While playing the nostalgia concert circuit — state fairs, package tours and casinos — seems like a depressing way for members of a once iconic band to ride out the latter days of a career, let’s not forget that these bands had what tens of thousands of artists can only dream about — a bonafide hit. The bands have grayed. Their audiences too. Everyone sings along for 90 minutes or so while being transported back to the carefree days of youth. What could be better than that? How about striking gold again?
OMD (The History of Modern) and Devo (Something for Everybody) did it in 2010. Wild Swans (2011’s Coldest Winter in a Hundred Years) and the Ocean Blue (2013’s Ultramarine) soon followed. New Order (Music Complete) and Blancmange (Semi Detached) scored high in 2015, the latter being my “Album of the Year”. ABC (The Lexicon of Love II), Jane Siberry (Angels Bend Closer) and Daniel Ash (Stripped) delivered amazing albums on my 2016 list.
Duran Duran kinda started the trend. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Duran Duran released a stack of albums that ranged from disappointing to underwhelming before defining the “art of the comeback” with 2010’s utterly essential All You Need is Now. Probably the biggest ever comeback was Meat Loaf’s 1993’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell.
Here are the 2017 inductees…
Right Said Fred • Exactly!
Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is one of those few mega hits that never ages and still to this day draws everyone to the dancefloor: punks, preps, Liberal elitists, evangelical Conservatives, kids, grandparents, hipsters and hippies. Can you believe that song has been stuck in your head for 25 years now? While lots of albums and singles followed, most people still know the duo as a wonderful one hit wonder. The re-launch of Right Said Fred began in 2014 when brothers Richard and Fred Fairbass gamely brought the ‘Sexy’ back on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver after it was discovered Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad downloaded their music on iTunes. The spot-on, good humored lyrical update proved they were and still are a class act.
There are some big singles on Exactly!, their first album in ages, most notably the banger anthem, ‘We Are Believers’, and soulful first single, ‘Sweet Treats’. ‘Raining in England’ is a bombastic ballad with Fairbass in full-on Richard Hawley croon mode, it’s a comforting and soothing ode to the tears of Englanders as they tearfully march their way out of Europe. The rest of album rarely strays from the poppier side of ABC, Roxy Music and at times, Paul Anka, and that range suits their croons just fine. ‘Silicon Valley’ very well could be the sequel to ‘Sexy’ where the Freds are still loving the ladies but getting sick of all the shit that comes with the singles scene, “Making love, making babies, I’ve had enough of it’s buts and maybes” and later “I don’t miss that taste of honey, I’m getting tired of you taking all my money.”
With several bonafide smashes on this platter, Right Said Fred deliver several more fun hit wonders into the pop culture hall of fame.
Pick up Exactly! by Right Said Fred this Friday, February 24, on iTunes and Amazon Music.
Wendy James • The Price of the Ticket
Wendy James and Transvision Vamp were to the 80s what Debbie Harry and Blondie were to the 70s — they traded New York for London and took disco, pop, punk, sex, sleaze, and swagger to the top of the charts.
Their debut, Pop Art, was pop perfection — every track either was or should have been a #1 hit. Sophomore Velveteen had some bigger singles but didn’t hold as tightly. Both of these albums were recently reissued with bonus tracks and are well worth tracking down. Final album, Tiny Magnets Versus the Bubble of Babble had its moments but the Vamp party was definitely over. Elvis Costello penned James’ solo debut, Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears, which was either awesome or garbage based on what you thought about Costello’s signature songwriting style (for me, ‘This is a Test’ remains an absolute classic).
I kinda tuned out after that. Looking back now, James has steadily released good music, solo and with the band Racine. But with 2016’s The Price of the Ticket, she roared back to top form with a really edgy and compelling work, a modern record that is drenched in Warhol-era New York.
Ticket is a group effort, with bassist Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) and guitarist Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), listed on the cover. Two member of the Stooges also appear, James Williamson and late sax man Steve Mackay who makes one of his final appearances on the album closer, a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright Ma’.
The Godfathers • A Big Bad Beautiful Noise
The first time I ever went backstage at a gig was when I ran audio for a Cleveland-area syndicated cable access TV show called Alternate Beat (that once featured guest-host Jimmy Zero of the Dead Boys). The Godfathers were headlining Peabody’s Down Under (underrated openers The Nils opened) in support of their monster hit ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’. Even though they looked like dapper tough guy gangsters who wanted to beat the living shit out of you, from what I recall, they were actually really nice guys.
After having a good run of albums and singles into the 90s, the band was sleeping with fishes by 2000 before sequelitis brought back the brand with various lineups from 2008 onward. A Big Bad Beautiful Noise, their first new album in four years, dropped a few weeks ago and just might be their best album yet.
Three of the biggest, best songs of their career some swinging right out of the gate: the title track, ‘Till My Heart Stops Beating’ (one of my favorite songs by any artist this decade), and ‘You Don’t Love Me’. If you still have any breath leftover, the album never stops. The pop hooks are huge, as are the onslaught of guitars from every freaking direction. This is an essential listening for fans of authentic, visceral, singalong modern punk like Dropkick Murphys, Green Day and Rancid. While the Murphs are slowing down a bit on their latest album, the Godfathers still sound like young band with a thundering axe to grind.
Animotion • Raise Your Expectations
Contrary to popular belief, Holly Knight (who wrote more hits for more artists than you could ever imagine) was not the lead singer of Animotion, but she was the lead singer of Device (‘Hanging on a Heart Attack’) which included Animotion singer Paul Engemann. Paul, however, was not the lead singer on Animotion’s biggest hits, ‘Obsession’ and ‘Let it Go’. Those hits were written by Knight, but sung by Astrid Plane and Bill Wadhams. Plane didn’t sing with Engemann on Animotion’s final hit, ‘Room To Move’, that was actress Cynthia Rhodes (Flashdance, Dirty Dancing). Don Kirkpatrick (guitars) and Greg Smith (keyboards) played with all of the above singers on some, but not all, of said hits.
Confused, you won’t be after this week’s episode of Soap… I mean… moving on.
When Animotion reunited for this year’s incredibly awesome, Raise Your Expectations, it was anyone’s guess who would show up to the party. And without Holly Johnson, should anyone bother? The result is a resounding hell yes. Plane, Wadhams, Kirkpatrick and Smith have been touring as Animotion since 2001 along with some new recruits. They clearly got their groove on, because the new album is a stunner.
There isn’t a dud on Raise your Expectations and several of the tracks are bigger and more awesome than their setlist staples. ‘Everything’ is all that and more, it’s a big Trevor Horn/Yes or Asia-style pop song. The title track is a Giorgio Moroder-style dancefloor smash. Big radio pop songs are laced with new wave edginess throughout. By the time Plane-showcase ‘Surrender’ closes out the new tunes, Animotion has more than made their case that they are once again a bonafide modern pop sensation. A remake of ‘Let it Go’ serves as the encore, updating the groove for the Charli XCX generation.
Raise Your Expectations by buying it on Amazon Music and iTunes.
Modern English • Take Me To The Trees
A few weeks ago, Popdose had the honor of premiering a deep album cut from Take Me To the Trees, Modern English’s first new album in 30 years. While ‘Melt With You’ was their one hit with the masses, they had a rich catalog in rotation on college radio in the 80’s. Trees features most of the original members and was co-produced by Martyn Young (Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S).
The album simultaneously sounds like a lost post punk classic from 1983 and something modern from a new indie rock buzz band. Don’t expect any big weepy pop hits, but there are compelling dark and edgy melodies aplenty on the album’s 10 tracks.
The Feelies • In Between
This Friday also marks the arrival of In Between, a brand new album by 80’s indie guitar heroes The Feelies. Popdose’s Rob Ross reviewed it last week, which got me really excited about the disc (their first in 6 years, hot on the heels of a second wave of expanded reissues) that coincides with their 40th anniversary. R.E.M. cited the band as an influence for good reason. While they hail from New Jersey, they always fit into my college radio (WKSR, Kent State University baby) playlists alongside jangly English guitar bands like The June Brides, Inspiral Carpets and the Boo Radleys. In Between even starts out with the crackle of a vinyl record to set your brain back to the right frequency. The title track starts and ends the record, everything else comes in between. The latter ‘In Between’ is a 9-minute guitar jam that will tide over fans until their next live gig. In Between isn’t a big record by design, but it surely sweeps you into its landscape of dreamy guitars. 40 years well spent.
Pick up In Between this Friday (2/24) on iTunes and Amazon.