Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teen Dreams Twenty Years Old

Bear with me today - I'm going to expose you to songs both awful and great.

I posted A Viable Commercial off of Modern English's debut album a couple of months back, but today as I was shuffling through songs, I came across their album After the Snow. Given the great success of the single Melt With You, anyone should be able to pick up a copy of this album in a dollar bin. The rest of the album without its hit single stands by itself as a superbly produced new wave record that marries synthesizer atmospherics to tight song-craft, propelled by a muscular rhythm section, and is blessedly free of mercurial Mancunian brooding. I was pleasantly surprised enough to listen through the album twice today.

For whatever reasons, the arch Anglicisms of the Psychedelic Furs in their mid-period were present primarily in Richard Butler's voice, while the production bore the unfortunate taint of that era's anthemic arena rock. Listen to Heaven, released in 1984 - plodding buried basslines, "soaring" guitar lines that appear at the appropriate moments, production-line mock-piano keyboard parts. Where Modern English got it so right, the Psychedelic Furs didn't.

But... Moving up to present day, a tongue-in-cheek appropriation of such studio staples animates Fred Falke's remix of Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks, and here it really works, transforming the song into a perfect sync for the ultimate 80's movie moment - when our underdog romance crystallizes just before he wins the big game/match/race/swim-meet. (In this case, I'm thinking of the BMX slow-dancing scene in the 198 film Rad, which used Real Life's Send Me An Angel.)

It seems like Falke had the glories of youth on his mind, as he spent most of 2009 attempting to score some imaginary 80s film. Flaxen-haired Norwegian Anne Lilia Berge-Strand, known as Annie, received the benefit of Falke's nimble touch, teasing all the melancholy from her song Anthonio - a tale of her impregnation by a caddish Brazilian.

As for the rest of Annie's recent output - there's probably a reason why you haven't paid attention. Annie's genre-jumping betrays an unsettling amount of insecurity. The uncertainty and lack of direction in her last album sees her hopping from sugar-rush pop, guitar-driven dreck, to - the weirdest - a hyperactive cover of Stacy Q's freestyle classic Two of Hearts that's so sped up and the synths so dissonant it sounds like an Acid House take on Miami Bass. Her visual identity, her difficulty in remaining stylistically consistent and her forced sass (an alternate title for the album? Snaps) are either a result of too many cooks spoiling the broth (she worked with a frightening number of producers), or they point to a cynical pandering to the growing drag queen demographic that has been so very kind to Lady Gaga.

I've remarked before that Goldfrapp's most recent album Head First would be more aptly titled Contractual Obligation, as in the only acceptable impetus for foisting this colostomy bag of over-produced nonsense on a generally appreciative fan base. Assuredly they'll receive more handsome royalty cheques from the shampoo companies & reality television shows that will license tracks from it but UGH.

The first single, Rocket, with its synthesizer stabs, snoozeworthy chorus and absurd countdown to blast-off is by-the-books and unremarkable. Coming after the pastoral amblings of Seventh Tree, I was expecting a more interesting album, and it's distressing reading other reviewers and critics trying to grapple with the press-release suggested adjective Moroderian as if 1) that's something new in the music of Goldfrapp, and 2) as a guarantor of quality. (Certainly Giorgio Moroder had numerous missteps during his days as the operator of Munich Machine.)

I guess we can't be too upset for musicians in their fourties phoning it in - now that everyone downloads everything, what's the point of putting in the energy to writing halfway decent songs? Your audience is halfway contemptuous of you, so you might as well return the favour.

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