During the ‘80s, it seemed like you had to have a gimmick or make a unique fashion statement in order to attract the attention of Pop Music fans. Videos and TV performances were just as important as radio play and no matter how great your song was, if you didn’t stand out in a sea of Pop wannabes, you were very rarely noticed. However, once you grabbed everyone’s attention, you had to have the songs and talent to keep their attention. Pop quartet King may have had a short shelf life but they actually had more than enough talent to keep it going had they been given the chance to. With Paul King’s soulful voice, colorful outfits and fancy Doc Martens footwear, King (the band) released a pair of albums in a chart career that lasted merely two years, but their talents ensured that they are still remembered today. Not quite Synthpop, Rock or Soul, King combined a few different genres and ended up sounding like… King!
OK, let’s get this out of the way: anyone expecting a new Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD) full-length filled back to front with songs tailor-made for radio are going to be sorely disappointed. However, if you are looking for a classic OMD album that blends commercial pop smarts with their darker experimental side are going to be over the moon. THE PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY (TPOL) is that album and so much more! While their 1983 release DAZZLE SHIPS may have pushed the experimental envelope too far for some of their fanbase, TPOL strikes the perfect balance between Synthpop maestros and Electronic Music pioneers.
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.
HAIRCUT 100 Revisited
Haircut 100’s debut album Pelican West remains one of the truly great albums of the ‘80s. Inspired by everything from Jazz and Latin music to ‘60s Pop and Post-Punk, the 1982 album was a breath of fresh air at a time when pretentious ‘Popstar’ posing was more important than making music. From Bob Sargent’s warm and crisp production and singer/guitarist Nick Heyward’s Pop smarts, to the inventive horn arrangements, Pelican West was an album inspired by many styles embedded in the past, yet sounded modern and fresh. The band’s ability to embrace their influences while also creating their own unique sound is what makes Pelican West a timeless album. It is not rooted to a particular time period, so you can still play it thirty four years later without feeling that the album has dated itself. You can’t say that about other career-defining albums from this time period including The Human League’s Dare, Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers, Duran Duran’s Rio or any number of so-called New Wave classics.
Initially lumped in with the British Jazz Funk movement, Haircut 100 were a true musical phenomenon formed by Heyward and bassist Les Nemes. Guitarist Graham Jones completed the original trio. The band grew into a sextet with the addition of percussionist Marc Fox, drummer Blair Cunningham and horn player Phil Smith. The band’s first three singles – “Favorite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” “Love Plus One,” and “Fantastic Day” – became radio hits all over the world, and even earned airplay on the then-still-fresh MTV. To many, this fresh and seemingly wholesome band came out of nowhere and became a sensation. They may have been treated like teen idols in the UK, but other countries – including the U.S. – focused on the music. The album itself was filled to the brim with great songs, many of which could have easily been a hit had they been released as singles (I’m looking at you in particular, “Lemon Firebrigade”!). When the band released the Pop-tastic post-album single “Nobody’s Fool,” it was obvious that Heyward’s songwriting skills were still top notch.
However, the band’s massive success proved to be their downfall. Faced with the enormous pressure of writing a follow-up album, Heyward quit the band in the midst of recording sessions. Nick pursued a solo career (the lushly-produced North Of A Miracle contained a few of the songs the band had been working on prior to his departure) while the rest of the band soldiered on. By the time the sorely overlooked and quite wonderful second Haircut 100 album Paint And Paint was released, the band was down to a quartet (Cunningham had also left the band). The band quietly broke up a short time later. Though they have reunited in some form or another over the last decade for live shows, no new recordings have emerged.
Now, with the release of the Deluxe 2CD Edition of Pelican West – featuring additional non-album tracks and remixes – being reissued on Cherry Pop, Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with H100 guitarist Graham Jones and send him off a few questions in hopes of discovering more about this classic album…