If your only encounter with Modern English is “I Melt With You,” then you need to sit down, kids, because there is more to this British outfit than meets the ear. The band’s moody and artsy Post-Punk beginnings were a perfect match for 4AD, the label that released their first three albums. However, by the second album, 1982’s AFTER THE SNOW, the band had matured and were writing better songs, moving away from their dark past and gaining a lot more confidence in the process. That second album contained some of their best moments to date including “Someone’s Calling,” “Life In The Gladhouse” and, of course, “I Melt With You.” The latter song became one of the tracks that truly defined the ‘80s and became a blessing and curse for the band. Modern English next album, RICOCHET DAYS, was nearly as good as AFTER THE SNOW but did not contain a hit like “I Melt With You” and the band found itself falling out of fashion. Another album – STOP START – came and went and the band split. Over the years, vocalist Robbie Grey and various line-ups of the band have recorded and toured as Modern English, even releasing some very fine albums along the way, In 2010, four of the five original members – Grey, Gary McDowell (guitar, vocals), Michael Conroy (bass, vocals) and Stephen Walker (keyboards – reunited for a few tours and received a hero’s welcome by fans. Seven years on, have finally delivered TAKE ME TO THE TREES, the first studio album since 1984’s RICOCHET DAYS to feature these four core members. While the band wisely continues to avoid attempting to re-write “I Melt With You,” they certainly haven’t lost the desire to re-explore dark places with melodic flair.
Though not quite in the same sonic spaces they once occupied, this is a band that successfully conjures up memories of the past while still remaining firmly focused on the now. In short, Modern English have no intention of pretending it is 1982 anymore. The production is raw with none of the gloss of the old days. Instead, the arrangements are more direct and a lot less busy. Grey is still the focal point of the ME sound but this time, he willingly shares space with his bandmates. McDowell is a creative guitarist who manages to pound out chords without being overly aggressive – sometimes subtle, sometimes simple but always a driving force. Walker’s keyboard work remains more about mood and flavor. Conroy’s melodic bass lines anchor the songs. “You’re Corrupt” is a menacing mix of Glam and Post-Punk. “Trees” blends acoustic and electric elements with an arrangement that cleverly recalls David Bowie’s “Heroes”. “Moonbeam” and “There’s Something Going On” recall the AFTER THE SNOW era but are a lot less tribal. “Dark Cloud” and “Sweet Revenge” are dark and crunchy but worm their way into your psyche after a few spins. “Come Out Of Your Hole” is a moody little fucker of a tune and is one of the album’s highlights. “Flood Of Light” returns the band to their early Goth/Dark days with a fuzzy bass line and plenty of mood. All in all, a nice return to form from a band that is so often overlooked and/or misunderstood. There is life beyond “I Melt With You” and Modern English prove that yet again. TAKE ME TO THE TREES may not return them to their former commercial glories but it will remind people that Modern English is are back and ready to…. Nope, not going to make a ‘melt with you’ joke here!
Keep on truckin’
Stephen SPAZ Schnee