Album Reviews: ABC, Daniel Ash and Others Reinvent the ’80s in 2016

Written by Album Reviews, Music

80sOne of my favorite musical trends of the 2010’s is the glorious “return to form” comebacks from a dizzying array of great ’80s artists. As gutted as I am about the death of Prince (about 80% of my time spent listening to music has been Prince-related since April 21; prior to that it was about 50%), I’m comforted that we live in a Now where The Ocean Blue, Duran Duran, OMD, Blancmange, New Order and others are again prolific, relevant and urgent. Even comebacks that might have been nothing more than an Awakenings-style one off encore (Devo, the Wild Swans and the tragically cut short comeback of Visage) were still as exciting to hear as any new music by new bands of the decade.

Here’s a quick roundup of who’s back now and what why you should get off your teenage stream and check em the hell out:

Daniel Ash • Stripped

When you look at the CD title and familiar tracklist, Stripped looks like one of those nostalgic cash-ins where a beloved but commercially faded artist craps out some acoustic versions to wring a few extra miles out of their worn out greatest hits. And then Stripped’s opening notes bludgeon you and you realize you’ve entered a bizarro second dimension where some of your favorite Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, Daniel Ash and Bauhaus songs are completely reinvented from the drum kick up. The lyrics will connect portions of your brain to the songs as they were, but the arrangements and crackling production will thrust you ass over ears into an apocalyptic future death disco where these classics songs once again sound way ahead of their time.

Daniel Ash StrippedStripped comes on the heels of Anthology, the essential 3 disc solo compilation on Cherry Red from 2013 that resurrected Ash’s outstanding solo albums from the dawn of the Nineties (Coming Down and Foolish Thing Desire) and added a whiskey chaser on a Disc 3 titled Bits ‘n’ Bobs; a disc that just might be one of the most exciting albums of Daniel Ash’s prolific career. In addition to a bank heist of top shelf rarities from the recording vault, Ash takes Coming Down (originally intended to be a covers album) to its fulfilled destiny with a stack of daring cover songs, left field choices that are as audacious in their selection as they are outrageous in their reinvention. In Ash’s hands, everything from Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, to the Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Loving’ (reinvented once by the Blues Brothers) and Argent’s classic rock staple ‘Hold Your Head Up’ get sucked down Ash’s evil dead goth soul post EDM rabbit hole. While digital/streaming copies are likely available, CD is the only way to go; Anthology gets the Cherry Red royal treatment with a booklet filled with fascinating liner notes.

Daniel Ash Anthology

Stripped plants gems from Ash’s discography into the scorched earth; from the gloom blooms completely new versions of classics from the Tones on Tail (including ‘OK, this is the Pops’, ‘Christian Says’, ‘There’s Only One’) and Love and Rockets (‘An American Dream’, ‘So Alive’, ‘No Big Deal’, and more) catalogs; Bauhaus (‘Slice of Life’) gets one slot, as does a new song ‘Come On’.

Read a fascinating interview with Daniel Ash about Stripped and Anthology on Noisey. Pick up Anthology direct from Cherry Red. Get Stripped right here.

ABC • The Lexicon of Love II

ABC Lexicon of Love IIEverything about The Lexicon of Love II had ‘bad idea’ written all over it; a sequel some 35 years after the original, no original members except for lead singer Martin Fry (F-R-Y) and the absence of iconic producer Trevor Horn. Well, the long ass delay worked for Star Wars and Lexicon 2: Mantrap Boogaloo proves that those who take big chances can reap epic rewards. The Lexicon of Love II not only looks like the original (an update on that album’s iconic art design), it sounds like it too. Fry is singing in top form and he’s backed by top notch musicians and the lush orchestration of Anne Dudley (The Art of Noise) who also appeared on the first Lexicon. You can’t polish a turd so thankfully Fry is crapping nothing but rainbows these days. His previous solo affairs under the ABC brand (Skyscraping and Traffic) were good but I kinda forgot all about em. Inside the second Lexicon die-hard fans and newbies alike will find plenty to love for years to come. ‘The Flames of Desire’, ‘Confessions of a Fool’ and ‘Viva Love’ are lush and epic songs with giant earworm hooks that will more than hold their own on the next ABC greatest hits compilation; darker tracks like ‘Singer Not The Song’ show Fry still has plenty of ooomph in his arsenal — could a sequel to the grossly underrated Beauty Stab be far behind?

If this album is ABC’s swan song, Fry & Co. certainly stuck the landing and deserve a gold medal. With more than 40 songs reportedly written for this project, and with his voice in peak condition, let’s just hope ABC DEFinitely returns for more X, Y and Z.

Pick up The Lexicon of Love II on Amazon.

Fact checking this very piece led to the discovery of one of the year’s loveliest surprises, one that took flight with little fanfare earlier this year…

Fly: Songs Inspired by the Film Eddie the Eagle

Fly Music Inspired by Eddie the EagleRemember Eddie the Eagle? You know, that family friendly film starring Wolverine that isn’t about a bald bird? It was on my “wait for cable” list and I’m all the more interested now that I know it comes with this kick ass soundtrack. The film’s producer, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) could have gone the easy route with the cliche soundtrack song licensing since the film was set in the Eighties. Instead, he recruited Take That’s Gary Barlow to recruit a who’s who of iconic acts to write and record original new music for film, songs that feel fresh today while still sounding organic when heard in the film. And when’s the last time a star-studded soundtrack actually featured songs with lyrical connections to the film’s story? No easy task, yet the moment Holly Johnson’s shoulda-been-a-Bond-theme ‘Ascension’ roars from the speakers, you realize this album is going to be epic. ‘Ascension’, one of the best performances in the ex-Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer’s career, is alone worth the price of admission.

Howard Jones has the unenviable task of taking the stage next and he crushes it — big chorus and monster synths I don’t recall hearing since the 12″ Howard Jones. Marc Almond (Soft Cell), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) and Andy Bell (Erasure) do just fine in solo turns here; Johnson, Almond and Bell each released solid solo albums last year as well.

The big surprises are welcome returns from the likes of Paul Young, Go West, Kim Wilde, Heaven 17 and Nik Kershaw. Midge Ure and ABC who, like Bell, truly never went away, are also here in fine form. The biggest oddity here is an OMD (in name only) track sung by the film’s stars, Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman. OMD has been on a roll with their past two albums, so I am bummed this track is about as OMD-ish as Andy McCluskey’s Sugar Tax-era work. But it is a perfectly fine pop song on its own. Who knew Jackman can sing; he should totally do Broadway someday. And lets not forget one final bow for Barlow who c0-wrote many of these songs; he gets on so well with these artists I imagine he could fill his calendar co-writing and producing all of their next albums.

You can pick up Fly: Music Inspired By The Film Eddie The Eagle in the States digitally, or spring for the CD on import which I did. The CD includes lovely liner notes by Barlow.

Book of Love

Book of Love: MMXVI: The 30th Anniversary Collection

Anyone wondering what the “Song of the Summer” for 2016 should be, look no further than the new single by those Lullaby-singing, Boy-crazy, Rose-touchers, Book of Love. ‘All Girl Band’ at first sounds like a Wikipedia-page set to an electric drumbeat, and then the chorus kicks in and your feet will never again touch the ground:

The band is back with a “remastered” (God I hate that word) collection of hits, two new songs and some demos (digital only at this point). I’ll wait for the CD before plunging for the collection but I bought the new songs ala carte on Amazon and damn do I feel like a teenager again. Time to break out their self-titled debut and the classic, Lullaby, to keep the party going.

Pick up every chapter in the Book of Love on Amazon.

New Order Complete Music

New Order • Complete Music

The band might be (Peter) Hook-less, but their monster hook filled 2015 comeback, Music Complete, was one of the year’s best albums. Guest stars like Brandon Flowers (The Killers), Iggy Pop (omni present on a stack of 2016 projects) and Elly Jackson (La Roux) turned Music Complete into a Supernatural for the club kid set.

Complete Music 2With Factory burned to the ground, Mute is the perfect label to appreciate and exploit the full potential of this band as they push into their 5th decade of existence while still sounding like scrappy young upstarts. After the CD was released, fans clamored to buy a 12-inch single box set of extended versions of each song on the album. It quickly sold out, but the songs are finally available on CD in a dapper 2-disc set called Complete Music (the title truly works because the CD includes a free digital download of Music Complete). As the 1987 remix classic Substance proved, New Order are most comfortable in the club setting; each extended track here provides more of a great thing, giving each composition room to breathe and run wild. Still want more? Most of these singles also have their own expanded EP releases featuring even more remixes. Search for em on Amazon and iTunes.

Pick up the 2CD set Complete Music on Amazon.

The Wonder Stuff 30 Goes

The Wonder Stuff • 30 Goes Around The Sun

It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since ‘A Wish Away’ first whisked us into the sound stylings of The Wonder Stuff. The band delivered four perfect albums before imploding in the early 90s; their greatest hits compilation, Had The Beatles Read Hunter… The Singles, ranks up there with the Greatest Hits of Journey and the Eagles in terms of definitive single disc sets. While plenty of odds and sods, expanded re-releases, live sets and BBC Sessions releases scrubbed the Vaults clean, something interesting happened… The Wonder Stuff quietly rose from the dead and kept releasing not-so-quiet new albums, and most of them are bloody brilliant. With singer Miles Hunt keeping the brand, er, I mean the band, in business, the Wonder Stuff has steadily expanded their sound for some two odd decades past their implosion.

The key to their resurrection is violinist Erica Nockalls who joined the band after Hunt’s spotty Stuff-branded Escape From Rubbish Island album in 2004. Her intense, fierce and emotional attack of the instrument provided Hunt with the proper musical and lyrical muse to keep the band’s subsequent releases visceral, exciting and better with every turn. Some albums were credited to The Wonder Stuff (2006’s stellar Suspended by Stars), others to Miles Hunt (the exceptional Not an Exit) and even Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls (Catching More Than We Miss). 30 Goes... continues the tradition of the Stuffies’ trademark violin-fueled English indie guitar rock that’s equally intimate and powerful — big singalong choruses, check; visceral and biting lyrics, of course; intoxicating production, done and done — it’s their 4th album since the resurrection a fitting end to this chapter of Miles Hunt’s hopefully never ending discography.

Pick up 30 Goes Around The Sun from Amazon. Check out a lovely Oxford Mail interview with Hunt to promote their last album, Oh No! It’s The Wonder Stuff!

and finally…

Hollywood Brats

The Hollywood Brats • Sick on You

I’ve seen a lot of press releases in my day, but this one takes the freaking cake:

“Proper, true rock ‘n’ roll. The music is magnificent” – BOB GELDOF

“The Hollywood Brats are the greatest band I’ve ever seen” – KEITH MOON

Drummer wanted. Young, slim, must look, act and think like a star. No beards, no chrome-domes, no fatties.” – so ran The Hollywood Brats’ infamous 1972 advert in Melody Maker. Born out of the imagination of singer Andrew Matheson and his musical ally and partner in grime Casino Steel, the band went on to lay the foundations of what would become punk rock, guzzling up every gallon of glitter juice they could blag and leaving no stiletto unturned along the way. London’s hottest nightspots became their playground, Keith Moon their cheerleader and every record label in town detested them. Freddie Mercury was punched in the face and Malcolm McLaren sent home disappointed as The Brats moved at the speed of light through a London that was doing its best to remember how it’d swung.

The album in question is Sick on You, the 1973 so-called masterpiece that exploded on the launch pad and may have invented punk rock — well, had the inventors not lost the patent and passed out in the alley for the past few decades.

The big question is, with that kind of set-up, is the music holy freaking shit or Utter Shite? Well, I am happy to report Sick on You is THE SHIT. It sounds so good and urgent and modern that I am still debating if this legend is all a fabrication ala the Blair Witch Project. Cherry Red has finally brought the oft-bootlegged original album to the market a mere 40+ years after the fact. Had this been released when The Libertines, the Vines, the Vaccines, etc. were all doing their respective thangs, it would have fit right into the pub punk revival that never stops waking up and throwing up. That The Brarts shot their load BEFORE CBGB’s, the 101’ers, the Sex Pistols, the Lurkers and the whole stinkin’ punk rock lot is amazing. The Hollywood Brats bridge the gap between The Kinks and the Stones of the sixties and the New York Dolls and Dead Boys of the seventies. Singer Andrew Matheson sure as hell moves like Jagger. Over the course of the album and the bonus disc, the band blaze through the whole punk songbook and into an almost Spinal Tap’ian journey of excess including WTF covers like the Crystals’ ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and Dean Martin’s ‘Little Ol’ Wine Drinker Me’.

The album is a riot and the bestselling memoir (Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band) gets an international release this summer, making The Hollywood Brats this year’s fully immersive must-have rock and roll experience.

Buy the CD direct from Cherry Red.