Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Simple Minds - Love Song / Heaven 17 - Play to Win / Ultravox - The Thin Wall / John Foxx - Europe After the Rain / OMD - Souvenir

I Love 1981 - pt 17
A veritable feast of great new "comeback" singles suddenly all came out around this time of the year in 1981, so many in fact that it's hard to keep up with proper reviews, so we've grouped them together with a few lines for each, for now, in the hope of being able to do them justice at a later date.
Glasgow's Simple Minds were still very much on the fringe of things before this year (their big break would come in 1982), although the new single and parent albums Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call (yes, two albums) placed them firmly in the new dance / electronic pop-rock grouping as already so boldly established by Ultravox and others. Although much played by Kid Jensen in his evening programme, as with earlier 1981 release The American, Love Song failed to make the Top 40 although ensured they got their share of the dance floor-space in the trendier clubs. The albums remain often overlooked masterpices so check 'em out if you haven't done so already.

Emerging from their grim-up-north Sheffield studios, Heaven 17 went all out pop/funk to produce the jaunty Play to Win, a taster of their forthcoming album Penthouse & Pavement. It was a departure from the rather more serious agit-pop/funk predecessors Fascist Groove Thing and I'm Your Money although like them failed to make the charts. There was however a brave and rarely seen TOTP appearance as "bubbling under" or something, with Martyn Ware on guitar. We'll come back to Penthouse & Pavement at a later date. You can well imagine Ware/Gregory/Wright gnashing their collective teeth as fellow Sheffielders and former band mates The Human League were already storming the charts with their second hit Love Action, and causing quite a stir.

No strangers to the charts however were Ultravox, with Midge Ure at the helm, and after practically establishing a whole new genre with Vienna proceeded very nicely with their follow-up The Thin Wall, a jagged and jerky pop tune which, although not one of their best over the years, did its job very well it getting them firmly back on the map as pioneering electro-rockers. In hindsight, perhaps not their most accessible single, but the whole track shows off their competence as musicians, modern composers and techno-aces and Ure's vocal leaves any imitators literally breathless. Still not quite sure what The Thin Wall is all about but you just gotta love the line "they shuffle with a bovine grace and glide in syncopation.." Ridiculously pompous, but brilliant.
Again it was a preview of their upcoming new album Rage in Eden which would enter the charts at no. 4 a few weeks later. More of that meisterwerk anon.

And speaking of Ultravox, founder of said band John Foxx, after practically inventing the pure electro-pop artist genre, inspiring newcomers like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell etc to get up and do their thing with a few synths and a drum machine, promptly turned his back on pure electronics at least, got out his acoustic guitar, frilly shirt and baggy trousers and started to go all Italianate-Byron 'retro-romantic' ( I just invented that). Europe After the Rain is bouncy and tuneful enough to fit in with modern trends but was a long way from the dark and dank Underpass and Ballardian soundscapes of 1970's Metamatic which so many had already loved him for. As with Numan's foray into funk, many were alienated from John-Foxx-as-synth-god and duly abandoned him, although it could be debated that Foxx was merely going back to his Ultravox days of Systems of Romance - full circle. Another memorable TOTP appearance here but, alas, another non-starter chartwise, just scraping the no.40 spot.
Ensuing album The Garden was much of the same (if not worse), save for the title track and Systems of Romance, obviously revived from his Ultravox days. But we'll come back to that.

And lastly, and certainly not leastly, a record that suddenly seemed to sweep them all away during those heady end of summer days was the comeback single by OMD, or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to friends. Emerging from their own Gramophone Suite studios, their slow and sloppy Souvenir was pumped out left right and centre by everyone from Peter Powell to Steve Wright on Radio 1 (although eveidently they were no longer loved by their champion John Peel) and is even reported to have been played on Radio 2..God forbid! That was the music your parents listened to! But no matter, the song had the appeal of both a smooch friendly tunes for couples, and dreamy would-be lovers but somewhow retained OMD's appeal of being just a tad different from your average "new wave" pop group, and not just because of their cumbersome name. Although they had been practically absent since the success of Enola Gay several months hence, Messrs Humphreys & McCluskey (the former providing vocals here) took just a couple of weeks to get to no. 3 in the charts and establish one of the best known pop tunes of the 80s.
Like most OMD videos, the one for Souvenir is deadly embarassing, inspired perhaps by the fashionable Brideshead Revisited, so here's a much better TOTP performance with the unique line up which included Martin Cooper (who wrote the song with Humphreys) on sax and Mike Douglas on, er, glockenspiel, who it seems stayed around just for this single.

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