R.I.P. Steve Strange of Visage

3 03 2015

Steve Stranve IXFor those of you who don’t know, the ‘Fade to Grey’ song that all of you know was by Visage. Bonus points to those of you who can match Steve Strange with the image in the banner above.

Steve Strange was the lead singer of Visage. He was like Boy George in an alternate synthpop post-punk universe (wait, early ’80s London?) plus cocaine. He was part of the New Romantic scene, a movement which spanned from the late ’70s to the early ’80s and encapsulated an art form in various media which included androgynous dress and makeup, new electronic sounds in music, and an obsession with Vivienne Westwood’s casual ‘pirate’ look, which we can see if we simply YouTube Dead Or Alive singing ‘Misty Circles’ live.

It was that era that introduced elegantly-executed androgyny to the masses. Though short-lived (at least in the underground), it influenced the course of the ’80s by challenging people’s thoughts about gender roles, and what men and women should be. Was Annie Lennox a man, or a woman? I mean, do we seriously think this is weird nowadays? She had short hair and wore a fucking suit. Can’t a woman do that?? That’s exactly the point behind artists like the New Romantics. You, the viewer, are appalled by the fact that a short-haired ginger woman can wear a suit while dancing around in a field of cows, but you stare on in bovine wonder.

Everything weird and upturned is good.

I am sharing these videos (above and below) because:

A) Steve Strange, the tortured but talented lead singer of Visage, recently died of heart failure in hospital in Egypt (I will never accept this–it can’t be),

B) ‘She’s Electric’ is perhaps one of the greatest synthpop/dance anthems ever composed (how sublimely pulsing and ethereal?),

C) I am a big, fat, slutty whore for New Romantic music​, and

D) I just bought the CD single for ‘She’s Electric’ online! SO can’t wait to hear all the mixes. I’m especially excited about the extended mix. (Usually I like the original mix better than any of the shitty club mixes, so an extended mix of the original is like a diamond in my vagina.)

R.I.P. Steve Strange. Who cares about all your coke benders at the Blitz Club? You were a genius songwriter and performer. And you left us with what might be Visage’s best album. You left us with fashions which confuse people, makeup which makes a straight man blanch, artistic ideas which make the queerest heart quiver, and a renewed purpose behind showy spectacles like RuPaul’s Drag Race. If anybody went out in style, it was vous.





Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





Three Intimate Yet Groovy Dance Tunes

31 07 2014

A lot of people describe dance music as ‘soulless’. I completely disagree. I think this is an idea concocted by people who are more familiar with rave music from the late ’90s than the legacy of funk, soul, disco, techno, and synthpop which has informed pop music since the mid-’70s. Dance music is just popular music with a danceable beat, melody, catchy hook, and lyrics important enough that you keep singing them inside your head.

Some dance songs prove superior to others because they have lyrics which reveal the intimate reflections of their writers. At the same time, the musical accompaniment, whether guitar, synthesiser, or drum, holds up the background and forces people to move. In this situation, dance and emotion are the same. The inner person becomes dance.

The most emotional and soulful dance song, for me, is ‘Hideaway’, by the British synthpop band Erasure. They manage to create a luxurious texture of sounds and melody while conveying a very important message:

Obviously, the song is about coming out as gay. This was actually revolutionary for its time—the song is from the Circus album, which was released in 1987—and singer Andy Bell is one of the first lead singers of a major pop group to come out as gay. I actually personally commend him for writing this song, because it is so important. And yet it is fun, catchy, and danceable! Who’d have thought??

The next song is by somebody everybody knows, but I don’t want to ruin the experience by mentioning the artist’s name, so I will just say that I find it infectious, groovy, and emotionally revealing:

Everybody constantly criticises Madonna, but this song proves two things: her stature as the queen of inventive dance-pop and her ability to reflect on her youth. It is actually really interesting to groove to a song that reveals the inner feelings of Madonna. It is fun, catchy, sing-song, and danceable, but it also reveals her torn memories about her mother (who died when she was only five years old) and her father, who didn’t offer everything she sought. And so she fought for what she has today.

There is one more song I want to add to the list of songs I categorise as intimately danceable. You might think it unusual, but if you know my ear, you’ll know what I mean. It is ‘Sara’, by Fleetwood Mac:

I’m not exactly sure what she’s saying, but the cool, quavering voice of Stevie Nicks has always haunted me. The song makes me want to sway to and fro and coo and echo everything Stevie is saying, as though it flutters within me. And at the same time, it is not a slow song. It is upbeat. It is a song that makes you want to move while feeling what she says.

I don’t care whether it’s Madonna, Erasure, or Fleetwood Mac. A good dance groove with a good melody and good lyrics makes the best song. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a huge name or not–the point is that dance music can conjure up unexpected emotions. Dance music can be surprisingly soul-satisfying.

 

 

 

 





OMD (Late to the Game, as Usual)

10 10 2013

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The DarkYes, I already know that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are the seminal synthpop band of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The question is: how the fuck did I miss the fact that they reformed in 2005 and released albums in 2010 and 2013? I attribute it to marketing. Marketing, commerce, pop culture trends, avarice, blah blah blah.

Happily, OMD entertained my tardiness by travelling back in time to the very distant past–2010–to release their first album in something like fifteen years–History of Modern. And it is amazing. And then they released another album a couple years later in 2013–English Electric, which is equally amazing.

Hold my breasts, Jesus. Is this for real?

Yes. It is, and OMD’s new material gives veteran synthpop duo Erasure a run for their money–and I am a hardcore Erasure fan.

Consider the extended version of ‘History of Modern (Part I)’:

But it doesn’t end there. OMD’s synthpop genius carries on to their song ‘Sister Marie Says’:

Perhaps their most poignantly beautiful song since their reunion is ‘Stay With Me’, from their 2013 album English Electronic:

Actually, come to think of it, I think ‘Helen of Troy’, from the same album, might be even more stunning:

This last track reminds me of a lot of material being produced by newer bands like College, FM Attack, and Parallels. Just look up those last three bands to see what I mean.

Honestly, I am impressed by OMD. They have made an amazing comeback. They didn’t try to kowtow to current electronic dance trends–otherwise they would have ended up sounding like Lady Gaga–rather, they wrote intelligent material which incorporates modern technology to create delicious, melodic pop anthems. That is what I love about synthpop bands. They evolve.





Erasure Announce Release of New Christmas Album, “Snow Globe”

13 09 2013

Erasure - Snow Globe“Erasure are releasing a Christmas album in November! It’s called–oh, fuck. You’re Muslim.”

That is exactly how I introduced the new Erasure album to my Muslim friend, who told me he loves Christmas music.

Erasure are releasing their first-ever full-length Christmas album on 11 November, and it consists of both classic Christmas songs and original material. This is perfect. I love Christmas albums that combine classics with original works.

The first single off the album, according to the Erasure Information Service, is a rendition of Gaudete, a Latin Christmas carol believed to have been composed some time during the sixteenth century, but which probably existed as a hymn in the late Medieval period. It sounds deliciously haunting, right? It is a bold idea for a single, too.

Veteran folk band Steeleye Span have already released a stunningly beautiful version of this old carol, and quite frankly I believe it belongs in everyone’s Christmas playlist.

Isn’t it hauntingly gorgeous? I hope Erasure improve upon it. With Vince’s slick, synthesised production and Andy’s peregrine-like vocals, I doubt they will fail to please. Vince and Andy have a strangely, chillingly cool understanding of pop music which I adore.

I know it is barely the beginning of Autumn, but I love the Autumn and Winter seasons. Fleeces, pumpkins, trees decorated in candy and glass baubles, and new tunes to listen to. So this new album by Erasure is absolutely perfect.





Cartman Looks Like Steve Strange!

16 07 2013

I’m sure you remember my post on Visage. Well, Steve Strange looks uncannily like Eric Cartman from Episode 3, Season 6 of South Park.

Cartman:

Cartman South Park My Hot Body II

Steve Strange:

Steve Strange IV

Is it just me, or is Cartman channelling early 1980s New Romantic gender-scepticism?





Visage Release a New Album!

15 05 2013

Visage - 2013 PhotoshootWatch out, Pet Shop Boys! Beat it, Depeche Mode! You have competition, Erasure! New Order, make another album goddamnit! Visage have regrouped and they are back in style with a new, fierce electronic dance album.

Much of what we love and remember about the ’80s was pioneered by a small group of kids who frequented a nightclub in London in the late ’70s and early ’80s called The Blitz. Among the patrons were Marc Almond of Soft Cell (“Tainted Love”), songwriter and DJ Princess Julia, and Boy George, who served as cloakroom attendant. But a very special patron of the club was Steve Strange, the notoriously androgynous genderfuck artist who hosted club nights at The Steve Strange and Princess JuliaBlitz and helped form Visage in 1978 along with Rusty Egan and Midge Ure. The band are best known for their hauntingly elegant synthpop anthems “Fade to Grey“, “The Anvil“, and  “Damned Don’t Cry“. (The gorgeous and talented Princess Julia also appeared in the video for “Fade to Grey”, while the enticing LA Richards appeared in the video for “The Anvil”.)

After 29 years, Visage have produced a new, original electronic dance album with Steve Strange serving seductive vocals alongside bassist Steve Barnacle, former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, and newcomer Lauren Duvall on vocals. (She matches Steve Strange in her vocal talent and reminds me of Claudia Brücken.) Some of the songs are rough dance-rock floor-stoppers, and others, sublime, emotional synthpop anthems. The result is modern, fun, crazy glamour–sound meets style and a masterpiece results. The album sounds surprisingly contemporary and fits in well with the current trend of nu disco and independent electronic music.

Shameless Fashion” is the first single from the new album. It reeks of unabashed playfulness and an unpretentious glorification of beauty, which I adore. “Never Enough” is a throbbing dance anthem which confronts the complicated nature of sexual desire and satisfaction. In “I Am Watching“, Steve tries to warn a potential victim of stalking by stalking the stalker. By far, the most glorious song on the album is “She’s Electric (Coming Around)“. The eerie guitars, icy synthesisers, and chugging bassline are accompanied by hauntingly poignant vocals which ask us, Who is she? Where is she coming from? What should we do? It is perhaps the most beautiful, mysterious, and challenging track from the new album.

It is strange that a band which pioneered the chic sound of the ’80s should take such a long sabbatical only to produce one of the most modern-sounding electronic dance albums of 2013. The album sounds like something Pitchfork would plug as indie electronica nowadays. It just goes to show that age doesn’t matter: do what your heart desires, and beauty will result. Visage have achieved this, even with their new alignment of band members.