MUSIC PRIMER : ASHES TO ASHES (1)

In celebration of the return of the Gene Genie to our telly boxes I intend to provide a quick little music primer for those of you watching the series and wanting to know where some of the tracks came from. We start this week with four albums and a couple of honourable mentions:

ULTRAVOX
Vienna
(Chrysalis 1980)

A new line up for a new album in 1980. After the departure of John Foxx, band members Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann continued with the band but with Midge Ure installed as lead vocalist. 'Vienna' moves away from the clinical synthetics of the Foxx albums and becomes a merging of pioneering electronics and rock. Currie's electronic treatments (the violins and guitars are particularly mutated and to the fore) echo much of his participation in Gary Numan's touring band and provide that signature sound of his - screeching synths sounding like howling guitars - whilst Ure infuses some life into the vocals and adds his own pop sensibilities to the mix. Produced by Conny Plank, the influences from bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk permeate the sound. The single 'Vienna', as heard in the first episode of 'Ashes To Ashes'. is one of the highlights of this album and cemented their popularity and is used in the episode for the sequence where Alex wakes up in 1981 and wanders through the party on the boat and it was also used extensively on the 40 second trailer for the series. Other stand out tracks are 'Sleepwalk', 'Mr. X' (with some nightmarish vocals from Warren Cann and a nod to John Foxx himself) and 'Waiting' with its squal of guitars and synths. Essential.

DURAN DURAN
Duran Duran
(EMI Tritec 1981)

'Careless Memories' is used briefly to introduce the arrival of Gene in the Quattro and a lengthier section was played over Chris and Shaz getting caught by the villains on the stake out. The track was one of the singles from Duran Duran's first album, now rather neglected as a song in the set-list on their tours (they were excellent live, by the way) but, none the less, a classic slice of the Birmingham band's 'Second British Invasion' output. It's also a great little album with some fine songs beyond the obvious singles with the standouts being 'Night Boat', 'To The Shore' and 'Friends Of Mine' which indicate a very mature songwriting team. Produced by Colin Thurston, it includes synth, sci-fi, pop-rock anthems such as 'Planet Earth', 'Anyone Out There' and the cheeky 'Girls On Film'. They were, at the time, all New Romantic, frilly shirts, bouffant hairdos and make up and the sound is clearly influenced by the art-pop of Blondie, Bowie and Roxy Music. This still sounds fresh and uplifting and one of my favourite tracks is the less obvious instrumental 'Tel Aviv' which is a stunning mix of strident strings and swirling synthesisers that encapsulates and signifies their later obsessions with 'travelogue pop' that would result in their acclaimed videos for the massive follow up album 'Rio'.

DAVID BOWIE
'Scary Monsters...And Super Creeps'
(RCA 1980)

Quite simply...the pinnacle of Bowie's achievements to that point in his career. Every subsequent Bowie album has had to measure up to this and he's probably very tired of hack journalists repeating the 'best album since 'Scary Monsters' line ever since. It is a superb piece of work and the 'Ashes To Ashes' single from it is obviously at the centre of the series conception. Alex and the gunman Layton both quote the chorus/chant of the song...'I'm happy, hope you're happy too' and a portion of the song is played over Alex's nightmare which ends with the discovery of the clown in the wardrobe. The iconic pierrot clown figure, as originally played by Bowie in David Mallet's stunning promotional video, appears throughout the series, signifying a 'death' figure. The album, which also contains the singles 'Fashion' and 'Scary Monsters', is a blistering assault of densely layered, funk-rock disco full of dark lyrics, harsh observations and a primal release of built up angst. He hurls various brickbats at the inequalities of the world, acknowledges the difficulty of being an ageing 'pop star' and works out the remaining psychoses of his recuperation from the cocaine binges of the mid-70s. It's aggressive, troubling and strange, with layers of guitar, synths, instrumental and vocal treatments, and yet manages to straddle both rock and pop in a very inventive way. Stand out tracks include, 'Teenage Wildlife', where he basically tells the likes of Numan, Strange and the rest of the New Romantic bandwagon to sod off, the bittersweet 'Because You're Young' and the political 'Scream Like A Baby'. It signaled the end of his relationship with RCA, the end of a long period of experimentation with sounds and compositional forms and gave us a hint of the commercial thrust of his follow up albums and career. Gloriously and uniquely David Bowie. Really, if you haven't got this in your collection by now then you shouldn't consider yourself alive!

TUBEWAY ARMY
'Replicas'
(Beggars Banquet 1979)

Ah....the pretender to the throne. A huge 'Bowie casualty', as he and many, many others would be labeled in the 1980s, beginning as Tubeway Army and later becoming a solo artist, Numan took the innovative sonic experiments of Bowie's Berlin albums, 'Low' and '"Heroes"', pinched a great deal of the synth art-rock stance from Ultravox's 'Systems Of Romance' and the robotic rhythms of Kraftwerk's 'Man Machine' and melded them into this minimal, post-punk, dark zone of sci-fi lullabies. Like Foxx, he grabbed onto the themes of isolation and alienation, took cues from Burroughs, Dick and Ballard and then swathed them in a rather inviting synthesiser rock sound. The iconic status of 'Are Friends Electric?' is not in dispute and plays over the scene where Alex searches in the equipment room for radios. It's ironic that Chris describes the room as 'Tomorrow's World' as that is pretty much how Numan's music was often seen at the time. The music of the future. Numan isn't one of the New Romantics at this stage as he fits more into the post-punk era where experimental sounds and the merging of disco and punk took place. Stand out tracks include the surreal futurism of 'Down In The Park' and 'Praying To The Aliens'. A great album that hints at the astute refinements to come in the later 'Pleasure Principle' and 'Telekon' albums.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

The Passions - 'I'm In Love With A German Film Star': This evocative song plays over the scene where Alex arrives at the wine bar for 'lunch'. Released as a single in 1981.

The Stranglers - 'No More Heroes': Plays over the speedboat entrapment of Layton. From the 1977 album of the same name.

The Clash - 'I Fought The Law': Can be heard as Alex and Gene drive towards the docks. From the 1979 US issue of 'The Clash' album.

Roxy Music - 'Same Old Scene': This plays as Alex resignedly sits at the bar and Gene pours her a drink. From the 1980 'Flesh + Blood' album.

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