All posts filed under: Lost in the ’80s

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BOXSET REVIEW: ALCATRAZZ, “The Ultimate Fortress Rock Set” (6 CD set)

A brief history of one of the better heavy bands of the early ’80’s – and one which even captured my imagination (having been a fan of Graham Bonnet when he was in Rainbow):  Alcatrazz were formed in 1981 (allegedly in Graham Bonnet’s garage) and recorded three studio and one official live album before spiltting in 1987. They reformed in 2006, trading under the moniker of ‘Alcatrazz featuring Graham Bonnet’, mainly to tour Japan, but also played some gigs on the West Coast. A further version, Escape from Alcatrazz, toured Japan last year. These six discs are for hardcore Alcatrazz fans since it contains the entire studio output, plus various live offerings both on CD and DVD, and numerous bonus tracks and rarities – some available for the first time. here The anthology kicks off with the classic debut album, released in 1983, No Parole for Rock and Roll, which has a predictably negative history of its own, due to the record label’s problems (Rocshire, distributed by RCA). The line-up for this release was (ex-Rainbow …

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BOXSET REVIEW: PAUL MCCARTNEY, “Pure McCartney” (various editions)

  What can you really say that hasn’t already been said about Paul McCartney?  This isn’t some “rock critic” trying to dissect the now 46-year solo career of the greatest (still living) pop musician of all time; this is simply an assessment of a very fine, albeit flawed, comprehensive compilation of the man’s works, picked by him. I plumped for the 4-disc, hardcover book edition of Pure McCartney and it is, indeed, quite a treasure trove that goes from 1970’s McCartney all the way to 2013’s New.  Of course, I find it flawed because aside from some glaring omissions which are personal favorites, he did leave off several essential tracks (certainly “My Brave Face” or “This One” from 1989’s Flowers In The Dirt should have been here or “Hope Of Deliverance” from 1993’s Off The Ground could have found a spot).  Nonetheless, according to the press release: ‘”Me and my team came up with the idea of putting together a collection of my recordings with nothing else in mind other than having something fun to …

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ALBUM PREMIERE: LOVESPEAKE, “DNA”

We’re going to do something a little different – rather than a straight review, we’re going to premiere for you the debut album from Norway’s Lovespeake.  And if giving you all ten songs isn’t enough, we’re also including their video for “DNA”. Very ’80’s in their groove and production, the overall feel is warm and breezy – really, a perfect album for the start of the summer season.  Tracks like “DNA”, “Sundive”, “U” and “Can You Feel The Love?” are all ripe to be the soundtrack at the beach. If you like (or love) the ’80’s, you’ll be glad a band like Lovespeake are around.  They’ve done their homework and studied well.  Elements of Scritti Politti, China Crisis, Heaven 17 and The Style Council (!) color this collection of songs just right. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED DNA is available now https://www.facebook.com/lovespeake/?fref=ts  

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ALBUM REISSUES: THE CUCUMBERS, “The Fake Doom Years”

I suppose I could go on and on as to why you should immediately download (buy it first, dammit  – these people have families and homes!)  The Cucumbers’ newly released digital compilation of their entire Fake Doom Records output from the ’80’s, the aptly titled The Fake Doom Years.  Start with the fact that these are great, classic, clever pop songs with a sense of humor, intellect, natural-ness, charm and heart.  One of the most wonderfully striking things about The Cucumbers was their unpretentiousness, which came across clearly.  Once you’re immersed in the songs, you’ll understand immediately how good this band was. Coming from the legendary Hoboken scene, The Cucumbers, driven by Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried, first struck a chord with me by way of their highly-infectious single “My Boyfriend” around 1983 or so – I can remember hearing it on the radio and thinking, “yes – neat – cool”.  I saw them a few times at various venues (including, of course, Maxwell’s).  But here are the facts – this compilation has 19 tracks; …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BLUE ORCHIDS, “The Once And Future Thing”

Once upon a band called The Fall, Martin Bramah was the original guitarist in this most important and seminal Manchester group.  But the overwhelming directing fist of Mark E. Smith dictated otherwise and Bramah left along with original keyboard player, Una Baines, to form The Blue Orchids.  While The Blue Orchids have had their stops and starts over the last 37 or so years, Bramah has seen fit to reform the band with a new line-up, a series of re-issues and a brand new album, The Once And Future Thing.  And for someone who’s been around for as long as Bramah has, he still has a lot of the youthful energy that makes this a fun and interesting listen. Opening with the very mid-’60’s/garage-y “Good Day To Live”, things are off on a very high level; catchy and driving, with the right dash of snarling punk-y vibes for good measure.  “Jam Today” has a late-period Kinks feel and is equally catchy and “Motorway” definitely harkens back to Bramah’s days with The Fall (think “Bingo Master’s …

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BOOK REVIEW: GARY SHAIL, “I Think I’m On The Guest List”

I’m not someone who would ever think to buy and read an autobiography by an actor; it’s usually not in my crosshairs of interest for reading when it comes to non-fiction.  Even reading autobiogs by rock musicians is a difficult and daunting task – I think I only ever liked one.  But every now and then, you stumble across something that just looks and sounds interesting and intriguing, so you move out of your comfort zone. Such is the case with I Think I’m On The Guest List, written by British actor Gary Shail.  I’ve known about Mr. Shail as he is one of the stars of (conceivably) my all-time favorite movie, Quadrophenia.  Because I hold that film so personally and by happenstance, finding out that he’d written his own story, I thought “this could be interesting.”  I bought a copy and I have to say, with no other criteria to go on, I’m glad I did. More often than not, celebrity autobiographies are filled with the kind of bluster that makes me inevitably hate …

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ALBUM REVIEW: GRAYSHOT, “Borders”

This Minneapolis trio, consisting of two brothers, Aaron (guitars/keys/vocals) and Christian (bass/keys/vocals) Ankrum and Reese Kling (drums) deliver their sophomore effort and I’m liking what I’ve heard – once again, trading on the warm soundscapes of ’80’s synth-pop and veering but never plunging into modern theatre-pop/rock, which is Borders‘ saving grace. “Far From Me” has all the right textures of a great lost China Crisis track – something out of 1982 in all the ways I appreciate – pure ’80’s synth; “Echo” is a little more modern pop friendly, but has enough restraint that it remains a quality song and doesn’t go into bombast and “Opposites” is a sharp, taut, pop song with a capital “pop” (and this track shines with great production) – easily has hit potential by its radio-friendly timbre.  “In Control” has some shades of Joy Division (because of its tempo) but the melody is bright, which would lead it more to a New Order-influenced piece; “Mystery” is another excellent and interesting track, as it starts as an acoustic-strummed number but then …

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E.P. REVIEW: STEREO OFF, “The Long Hot Winter”

Quite a dynamic mix of influences and sounds on this second effort from New York’s Stereo Off.  The Long Hot Winter is five songs of diversity, melody and some of the best production standards I’ve heard in years.  The balance and mix of everything is just right – guitars, drums, a throbbing bass, crisp vocals and bubbly synthesizers make a heady stew and gets you in its grasp immediately.  It has that vintage sound but the quality is in the now. Starting with “Hotel Mirror”, my first impression is an updated take on what The Human League were doing back in 1982; subsequently, “Automated” made me think of the better tracks by the League’s counterparts, Heaven 17 – audioscapes with funky guitars and multi-layered vocals.  Do I wax nostalgic?  Indeed I do, and enjoying every musical morsel this young band offers.  “Supercooler” spins it in a different direction; heavy on the drums and faster on the tempo in a mixture of Wire/Gang Of Four styles (albeit less abrasive) and “Redesign” rolls it all together, especially …

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DVD REVIEW: ADAM ANT, “The Blueblack Hussar”

What can one say about someone who was as entertaining and enjoyable as Adam Ant; when he and the (second version) Ants came upon these shores in 1980 with “Antmusic” and “Dog Eat Dog”, it was impossible not to get a kick out of those songs.  Their look was different; they had a certain charm, style and playfulness about them and they knew how to write a catchy hook.  While Ant’s moment in the sun faded by the late ’80’s, I always sing along whenever any of the Ants tracks (or “Friend Or Foe”) comes on the radio. Over the last five or so years, Adam Ant has found himself unfortunately in the British headlines at times, due to what has been found to be emotional problems (I’m trying my best to be diplomatic and sensitive to what the man has gone through).  Somehow, starting in 2012, he decided to try and stage a comeback in England.  During this comeback period, filmmaker Jack Bond began filming Mr. Ant as he prepared to do shows, rehearsed …

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FILM REVIEW: “Spandau Ballet – Soul Boys Of The Western World”

I will make no apologies for what I am about to say:  I loved Spandau Ballet and I still think their albums – especially the first two – are classics of the early ’80’s.  From the moment I first heard “To Cut A Long Story Short” in ’80, ’81, I was a fan.  Granted, as time went by and their albums didn’t seem to have the same quality (I seemed to stop paying attention around Through The Barricades), they faded from my memory – and it seems from a lot of other peoples, as well as the charts.  Certainly, aside from the success of “True” and “Gold”, they didn’t have the same star-factor as they did elsewhere.  Nonetheless, as the ’80’s ended, it seemed so did Spandau.  I’d heard over the years about their self-inflicted lawsuit against songwriter Gary Kemp; there were bits and pieces but no band, so they seemed to be a relic of the ’80’s. In 2009, it was announced the band were reforming for a British tour and a new compilation …

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Bangles, “Ladies And Gentlemen… The Bangles” (download only)

Having been a fan of The Bangles from the moment I first heard “The Real World” sometime in late ’82, I was always curious-to-irritated as to why the five song E.P., which was originally released by Faulty Products, then re-issued by I.R.S. Records (the parent label) was never put on CD – never included in any Bangles compilations and so on.  Certainly, “The Real World” was an instant classic and to me, the track that put The Bangles on the map.  So since the advent of compact discs and then digital, those five songs from their earlier, more garage/”Paisley Underground”-era have been missing in action – that period when the delightful Annette Zilinskas played bass and The Bangles were on the road with the likes of The English Beat and R.E.M. Happy to say that The (re-formed) Bangles have seen fit to finally issue those five great songs, along with some other gems and lost treasures on a new download compilation, Lades And Gentlemen…  The Bangles, through their own resurrected DownKiddie imprint.  This “album” includes …

Lost in the ’80s: Fields of the Nephilim

My colleague John Hughes has graciously let me take the wheel today for this edition of Lost in the ’80s. Fields of the Nephilim were the gothedelic deathrock cowboys of the apocalypse – dressed in cobwebby dusters, cowboy hats, and spurs – they delivered a string of singles and three solid albums before riding off into the sunset. (Sorry!) To achieve their trail-worn appearance, the Nephs famously rolled around in piles of flour. To dust their dusters, as it were. According to legend, they were late for a gig when a local constable raised an eyebrow at their suspicious sack of King Arthur all-purpose.

Lost in the ’80s: Culture Club, “Mistake No. 3”

It must have sucked to be a non-Boy George member of Culture Club.  Well, except for Jon Moss, who was actually sucking a member of Culture Club.  Okay, cheap shot.  But seriously, here you are, finally realizing your dreams of being in a hugely popular rock band and, to paraphrase Roy Hay in the group’s Behind the Music special, you’re stuck in the middle of a gay soap opera. Besides the lead singer and drummer having screaming fits in hotel hallways, you’d also have to deal with the pressure of your label demanding a third album of original material in as many years.  And to top it all off, your singer and visual focal point of the band has become a raging coke head.  Is it any wonder your third album was a comparative failure to the first two? Culture Club’s Waking up with the House on Fire was aptly named, since the band was in a shambling mess of an emergency.  After their first two multi-platinum smashes and several hit singles, expectations were extremely …

Lost in the ’80s: The Fixx, “Deeper and Deeper”

The most rock-radio acceptable of the new-wave acts (with the possible exception of the Cars and the Police), the Fixx were always unfairly slammed as a producer’s band, the mere playthings of Rupert Hine, who buffed their angular, jagged sound to an airwaves-friendly sheen. I never quite understood how this was considered an insult — why should the Fixx feel slighted because they found a great producer who knew what to do with them? Isn’t that the point of a producer? By 1984 the partnership had borne two gold albums, one platinum album, three Top 40 hits, and a few AOR staples. In fact the Fixx and Hine were producing material at such a quick clip that one of their better songs ended up as a cut on the Streets of Fire soundtrack (which was discussed here) as well as the B-side on Phantoms’s first single, “Are We Ourselves?” “Deeper and Deeper” was an oddity on that 1984 film’s soundtrack alongside overwrought Jim Steinman productions and Dan Hartman’s schlocky “I Can Dream About You.” A …

Lost in the ’80s: Freddie Mercury, “Love Kills”

In 1984, famed disco producer Giorgio Moroder got it into his head that Fritz Lang’s silent 1927 masterpiece Metropolis needed to be restored with colored tint, a new edit, and heck, a new soundtrack filled with the hottest pop and rock artists of the day.  And who else to produce that soundtrack than, say, Giorgio Moroder? With a line-up including Pat Benatar, Jon Anderson, Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler, Billy Squier and, er, Loverboy, all produced by Moroder, the Metropolis soundtrack could have been a train wreck for the ages.  Strangely enough though, it’s a pretty compelling listen, as Moroder pushes these artists into new places, while they return the favor for the sequencer-obsessed Italian.  The best-known and probably best song on the set was Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s “Love Kills,” (download) which was released as a single and video to promote the reissued movie.  Continuing the electronic experimentation Queen dabbled with on The Works, released that same year, “Love Kills” would have sat nicely on that album right next to “Radio Ga Ga.”

Lost in the ’80s: The Unforgiven, “I Hear the Call”

It never hurt to have a visual hook to get on MTV in the ’80s.  From Bananrama and Dexys Midnight Runners’ hobo-chic, to Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran’s new romantic ruffles, a cool gimmick was sometimes all a band needed to get them over some middling material. This was certainly the case with the Unforgiven, a power-pop/alterna-country/cowpunk act from California’s Inland Empire.  Dressed up in their best Western gear, the group emerged from the ashes of a more straight-ahead Cali punk act, the Stepmothers.  A little U2, a little Alarm, and a lot of look, the Unforgiven signed to Elektra Records and immediately set out to get their visual inspiration, Clint Eastwood, to direct their first video – a move they’d soon regret. According to the bio on their website, the group had their agents at CAA send Eastwood a copy of their album in an effort to secure his directorial duties for their lead single, “I Hear The Call.” (download) Clint politely declined, but kept the album and allegedly ripped off the cover photo, …

Lost in the ’80s: Ultravox

The recent release of a cleaned up and remastered Ultravox greatest hits compilation (including a bonus DVD with all the Midge Ure-era videos) got me thinking about how much I used to love this band, despite their being so serious all the time. Despite hooks and squiggly synths galore, Ultravox seemed to be consumed with capital-A Art.  From the somewhat pretentious nature of their lyrics (“The Voice,” “Vienna,” “The Thin Wall,” etc., etc.), to the lavish and sumptuously shot videos, the group seemed to always be on a quest to make a grand statement.  The lighter side of Ultravox’s talent seemed to be saved for Ure and Billy Curry’s work with Visage, the New Romantic vehicle for Blitz Kid Steve Strange.  But thankfully, every so often Ultravox would prove they weren’t completely devoid of humor or whimsy. To be fair, they proved this pretty early during the Ure era with “All Stood Still,” (download) the fourth single from Vienna, the band’s first album to feature Midge.  Copping Devo right down to the simply Mothersbaugh-esque vocals …

Lost in the ’80s: Thompson Twins

There are certain acts and albums I absolutely adored in my younger days in the ’80s that I don’t quite care for now. One of these groups is the Thompson Twins, the New Wave trio that broke into the charts big time with the 1984 single “Hold Me Now” and its album, Into The Gap.  As a high-school sophomore, I wore out my copy of Gap, but I really loved their 1982 effort, Side Kicks, which featured “Lies” and “Love On Your Side.” But while Side Kicks still holds some appeal, I really could go the rest of my life never hearing “Hold Me Now” or “Doctor, Doctor” again.  So, when I came across the new, deluxe remastered editions of both albums that came out late last year, I didn’t exactly rush to purchase Into The Gap.  But after staring at for a few months each time I went to the record store (remember those?) I finally broke down and bought it.  And I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.  Again. “Sister …

Lost in the ’80s: Wide Boy Awake

Here’s an example of a great song that couldn’t be confined to a B-side. Wide Boy Awake was Adam & the Ants bassist Kevin Mooney’s first project after splitting from the Ants following 1980’s Kings of the Wild Frontier. While his new group only released a handful of tracks, two became club hits, one of which is still fondly remembered and played on “retro” club nights to this day. “Chicken Outlaw” (1982) was not that song.  It was, however, the first official Wide Boy Awake single and did fairly well in the UK, charting decently and getting the band on a few TV shows where they mimed the song in the usual fashion. It also got some scant airplay on new-wave radio stations and in progressive clubs in America, but it wasn’t exactly the group’s best tune. Wide Boy Awake’s best song was hidden on “Chicken Outlaw’s” flip side, just waiting to be spun: “Slang Teacher” is a funky new-wave number that couldn’t be denied, as club DJs gladly flipped the disc to spin this …

Lost in the ’80s: Peter Godwin, “Baby’s in the Mountains”

We’ve talked about Peter Godwin’s great lost art-rock combo, Metro, in a Lost in the ’70s post in the not-too-distant past, but most people who have a passing knowledge of Godwin’s work are probably most familiar with his 1982 single and MTV hit, “Images of Heaven.” While “Images of Heaven” wasn’t exactly a huge radio hit (it peaked at #105 on the Billboard “Bubbling Under” chart), the video got a few spins on MTV and many more in video bars and clubs with its more “adult” edit. “Images of Heaven” has gone on to become a new-wave favorite, popping up on a few ’80s compilations here and there, most notably as part of Rhino Records’ essential Just Can’t Get Enough series. Not as immediate as “Images,” it took me quite a while to warm to Godwin’s next single, “Baby’s in the Mountains” (download). In fact, it’s one of those songs I never really cared for when it was originally out, but I grew to appreciate it as the years went on. That pre-chorus is something …

Lost in the ’80s: Shakespears Sister, “Break My Heart/Run Silent”

When Siobahn Fahey left Bananarama in 1988, most people probably never expected to hear from her again.  For Fahey to return to music with a goth look fronting a Siouxsie Sioux-influenced dance/electro combo was probably the most unexpected thing of all.  But in 1988, Fahey’s solo project, Shakespear’s Sister (originally with an apostrophe, later without) released its debut album, Sacred Heart, and single, “Break My Heart.” A double A-side in the UK (teamed with “Heroine,” the first US single), “Break My Heart (Copa Mix)” (download) failed to chart.  It didn’t do much better as the second US single, but a nice remix made some minor club noise and the video was pretty to look at: I much preferred the 12-inch’s B-side, “Run Silent (Revolution Mix)” (download) that featured saving grace Marcella Detroit, who would soon become a full-fledged member of the band, making Shakespears Sister a duo.  The dance mix featured above is a driving alternative to the equally fine, if calmer album mix used in the video.

Lost in the ’80s: Total Coelo

As much as I adore the inherent goofiness that is new wave — the guyliner, the overwrought posing, the one-finger keyboard technique — sometimes I must admit some acts come dangerously close to goofy overload, camping it up far too much for even my appreciative sensibilities. Luckily, Total Coelo are not one of those acts (ha, fooled ya). A quintet of five marginally talented females wrapped in plastic bags and latex, Toto Coelo (rechristened “Total” Coelo in the United States to prevent any confusion with Toto — like that would happen) took their name from the Latin for “Heaven wide.” While the trashy, tongue-in-cheek material producer Barry Blue provided for the ladies was anything but heavenly, they had a Showgirls-level charm that laid the foundation for the Spice Girls. Their goofy apex had to be their only charting hit in the U.S., “I Eat Cannibals Part 1” (download), which contains the immortal lyrics: All I wanna do is make a meal of you We are what we eat, you’re my kind of meat Got a …