MUSIC PRIMER : ASHES TO ASHES (Episodes 5 and 6)

Apologies readers if I've been slow at posting up further music primers for 'Ashes To Ashes'. But here we are with a very quick update. Again, I've highlighted certain albums and listed the rest of the tracks in each episode as honourable mentions. Tracks for Episode 7 will appear shortly.

Enjoy.

EPISODE 5

SIMPLE MINDS
Empires And Dance
(Virgin 1980)

Before stadiums were a gleam in Jim Kerr's eye, this was their third studio album and demonstrated how they were influenced by the fast developing electro-pop with an inspiring mix of post-punk and rock, layered pulsing synthesizers, and crashing dance beats, and naturally hanging this fusion onto songs about travel, consumption, industry, alienation, post-colonialism and Europe. The single 'I Travel', playing as Gene and Alex give chase after gun runner Neary, has Moroder sequencers clashing with funky bass, punching guitar wails in a kaleidoscope of rhythm coupled with an uplifting chorus. It's almost techo! 'Empires and Dance' is them on the cusp of a creative peak with Bowie/Eno, Can, Kraftwerk all clearly influencing it.

But there is also a disco inflection to tracks like 'Celebrate', John Foxx, Magazine and Joy Division are echoed on 'Today, I Died Again' whilst the European vibe surfaces on 'Constantinople Line' and 'Capital City'. It's a feverish, shimmering mix of synthesisers, guitars and percussion with twitchy paranoia in the lyrics and vocal mannerism of Kerr. Simple Minds produced great material in their early career - very post punk/new wave - before dropping it all for slices of Americana which ultimately ended their creative peak. Catch it here in full bloom.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Madness - 'One Step Beyond': Gene and Alex chase across the rooftop to witness the gun runner meeting. (Stiff 1979)

XTC - 'Sgt. Rock Is Going To Help Me': Chris and Ray check out Neary and his associates. (from 'Black Sea' album, Virgin 1980)

Killing Joke - 'Turn To Red': Reeks is found dead (EG Records 1979)

Donna Summer - 'I Feel Love': The team walk into the gay club on their undercover operation. (Casablanca 1977)

John Davis - 'Love Magic': Later...in the club. (Columbia 1979)

The Human League - 'Don't You Want Me': Alex quotes the lyrics (Virgin 1981)

Sarah Brightman - 'I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper': Ray attempts to chat up Neary. (Ariola Hansa 1978)

Soft Cell - 'Where Did Our Love Go' : End credits. (B side to 'Tainted Love' Some Bizarre 1981)

EPISODE 6

SOFT CELL
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
(Some Bizarre 1981)

Kitchen sink drama, English suburban sleaze and squalor and a hefty dose of goading at British hypocrisy mark out the first album from Almond and Ball. Synthesisers mix with Motown and soul inflections, torch song vocals, disco percussion and the first glimmerings of rap. The songs are far and away from the obsessions of groups like 'Ultravox' or 'OMD' and deal with personal angst, boredom, frustration. 'Secret Life' is a stunning song, combining Motown with dark, witty lyrics and it indicates the future direction away from soul and into the more grittier burlesque of the follow up album. 'Seedy Films' is all porno hypocrisy whilst 'Sex Dwarf', especially the video, caused a minor controversy. The iconic 'Tainted Love' - one of the quintessential songs of the 1980s - is heard whilst Alex is dreaming of watching home movies in her bed. Whilst recording in New York they met Cindy Ecstasy who influenced the rap style of their original single 'Memorabilia' and introduced the band to the drug of the same name. It tends to sound a little bit dated now but even so the retro sound is now becoming highly influential and many of the songs on this first album are still quite powerful. Almond should, quite rightly, be regarded as one of the finest singers of his generation and his recent live shows have been sublime.

JAPAN
Tin Drum
(Virgin 1981)
Another band reaching the height of their powers in 1981 amidst a growing fascination for cultural imports from the Far East. This is a wonderfully minimalist, atmospheric fusion of layered keyboards, Mick Karn's stunning fret bass work and David Sylvian's maturing vocal style. This is art-rock influenced by the Yellow Magic Orchestra by way of Roxy Music and David Bowie. The single 'Ghosts' must be one of the most unusual tracks to get into the Top Ten. It's a haunting, depressing ballad, using atonal synthetics and percussion to back up Sylvian's crooning. It plays during Alex's final dream that reveals Gene is in her bed. The rest of the album mixes some utterly stunning percussion from Steve Jansen, especially on 'The Art Of Parties', that incredible Karn bass and Richard Barbieri's shimmering keyboards with an Eastern inluence that isn't bombastic or crass. A superb album.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Skids - 'Into The Valley': The opening car chase (Virgin 1979)

Roxy Music - 'Same Old Scene': Gene navel gazing alone in his office (Reprise EG 1980)

The Beat - 'Mirror In The Bathroom': Playing in the background in the restaursnt (Go Feet 1980)

Spandau Ballet - 'Chant No. 1': Ray and Chris in the pub playing Space Invaders (Chrysalis 1981)

Kim Wilde - 'Kids In America' : Donny's birthday party at Luigi's (RAK 1981)

Ultravox - 'Vienna' : The iconic Gene rescuing Alex sequence (Chrysalis 1981)

The Stranglers - 'Golden Brown' : Chris returns the statue of Krishna to Mr. Chatterjee (Liberty 1982)

Music Primer - Episode Four
Music Primer - Episode Two
Music Primer - Episode One

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