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.
Marianne Faithfull’s entire career is built on songs about being sad, starting when she was a teenager with very little to be sad about. She’s gained plenty of sorrows in the meantime, though, making her a perfect traveling companion for people who love to be sad. I’m not saying that I love to be sad, or that anyone should wallow in sadness just for the sake of being contrary, but… But it’s healthy to accept that sadness is part of life, and it’s something that you, a human being, are going to cycle in and out of, sometimes for years, so learn to take it for whatever beauty or inspiration you can find. It’s accepted wisdom, anyway, that there’s been more, better art created by people trying to navigate their way through sadness than by happy people. Happy people like to just sit there and smell the daisies or whatever. When you’re happy you don’t need to justify or explain it or somehow hammer it into something more meaningful. It’s sadness that needs to justify itself by being creativity juice or forming into pearls of wisdom or providing that big breakthrough in therapy that makes everything else make sense all of a sudden. Therefore we treasure sad music for making our sadness sound more like a state of grace and not so much senseless and overwhelming.
It’s impossible to imagine Mick Jagger ever being anyone’s ‘slave’. Not even in a kinky sex way. Nor is it a good metaphor for romantic relations, because, you know. But it is a good jam, and good jams don’t have to make sense. You don’t make sense of energy and chemistry, you just either feel those things or you don’t. The magic of The Rolling Stones has always been in their combined chemistry together. They somehow make great jams happen even when they don’t actually have any good ideas, or when they’re not speaking to one another. That’s why they can turn a handful of previously rejected outtakes and polish it into a classic album. It is utterly inexplicable. But thank God.
Nico is the voice of your sexiest nightmares, the kind you wake up from feeling clammy and disturbed. Discovering Nico is like sliding down a very scary rabbit hole. Her music sounds so apocalyptic because it appears she was living her own personal apocalypse her whole life. That means, for those who knew her, that she was a nasty and depressing person to be around. For her fans, she reached straight into the dark corners of their dreams. There’s something seductive about that, a comforting sense that one can hit the darkest bottom and live there with ease, even thrive, if you’re willing to throw away convention.
Black Uhuru is my favorite reggae band. I like being able to say that; it impresses people who really care about reggae. I would hate people to think I’m a basic bitch who only listens to Legend by Bob Marley. I need them to know that I’m the kind of insufferable person who communicates entirely in obscure music references. Anyway, it’s not because I actually really want to impress that one guy or whoever. I can admit that I don’t, in fact, know that much about reggae music. There’s a world of it that I don’t know about. Everything after about 1990 is a blank map to me. And it would be cool if someone offered to educate me about it.
Everybody knows and loves that one song by UB40 – the one about drinking red wine, which we all relate to a lot – but God forbid you think they’re a one hit band. These guys have 18 albums, they’ll have you know. I can’t say I’ve even heard of all of them, but I am very partial to their early 80’s work. Though they may have that one radio-staple big hit, and a reasonable reputation, I still think of them as very much a cult band. And though you may not think of the 80’s as a great era for reggae music, thanks to groups like UB40 and Black Uhuru, it was. Also, of course, the UK ska thing was still a big deal. So yeah, 80’s reggae is very much a thing. A mini-subgenre, if you will.