Thursday, April 08, 2010

Music Box: La Roux & Scritti Politti

It might come as a shock to some of you what an '80s-music-inspired spring I'm having. I'd been getting the hard sell on British synth-pop duo La Roux for about a year now -- "You'd love 'em, they're sooooo '80s!" -- but have pretty much ignored them because I was too preoccupied trying to collect O.M.D. b-sides from '81. (There are only so many hours in a day, even for the underemployed.) But then on Easter my friend Frank came over to help me figure out the new version of MS Word -- like Word 98 wasn't good enough? -- and he put on the group's No. 1 hit "Bulletproof." Before the chorus even started I was already singing along (Frank was confused, wondering if I had already heard it or something) and I couldn't deny that it was good stuff. He and some of the gang were buying tickets to the upcoming gig at Terminal 5 (where I'm seeing Hole later this month) and he wondered if I wanted to come along.

Earlier, I had gotten a Facebook message from onetime Paul Weller protege and U.K. "one hit wonder" Tracie Young, who told me she was coming to New York and wanted to know if I'd be interested in having dinner. (Um, of course!) Subsequently found out Tracey Thorn was here this week also, to promote her upcoming solo album. Still trying to figure out how to get her to join Tracie and me -- and if there's any chance Tracey Ullman might be willing to fly in from L.A. so I can die happy.

The following day I stumbled upon Bleecker Bob's records down on West 3rd Street -- just down the way from AC's new digs -- and started flipping through the sidewalk bins. I immediately got nostalgic when I found "Rhyme & Reason" by Missing Persons and the first Curiosity Killed the Cat album (that Ben!), but when I noted how few New Wave records they had (most of the others were R&B) another customer mentioned that there were "lots more inside" and then promptly snatched the Missing Persons album and ran to the register!

Inside was a trip down memory lane, with a B-52's "Whammy" poster hanging in one corner (just like at Greg's house!), and all of my favorite albums (Bananarama's "Deep Sea Skiving"), EPs (the classic Missing Persons one with "Words" and "Destination Unknown") and 12-inch singles ("Burning Up," the first Madonna video I ever saw, "Just What I Always Wanted" by Mari Wilson) neatly placed in the bins.

Although I have no use for records these days (I haven't had a turntable since 1990), I felt an overwhelming urge to buy something (the desperate-looking guys behind the counter may have contributed to this).

When I came across a 1982 issue of Flexipop! magazine with Debbie Harry on the cover -- plus Fab Five Freddy, Snuky Tate and the Brattles, who were all singed to Chris Stein's Animal Records back in the day -- I knew I'd found my purchase.

The cover promised Adam Ant, Marc Almond, Simon Le Bon, Haircut 100 and Kate Bush inside, so even though I'd already heard the "new Blondie" song the flexidisc boasted (an annoying holiday version of "Rapture" called "Yuletown Throw Down"), 15 bucks to feel 16 again for a moment seemed like a bargain.

And then yesterday, I had lunch with a friend-of-a-friend (Dave) who I knew shared a mutual love of Prefab Sprout and Yaz. Over sushi, he set out to convince me that my Scritti Politti blind spot needed to be rectified. (I always got Scritti confused with Feargal Sharkey, which Dave was OK with so long as I wasn't getting him mixed up with Haysi Fantayzee -- whom I love, btw!)

I promptly came home and downloaded "Cupid & Psyche 85" (which I'm listening to as I write this). While I'm enjoying what I hear (I already knew "Perfect Way" and "Wood Beez (Pray to Aretha Franklin," of course), and am aware of the fact that Green Gartside has become quite a darling of the critics over the years (I remember The Times going on and on about his "White Bread Black Beer" disc in 2006 and thinking, THAT Scritti Politti????), there's no doubt that some of these things have to be experienced at the time to be fully appreciated. Every breath, lyric and guitar strum of Lloyd Cole and Commotions' "Rattlesnakes" resides deep inside my every fiber, and I'd swear to anyone that it's the greatest album of all time. But somehow I doubt it would affect me the same way if I heard it for the first time now as it did as a teenage boy suffocating in suburbia.

Later, I thought about getting the La Roux album (and concert tickets with my friends) and just admitting I like a "new" artist. Then my two most trusted current-music advisers -- Christopher and Taffy -- both said things that gave me pause. Christopher says La Roux are "the 21st century Human League -- one good song and the rest all sort of a lamer same" while Bruce left their album off his list of 2009's best discs, but put "Bulletproof" on his singles picks calling it a "burbling electro-ditty" that was "the peak moment of La Roux’s debut album." It was at this moment I decided that while I might be inching my way into the new century(!), it might be best to take baby steps. An occasional Killers single here, a La Roux single there. It's only 2010 and there's no need to rush. As I've learned this week, there's still a lot of music from the '80s I still have to learn about, and we all know where my loyalties lie. See ya on Friday, Tracie!


Anonymous said...

No no no to Christopher. The La Roux album is pretty solid. There are quite a few stand out songs. Check out In For the Kill, I'm Not Your Toy and Quicksand.

Dave in Northridge said...

yeah. THAT scritti politti. The quality of the later stuff is still good too, sort of just like Heaven 17 on Before/After

Michael said...

"Every breath, lyric and guitar strum of Lloyd Cole and Commotions' "Rattlesnakes" resides deep inside my every fiber, and I'd swear to anyone that it's the greatest album of all time. But somehow I doubt it would affect me the same way if I heard it for the first time now as it did as a teenage boy suffocating in suburbia."
You might be surprised. I first heard that record five years ago, at 24, and can completely see why someone might argue it's the greatest of all time. Rattlesnakes is a lost classic. I'm still trying to drag it into my friends' collections.