MUSIC PRIMER : ASHES TO ASHES (Episode 4)

Dear readers, a fuller primer for you this week to accompany the rather excellent Episode Four of 'Ashes'. We have three albums and 5 honourable mentions this time. Enjoy.

SPANDAU BALLET
Journeys To Glory
(Chrysalis / Reformation 1981)

After creating a buzz on the London music scene in 1980, where their music was heavily influenced by the Stones and The Kinks, the nascent Spandau Ballet jumped on the coattails of the emerging New Romantic movement to release their first album. The first single, 'To Cut a Long Story Short', which plays over the opening scene of Episode 4, and the album were produced by wunderkind electronic musician Richard James Burgess. The single was a British top 5 hit in 1980. This was followed by two further singles 'The Freeze' and 'Musclebound' in 1981. The album taps into the Roxy/Bowie sound of circa 1978, is full of strident beats, snare drums, spacey synth washes, powerful vocals from Tony Hadley and strong rhythmic guitar. It was danceable stuff, full of chanting choruses but slightly aloof and distanced - a bit like Bowie's 'Station To Station - but it's a fine, coherent album. There is a strong whiff of homoeroticism that flavours the tracks which then emerged in the rather butch video for 'Musclebound' and later in the video for the track 'Paint Me Down' from 'Diamond', their second album. They never seemed at ease with the dressing up and posing bit of New Romanticism and quickly abandoned it and moved on, finding their niche later in 1983 with the slick, soul sentimentalism of 'True'.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE
Dare
(Virgin 1981)

The ultimate template album for the new pop revolution. An amazing blend of envelope- pushing use of new technologies, excellent pop writing and composition and a brilliantly thought out glamour in the visual presentation. But done with an art-pop edge, still intact, from the early days of the League that developed over two inventive albums, 'Travelogue' and 'Reproduction'. An assured masterwork that tapped into the themes of travel, consumerism, alienation, relationships and fame which coalesced in pop of the early 1980s. The second single, 'Love Action' is heard on the radio as Gene and Alex make fake IDs in his allegedly bugged office. It was a huge success topped later that year by the signature song 'Don't You Want Me'. The album shows a band going through a rapid revolution and evolution from the highly experimental into a class song writing team. Stand out tracks, apart from the three singles, are 'Seconds' - a narrative of the Kennedy assassination, 'I Am The Law' - a vision of future law enforcement and 'The Things That Dreams Are Made Of' - a preemptive strike at acquisitional capitalism. And any album that quotes Roy Budd's seminal 'Get Carter' score is surely a winner. Absolutely essential. The influential new pop rules are all here.

THE TEARDROP EXPLODES
Kilimajaro
(Zoo / Fontana 1980)

The stomping 'Reward', all angular guitars and belting brass section, plays as Alex and Gene negotiate the corridors of Edgehampton in search of the elusive Artemis. The fondly remembered single comes from one of their most consistent albums. It's an eclectic blend of dance, almost disco, psychedelic, angular guitar riffs, and a driving horn section, that defined their sound and singer Julian Cope's interests. His vocals are powerful and rich and married to the agit-prop art-rock soundtrack, he provides a snapshot of a parallel post punk aesthetic as opposed to the synth pop of the era. Of all the tracks on the album 'Sleeping Gas', 'Treason', 'Boucing Babies', 'Went Crazy' are the most energetic, full of observational comments and are carried off with great panache. And Cope must be praised for dragging Scott Walker back into spotlight at the same time with his compilation album 'Fire Escape In The Sky'. Heady days, indeed!

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Shakin' Stevens - 'Green Door': Heard on Alex's pink tape deck when she explores the bedroom of her childhood. (Epic 1981)

Duran Duran - 'Girls On Film': Plays during the mass arrest of the feminists at the Met. From the self titled album. (EMI Tritec 1981)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - 'Enola Gay': From the 'Organisation' album, this fine piece of electro-pop is heard on Gene's radio as he and Alex discuss conspiracy theories. (DinDisc Virgin 1980)

The Clash - 'London Calling': Off in the Quattro for a spin to the RWF meeting, this plays as the car speeds through London. (CBS 1979)

The Clash - 'Police and Thieves': Over the end credits. (Island 1977)

Music Primer - Episode Two
Music Primer - Episode One

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