melodic goth that pervades this record.

This album has two main problems, or three if you consider similar sounding songs an issue. Drama one is Anja Huwe’s voice. Every now and then listening to Xmal Deutschland, you wish she’d sing. Rather, she bellows. She also throws her voice at the end of every sentence. If she stopped these New Wave-isms and actually let her voice breathe, some of these songs would be raised to transcendent level. As it is, she just puts it there. I know it’s indicative of the times and places her band existed, but it’s a crying shame she just didn’t try to sing rather than shout.

The second is Mick Glossop’s even-handed production. This is another New Wave-ism and it’s the one thing that truly dates this record. Drums, synths and bass are way up the front of the mix, and the guitar buried deep down. Lo-fi as it was, Fetisch had everything up front and the result was an in your face record. Tocsin sounds like any one of a thousand albums produced at the time, which doesn’t suit this band’s strengths.

It’s a great record with mostly catchy songs, but it’s soured by Huwe’s delivery and the serene production.

Choice cuts: Mondlicht, Nachtschatten, Begrab mein Herz

tocsin

Models – Out of Mind Out of Sight

After the consistently catchy and funky The Pleasure of Your Company, Models hit the Australian big-time with this record. And big-time it is. If there ever was a record that summarises the production excesses of the 80s, here it is folks. Practically every song is drowned in thunderous drums courtesy of Australian go-to producer Mark Opitz. Nick Launay (another 80s go-to man) had given the previous record a hard edge that suited the keyboard/bass foundations of the band. Opitz on this platter just turns everything up and its a reverberating mess. Even on slower tracks like These Blues, the production gets in the way.

It’s not all Opitz’s fault. Reggie Lucas did Big on Love and its drum sound, if anything, is even more bombastic.

The title track was the biggie, but for mine, it rates near the bottom in its worth. It’s a relic, and what sounded like a great tune back then just makes one roll their eyes in this age.

But, production aside, this album’s prime issue is a distinct lack of decent material. It’s absolutely jam-crammed with filler, with rubbish like Ringing Like a Bell and Seeing is Believing, which sound like studio outtakes. Even Cold Fever, released as a single, sounds like a B-side to a B-side.

Well, this was the band’s apex and they went nowhere fast after this. The next (and last) record is even more packed with filler than this one, and suffers bing-bang production blammo as well. Utterly faceless and the band called it quits not long after – and so they should have.

Models were great white funksters once and deserve some renewed interest. Just end your listening excursion at Pleasure of your Company and things will be fine.

Choice cuts: These Blues, Stormy Tonight, King of Kings. Everything else is effluent.

a flavell howler

 

Gary Numan – Warriors

Oh dear. This is the record where Mr. Webb officially loses it. There were signs on I, Assassin that he was fast running out of hooks, melodies and good song ideas, but its comes full and terrible circle here. From the kitsch of the cover to the random saxophone blasts, this platter screams that it is an unwanted relic of the 80s, to say nothing of it being an unwanted relic in Numan’s discography.

I mean, if you knew nothing about this record or even its creator, you’d scan the song list and see promising things like My Centurion, The Prison Moon, Love is Like Clock Law and you’d maybe think there’s some good science fiction based prog-rock or otherwise catchy and fulfilling music within. I mean, wouldn’t you think a song title like The Rhythm of the Evening promises something? You would, for sure.

And wouldn’t you be kidding yourself?

Instead, what you get are nine virtually identical low-key meandering tracks all laden with crawling fretless bass, grating female back-up singers, out of place saxophones and Gary Numan dialling his vocal performances in. This is bad pop music processed and regurgitated through the “I’m Short of Ideas” machine.

This record is a disaster, but alas, it was the start of an undistinguished era for Numan. He amps things up a bit on his next record, but until we come to 1993’s Sacrifice, it’s all a mostly sad voyage through blasterino loud 80s synths, booming drum machines and the ever-present female back-up. Oh yes, and the sax. Can’t forget the sax.

Choice cuts. Scraping the proverbial, but The Prison Moon is arguably the best of a sorry bunch.

 

Warriors

INXS – Kick

INXS were a singles band, let’s make that clear straight away. Their albums – all of them – are loaded with filler to a lesser or greater degree. Sometimes they’re jam packed with terrible songs that don’t even qualify for filler status. Kick is the one platter in their discography that has the least amount of both filler and dreck.

In that regard, it’s a step up from Listen Like Thieves and it’s certainly a mile ahead of anything released afterwards. There’s only two songs on this record I regard as filler – Tiny Daggers and Calling All Nations. And, why oh why, did they feel the need to re-record The Loved One? Their Deluxe Records era cover is just as good.

All the aside, this is the culmination of their Stonesy pub-rock/new wave incarnation. They perfected this sound, something they’d increasingly been working on since Shabooh Shoobah. I Need You Tonight, New Sensation, Devil Inside, Mystify are all great tracks.

But this is their last great record, with “great” being relative. The 90s weren’t kind to pub rock bands and INXS never did quite wrap their heads around the sounds and trends that decade generated.

Kick

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.

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