First off, Suck It and See is a dumb album title, to American ears at least, though the Arctic Monkeys assure us that in the UK it’s not a rude phrase at all. Two nations divided by one language, as they say. Title aside, though, it’s apparently become one of the essential rock albums of the 2010’s, an era that’s been short on good solid rock and roll. Somebody has to tide rock music through one of its periodic dead spells, and these guys nominate themselves. Hence the greaser hair. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on the fence about Arctic Monkeys for a while, with the suspicion that if the competition were stiffer, they’d be less acclaimed. But they’ve been riding an upwards arc, with increasingly stronger music, and I’ve come around and had to admit they’re a good rock band who don’t really need a caveat. Yes, the world needs a good rock band right now but… Hey, hey, my, my, as the poet said.
It’s a PSA! It’s educational, it’s a warning. It might be a satire of the particularly 80’s trend for cheesy PSA’s. It’s Timbuk 3 and it’s all of those things. Timbuk 3 is the cult 80’s band that everybody needs to know about, but nobody does. They might be remembered for having one popular hit song, which satirized the 80’s glaringly misguided sense of optimism. What makes their small output still relevant is their clever and sardonic writing. Some things are forever marked as products of their time, whether it’s bad production decisions or too-pointed cultural references, but big issues don’t change much, and the human condition changes not at all. Driving poorly, for example, is forever.
Ms Mr should be on your radar of very important electropop groups. You might remember me loving their most recent album, way back in 2015. Of course, I’m waiting for whatever may be next. I just really want to observe someone’s career grow and flourish. I want to see that it’s possible to build a long-term career as a mid-level independent artist who works for their fanbase and themselves and doesn’t rely on the corporate machinery that keeps the biggest superstars pumped full of helium. There’s a lot of promising young groups, and inevitably, most of them will most likely throw in the towel sooner rather than later. I’m not making bets on who will or will not thrive, because that’s mean. Rather, I think it’s great that there’s a platform for so many musicians to promote themselves and find a niche and be rewarded, even on a modest scale, thanks to social media and home technology.
Just one more from my favorite band that nobody’s ever heard of, then I’ll lay off telling you about ThouShaltNot for a little while. This song may be more suitable for enjoying late in the night – you can play it at your next seance! I love the slow-building drama here. It’s almost like a goth power ballad, for anyone out there who still identifies as a goth. Does anybody still do that? When they’re not in high school? I don’t know, there’s probably a flaming hot goth scene right under my nose and I haven’t walked into it yet. I know there’s a club that hosts a vampire night. Let’s go to it.
As a rule, I’m a hardened cynic who looks askance at anything too overtly positive or ingratiating. Uplifting entertainment is essentially manipulative, naive and intellectually shallow, is it not? Anyone who wants to deliver me an uplifting message about hanging in there and being my best self or whatever needs to sneak in the back door reeking of alcohol and herrings. Ahem. Enter Hutz, et al. No group of people has ever smuggled so much positivity under the guise of promoting drunk debauchery than Gogol Bordello. It’s because they know a truth that the general US public has lost sight of or just doesn’t care to admit; a good debauch is a necessity if you want to live a happy healthy life. Debauchery brings people together, builds friendships, starts romances and heals old wounds. There’s nothing more wholesome and good for the soul than a communal alcoholic binge, otherwise known as a party. It’s what ties the ties that bind us.
Billy Idol is like a gleaming Mattel figurine of a punk rocker. He claims he earned his nickname for his ineptitude in school, not his looks, but who’s he kidding? It doesn’t matter that his music is essentially pop, it just makes him the father of all punk-pop and you can’t fault him for also being the father of a million five dollar pleather wristcuffs. Billy Idol is, in his own words, flesh for fantasy, if your fantasies happen to run towards studded leather. And you gotta say “daayymn, boy!” to that. Real punks are gross, but who doesn’t dream about a chiseled shiny one who wears clean leather and doesn’t neglect to freshen up his roots every two weeks?
With that David Bowie blew our heteronormative minds wide open. Again. It was shocking. It still is. There are still a lot of kids out there today – though hopefully not quite as many as there were in 1974 – who desperately need to hear the message that it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl or if you can’t commit to being either; there’s a place for you and someone to love you. And Quaaludes. Dudes and Quaaludes all around for the kids who walk all over the boundaries of gender. Rumour has it that Bowie wrote this sweet love missive for a flame: Jayne County, punk singer, Warhol superstar, cult icon, transgender activist, and very much still alive. I don’t know if that’s true, since County apparently isn’t the type to pursue fame-by-association with someone better known than herself. I’d like to think so, though. Either way, it’s well established that Bowie wasn’t just posturing when he promised to love you no matter what kind of a freak in the eyes of the world you were. He’s the man who knowingly torpedoed his career in America in solidarity with a movement that was just beginning to dare speak its name.