Monday, June 09, 2003
So we get this advantage/problem with pop revivals that what gets revived is at once a distillation and a restriction of what had gone before - electroclash is supposed to be metonymic of the eighties, but it's hardly representative of it in any definitive sense, and that's a strength and a weakness: there's a brutalist focus to electroclash that would disappear if it, like, really tried to engage with A-Ha and Kids in the Kitchen, but the best eighties revival project so far has necessarily existed entire outside of electroclash discourse. I'm thinking of Future Bible Heroes, of course (though I don't have the new album). Merritt and co. at least seem to open the possibility for a much larger amount of the great impulses of the eighties to be harmonised - stiff rhythmic propulsion yeah, but also self-conscious grandeur and ambition, daring out-thereness and spine-tingling emotion (thinking of a tune like "Real Summer", which seems to hold the keys to New Gold Dream AND The Hounds of Love AND The Primitives in its hands). Memories of Love is one of my favourite albums because it seems to encapsulate so many possible routes towards transcendence.

I note from Blissblog and related sources that an alternate eighties is now in "tres hot" stage - I am of course thinking of the (romanticism X sonic daring) of The Associates, The Blue Nile, early OMD, Simple Minds circa Sons & Fascination New Gold Dream. This has been on the cards for a while - I remember having a conversation on ILX with Robin Carmody on the very subject in late 2000 where he mounted a passionate argument for this music's vitality. What's interesting though is how it's picked up steam: The Associates have been a perennial favourite of many right-thinking people for a while, but New Gold Dream was the lucky subject of an exceedingly fast critical rehabilitation on ILX over the course of last year, before which I don't think I'd heard it being paraded so confidently, so unprovocatively as a stone-cold classic (I know I shouldn't act as if ILX equates with the free-thinking world, but somehow it's hard not to). Recently there's been a number of signs on the local blogosphere: Jon Dale writing up The Associates, Cozen likewise covering The Blue Nile, and now the excellent K-Punk is trying to singlehandedly do the same thing for early Ultravox and John Foxx (not only has this piqued my interest in Foxx, but I want to note that k-punk is great reading, and it looks as though I was beaten to the punch with the "neuromantics" tag!). I wholeheartedly support this, and await with great interest Cozen's forthcoming New Pop Then and Now piece. Obviously this tres hot status is at least partially a result of a crop of new records that invite a reconsideration of this music all over again. As with "the lost generation", these were bands whose essential mission was in many ways left unfulfilled, dangling, inviting subsequent musicians to pick up the threads and run with them. And curiously, as with the lost generation, the temptation to name successors is stronger than the actual evidence of such, as bands and artists I might mention here (Coloma first and foremost, but also quite a few others) are really only offering hints and glimmers of what I might arbitrary deign to be their predecessors. But the formal similarities aren' t the point; what seems important is the sense that now is as good a time as any for bands to be mixing up pop songs and sonics, emotion and intellect, a dual emphasis on construction and performance, and while we're waiting for new strains of this impulse to emerge it's partially satisfying to return to the older attempts. It's the potential new environment, rather than accretion of existing records, that invites the sort of conjecture you're reading now.

Maybe worth pointing out that I've been listening a lot lately to OMD's Organisation, which in spite or perhaps because of "Enola Gay" seems to get overlooked in discussions of their early work. I think it's great - an astonishingly expansive, idiosyncratic, unpredictable collection that captures enough divergent impulses for twenty bands to feed on (the Martini Bros. in particular might have picked up much of their schtick from this album). Not just strident nuclear age pop, but eerie Kraftwerk shimmer ("2nd Thought"), Ultra Vivid Scene-as-produced-by-Aphex-Twin-esque dream-pop ("VCL XI" - - and I'm all for agitating for a new definition of the term "dream-pop" that can include a track like this), burbling vaudeville ("Motion & Heart"), greyscale ("Statues"), angry synth-punk ("The Misunderstanding"), minimal disco ("The More I See You"), sugary swoons ("Promise") and glacial drift ambient anthemics ("Stanlow" ). OMD seem quite happy to take each idea and run with it, with both vocals and arrangements shifting dramatically from song to song. As with many of the other records in this hazily defined area of tres hotness, Organisation derives its overriding sense of boundlessness from its contextual position between worlds - between glam, Kraftwerk, post-punk, disco, the New Romantics, art-rock, the Art of Noise. Between all of these worlds and confined to none of them, Organisation is one of those records, like Kate Bush's The Dreaming or A.R. Kane's I, that takes on the semblance of an endless treasure trove, a Pandora's Box for anyone with the bravery and perversity to open it.


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