Since we're in an '80s mode in today's Weekend cover story, I thought I'd follow up the music list accompanying Speedy's story with this overview of four recently re-released, digitally remastered and expanded albums of British "new wave" rock.
Re-released albums contain
sounds that defined the 80s
"Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret" by Soft Cell
"Too-Rye-Ay" by Kevin Rowland and Dexy's Midnight Runners
"The Lexicon of Love" by ABC
"The Crossing" by Big Country
(all on Mercury)
By Gary C.W. Chun
Each album contains one hit that helped define the decade's sound. Soft Cell's remake of an obscure soul song originally done by Gloria Jones, "Tainted Love" spent an unprecedented 43 consecutive weeks on American charts. "Come On Eileen" was the last track on the Dexy's Midnight Runners album and the follow-up single after the leadoff track and single, "The Celtic Soul Brothers," did dismally. Buoyed by the quickly growing marketing power of MTV, the song broke the group out worldwide.
The music video format also spurred the success of both ABC ("Poison Arrow") and Big Country ("In A Big Country"). It was a heady time for these acts, but, with the exception of Soft Cell vocalist Marc Almond, they were left out of the spotlight when the '80s ended.
While Soft Cell's synth sound dates "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret's" original 1981 release, the sleazy appeal of the underground late-night/club scene has a seductive spark, alluding to a decadent lifestyle filled with promise and sexual fulfillment. The combination of Almond's nasal voice and Marc Ball's deceptively simple synth playing successfully deliver the lurid appeal of songs such as "Seedy Films" and "Sex Dwarf." But there's a surprisingly reflective nature to songs like "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye," "Secret Life" and the morning-after musings of "Bedsitter."
What makes this album's re-release a welcome one is the bonus addition of the extended club favorite that segues "Tainted Love" into the duo's rendition of The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go."
"Too-Rye-Ay" doesn't have much to offer in comparison. Kevin Rowland's ego is all over this album; the one-time punker fancied himself as an artist in the vein of Van Morrison, taking a cue from soul music, albeit without Morrison's meditative genius.
Rowland was working with a new bunch of Runners, after a reportedly violent disagreement resulted in five of the original members leaving the band. Working within his creative vision, the band costumed themselves as a scruffy lot, complete in overalls, utilizing two fiddlers and a horn section to play songs with a distinctive English/Celtic folk touch.
"Come On Eileen" is really the only memorable song from the album, with other highlights being a faithful cover of Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" and a head-scratching take of MFSB's Philly-soul classic "TSOP" that is one of five bonus tracks.
ABC's 1982 "The Lexicon of Love" is a self-assured production from leadman Martin Fry and producer/studio genius Trevor Horn. It practically luxuriates in its pop song craft, a sweeping production wide in scope. Besides "Poison Arrow," "The Look of Love" and "All of My Heart" are the album's standouts. ABC would continue through the late '80s, but the Fry-led project would never the top the glory of this debut.
The same could be said for Big Country's "The Crossing." Unfortunately, this band would have a tragic end when creative light Stuart Adamson killed himself last December in a hotel room near the Honolulu International Airport.
It was a cruel finale for a band that, with the help of producer Steve Lillywhite, produced such a magnificent and big-hearted album, filled with the pseudo-Scottish bagpipes sounds made by Adamson and Bruce Watson's guitars and the solid rhythmic support of Tony Butler and Mark Brezezicki. This re-release is strengthened with the addition of the "Wonderland" extended-play, its title track on a par or even better than the hit singles "In A Big Country" and "Fields of Fire."
The rousing chorus of "In A Big Country" goes "In a big country dreams stay with you/Like a lover's voice fires the mountainside/Stay alive." It's a shame Adamson's life couldn't live by those words.
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