“The memory is of seeing Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark perform Statues live, Commodore Ballroom, 1981. The song comes across nice and moody on record but in that big room, packed with every serious art-weirdo-scenester in town, it was powerful stuff, it shut everybody up, it put us all in a trance that was both transcendent and foreboding. It was official. The 1980s were going to be that kind of movie.” (Philip Random)
The album’s called Dark Continent, and the song’s called Tse Tse Fly (both references to Africa) but Wall of Voodoo‘s first (and best) long player is really about America. The jangly guitars, cheap drum machines, scrapyard percussion bits and tips into noise. And the stories being told, equal parts noir and surreal. What could be more American?
“Nasty rip of Dead Kennedy genius from 1981, assholism not just on the rise in Ronald Reagan‘s America, boiling over. Fortunately, we had the best west coast hardcore to help us focus our rage, antipathy, spite. Not at anybody in particular – just the general, clean-cut crowd. The so-called good kids, all dressing the same, looking the same, drinking the same shitty beer, getting too drunk to stand, let alone f***, puking their repressed, conservative, neo-fascist guts.” (Philip Random)
“Two tracks from the first The The album that I’ve always thought of as one, because of how they flow together. Although technically, Burning Blue Soul is not a The The album, it was initially released as a Matt Johnson solo album, but then The The was always pretty much just him anyway. Either way, Burning Blue Soul is most definitely an album, a dense and connected and beautiful flow, even with all the noise and chunks of rusted metal just left lying around — an essential piece of soundtrack from a movie about the ongoing decline and fall of the British Empire that no one’s gotten around to making yet. But they will someday.” (Philip Random)
“In which the Forgotten Rebels, straight outa Hamilton, Ontario, remind us (as some now dead guy once said) that junkies gonna junk and dabblers gonna dabble, except with heroin, sometimes the dabblers die anyway, but mostly they just wobble around (if they’re standing at all) like they’re working monster waves a mile from shore. Maybe it feels cool, but it mostly looks dumb. Seriously, the song’s supposed to be taking the piss, but as always with these things, some seem to take it as lifestyle advice. I guess nobody’s to blame but stupidity itself.” (Philip Random)
“Title track from Material‘s first proper album, which was before main man Bill Laswell had played with EVERYONE on planet earth, become a household name (assuming you lived in a cool household). As a friend put it once, it’s jazz without the annoying indulgence, funk without the sleazy silliness. Not that I really felt that way about funk. But I could agree about the jazz. Always nice to hear the egos reigned in, everyone serving the groove … in a chaotic sort of way. And who better to work all that than a bass player.” (Philip Random)
The Catherine Wheel was David Byrne‘s first solo album, recorded while the Talking Heads were officially on hiatus. The soundtrack for a Twyla Tharp ballet, it stands as exhibit three of Byrne’s 1980-81 hat trick of zeitgeist defining genius (something he still hasn’t topped). The first two were collaborations with Brian Eno (the Talking Heads album Remain In Light, and then My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts) but Catherine Wheel was Mr. Byrne going it alone in the production/writing department. Eggs In A Briar Patch (and really the whole sweep of Dinosaur, The Red House, Weezing, Eggs in a Briar Patch and Poison) gets the nod here because of how effectively the convoluted path between song and atmosphere gets traversed, and all the cool mysteries thus uncovered.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark being one of those outfits that would be very easy to ridicule (hate even) for their name alone, except they rather lived it up to it. For the first few albums anyway. Architecture & Morality (their third) hit big in the UK, and deserved it, working a cool mix of pop and noise and ambient options, with Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) managing to do it all in four minutes and change.
“Two in a row from way the hell back in the U2 story (and as eventually found on the R.O.K. 12″), way before all the fame and riches and boredom. My boredom, that is. I blame Joshua Tree. Though I guess it wasn’t the songs so much as the environment. They just weren’t as good anymore in those huge stadiums. Give me the Commodore Ballroom any day, 1981, three dollar ticket, maybe a thousand curious punks and new wavers. I’m pretty sure they did Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock as the encore that night, and the whole show actually began with The Ocean. But either way, the place went mad. Or as a friend said at the time, it’s like they weren’t playing songs, they were playing us, the audience. The songs were what we sounded like. He’d dropped acid.” (Philip Random)