There’s not much that could make me feel misty-eyed on the last day of the decade. Roxy Music does the trick of pulling out the sentimental feelings, if only because they make me wish that I had lived the past months with more grace, glamour and panache. Yesterday I spent the entire day wearing pajamas – not the sexy kind, the cat hair covered kind – and that is not being panache-ful. I wish I still had the motivation and the wherewithal to burn the town, but I may be irrevocably too old. I wish I’d done more stupid shit, but also, at my age stupid shit stops being cute and starts to look sad-ish. I wish I had better star-crossed romances, and not just the kind that fizzle out from indifference. No regrets, though. Grace, glamour and panache for the new year, then.
It’s a shoegaze kind of a day. Because it’s that purgatorial period between Christmas and New Year when time has become so meaningless that the days feel like they’re clicking backwards. Also it’s wet, cloudy and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, just to make the discombobulation complete. So obviously what I need to hear is a sad drone of the kind the Jesus and Mary Chain purveys. I want music that makes me feel like the days themselves are a sad drone.
You can’t have a conversation about New Wave music, the 80’s, or the joys of Aquanet without a shoutout to Duran Duran, who are the high gods of all of those things. They got there by being the best at what they do. They were the best at melding spiky post-punk rock music with catchy newfangled synthpop. They were good musicians, unlike a lot of their synthpop peers. They had the best suits and the prettiest makeup. Their music videos were the most tastefully risque. And pretty much all of their albums up until a mid-90’s slump laid them low had been consistently good and still hold up.
I recently listened to a new album by a group called Blaqk Audio, and it put it me in mind of the Human League. I can also hear the influence of Human League in now-well established contemporary bands like Ladytron. Which makes me happy. Human League were, for the duration of one album cycle, one of the very best 80’s New Wave bands. With their breakthrough coming in 1981, they were ahead of the wave in their use of robot beats, their mannered vocal style and their asymmetrical haircuts. It is unfortunate that they weren’t able to continue writing material of the same quality as Dare, but they established a mold that many others were quick to copy, and Philip Oakey remains the standard for New Wave vocalists. I find it delightful that this style and image is continually being rediscovered.
Exploring the weird and new is fine, but coming back to the classics is good too. Joe Jackson’s Big World is an album I come back to over and over, and I think that it’s probably one of the most underrated masterpiece-level record of the 1980’s, at least. Joe Jackson is very underrated in general, of course, which is an ongoing tragedy. Among other things, you can credit him for making rock kids take an interest in Jazz. Also, he wrote many incredibly perceptive and on-point songs about the state of the world, which have remained relevant, given people’s general refusal to learn from the past and the world’s refusal to change.
The Cult is another well-known 80’s band that I’ve never listened to before, but I’m trying to broaden my palate, so here they are. When I say I’m broadening my palate, I mean that I’m trying not to become a middle-aged person who only enjoys the same 10 things they enjoyed when they were in college. I was told that I needed to listen to more goth music, so I’ve been doing that, because I definitely missed out on having a goth phase in high school. I like pretentious quasi-mysticism, depression, and black lipstick! No, but I do like the old-school joys of an unironic guitar solo.
No one ever did psychedelic epics quite like Pink Floyd. Which amazingly, they managed to successfully do long after the ‘psychedelic’ descriptor fell out of style. From ‘psychedelic’ to ‘progressive’ to infinity, as they say. Pink Floyd distinguished themselves in the 60’s, when everyone was competing to see just how long of an extended Moog solo they could get people to sit and listen to. By the end of the 80’s the ideals of psychedelia and the ambitions of prog were on no one’s mind, but Pink Floyd was still selling out stadiums, and all despite their own internal rancor and legal wrangles.