by Tom Hallett
“IT CAME FROM THE ’80S!!!!” screamed the ad, causing me to pull my extra-long, thrashed-out pillow over my pounding, hung-over head and groan in pain. “THAT’S RIGHT!! NOW YOU TOO CAN OWN ALL OF YOUR FAVORITES FROM THE DECADE THAT BROUGHT US SUCH HITS AS ‘WALKING IN THE RAIN’ BY ORAN JUICE JONES!! ‘KARMA CHAMELEON’ BY CULTURE CLUB!! AND ‘MY PREROGATIVE’ BY BOBBY BROWN!!” At this point, I find it very, very easy to just reach over, fumble for the cable remote, and flick the obnoxious idiot box over to the warm, serene blue wasteland that is the non-channel of 60.
OF THE WEEK: “All we had ever heard about record company people
is that they were vampires and criminals and they killed Elvis Presley.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Banned in the U.S.A.” —
2 Live Crew
It’s not that I don’t have a certain fondness for some of those
overplayed, over-produced aural fashion statements from said era; as a matter
of fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m frequently chastised by everyone
from my beleaguered roommate (who’s 10 years younger than I, and who’d
rather hear bad ’70s classics, since he didn’t actually have to
live as a functioning member of society during the Me Decade) to the foosball
nuts down at the bar where I DJ three nights a week for crankin’ out Cyndi
Lauper’s version of “Money Changes Everything” or Blondie’s
groundbreaking “Rapture.” Sigh. I try to clue ‘em to the musical
and cultural significance of those tunes, but my unwelcome lessons usually fall
upon uncaring ears.
But let’s cut to the chase, eh? Sure, there were atrocious songs hanging
and rotting on the vine we call the Top 40 during the Reagan years—some
truly a reflection of the times in which they were conceived and recorded, others
merely a one-off, egotistical blast from some in-the-moment, would-be pop star.
America loves to wallow in its own stagnant juices, diggit—even last week’s
NASCAR races featured the watered down, hackneyed hoo-rah of ’90s couple-hit
wonder Jewel during the opening ceremonies. Jewel? What the hell does Jewel
have to do with NASCAR racing? Did
they maybe promise her she could run a few laps in that old VW she used to (supposedly)
sleep in? Who owed who a favor here, folks? Oh well, at least we weren’t
exposed to the horrors of some tricked-up, cowboy hat-sportin’, Nashville
fucktard spoutin’ good-time, yee-haw, let’s’-get-drunk-and-kill-the-people-who-can-read
bumper sticker wisdom, eh?
But as anybody who ever caught a decent college or public radio broadcast in
the ’80s knows, there was a lot more going on in the music scene (some
things never change) than the record company execs and MTV wonks wanted the
public to know about. Here in the U.S., bands like Hüsker Dü and The
Minutemen fired off fierce political statements over even more visceral post-punk
grooves; in the U.K., bands like The Jam and The Clash had long been plowing
the same fertile musical soil. Along the way, casual U.S. music fans missed
a whole roster of killer artists and bands (not all politically-motivated, but
also some who were just damned talented rock, pop or techno artists) who either
didn’t make it to America to tour or were simply deemed “too English,”
“too punk” or “too ugly” for our precious, spoiled taste.
They were certainly loved and appreciated all across the rest of the planet,
though, in places where style doesn’t always rule over substance; where
vinyl records are still considered holy and worthy; where Kurt Loder might be
afraid to do a remote broadcast. Without further ado, then, here’s ...
Formed in 1985 by singer/songwriter/guitarist David Gedge, U.K. indie popsters
The Wedding Present have some pretty impressive musical credentials. Through
almost regular lineup changes, Gedge managed to pen some 17 charting hits (including
a one-year run in 1992, when he and the band extruded no less than one charting
single per month in the U.K., matching Elvis Presley’s 35-year-old record
for “most hits in one year”), win die-hard fans from England to
the U.S.S.R., and leave an indelible mark on alternative music.
Along the way, Gedge and his ever-revolving line-up have been produced by two
noted U.S. board-men—Steve Albini and Steve Fisk, who also helms this
batch—released several “Best Of” packages, championed by legendary
English radio personality John Peel, and counted as an important influence by
dozens of modern artists. Though they’ve been on hiatus since 1997 (when
Gedge decided to dedicate his artistic energy to the band Cinerama), fans and
followers of the band have been eagerly awaiting the release of new material
and a subsequent tour. Both of which are on deck now, as the Manifesto label
pushes their latest album, Take Fountain (their first since ’97’s
Saturnalia) and they undertake a comprehensive U.S. tour.
Kicking off with the
epic “Interstate 5,” Take Fountain immediately establishes
itself as a record about self-discovery, travel, expansion, growth, love, life,
mortality, wonder and a deep sense of some shimmering, unseen metamorphosis.
Clocking in at over eight minutes, this cut perfectly encapsulates all of those
emotions, hunches and mind-sets in one outing. Gliding out of the gate on sharp,
edgy guitars, a driving beat, and Gedge’s casually paranoid, enthralling
tale of romantic skullduggery, lurking fear and poignant self-examination, the
song is a rocked-up, Kraftwerk-ian daydream of monumental proportions.
Suddenly, the listener is transported from some lonesome, soulless lost highway
to some nameless, ageless desert scenario à la Ennio Morricone; rusting,
bullet-pocked road signs morph into rotting wooden grave markers, the smooth
roll of blacktop underfoot shifts into soft, unsteady sand, and the vehicle
slips from a beat-to-hell two-door sedan into an even more beat-to-hell Cayuse
with a loose saddle and a nasty habit of stopping dead in his tracks. And that’s
only on the first few listens.
Overall, a great (nearly) new collection of tunes from a sadly underappreciated
’80s outfit that’s been an undeniable influence on several generations
of indie pop artists and fans, and who continue to release tasty, relevant pop
nuggets. Check ’em out yourselves when they play the 400 Bar on March
13. For more info, surf to TheWeddingPresent.net.
That’s all for this week, gang. Tune in again next time for more. Until
then—make yer own damn news.
If you have local gigs or CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this
column, or you’d just like to run me up a pole, send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.