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)
“Have I raved enough yet about how indispensably, imperfectly essential the Clash’s Sandinista is? Probably not. Three slabs of vinyl, thirty-six songs, jams, dubs, meltdowns, whatever you want to call them. Not World Music so much as what the world actually sounded like in 1980-81, including war, here-there-everywhere, young men being called up, sent off to do and die. Which is what The Call-Up‘s about (from about halfway through Side Four). Don’t go, young man. Don’t fall for the patriotic bullsh** of old men whose blood won’t be doing the spilling. Remember that rose you want to live for.” (Philip Random)
“In which David Byrne and Brian Eno step outside of the Talking Heads for a bit and, to no surprise, end up changing music forever. No, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts didn’t invent sampling (Holger Czukay was already messing around with disembodied voices inside and out of Can), but it did rather open the gates, with Mea Culpa proving ideal for heroic doses of LSD, assuming you were up to it. I wasn’t always. I recall once hearing it at a gloomy, January dusk, a riverbank, a cold wind blowing. We were in the flight path of the local airport. I became convinced an incoming plane was crashing. But it wasn’t the plane. It was me.” (Philip Random)
The Au Pairs didn’t stick around for long, and they never exactly cracked the charts, but they definitely had something for their time. And a darned interesting time it was, the early 1980s, when white punks and other related fringe dwellers were discovering funk and politics in more or less equal measure, messing around with them, not being remotely pure, and the culture was all the better for it.
“Listening to Abba is like having a bath, then going to bed with freshly cleaned sheets. Or so I heard it put way back when, the 1970s. But by the time the 1980s hit, the culture no longer required such luxuriant cleanliness. So Abba effected a change, got darker, deeper, paranoid even. Which worked for me, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard The Visitors popping up at a wedding.” (Philip Random)
The genius of Todd Rundgren is that he can do anything – pop, soul, rock, prog, abstract avant whatever. The worst thing about Todd Rundgren is that’s exactly what he does way too often — anything and everything all at the same time, and it all just ends up getting in the way of itself. But not so the title track of Healing (which takes up all of side two). It’s 1981 and drum machines and synths and sequencers are the cool new toys of the moment, and, genius that he is, Todd knows exactly how to play with them, to genuine therapeutic effect.
“It says 1974 on the cover but Brian Eno‘s second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (by strategy) will always be pure 1981 for me. Weird and oft times jagged pop was pretty much perfectly in synch with the times and thus not at all afraid to just dissolve into abstraction if necessary. Which was fine by me given all the acid I was taking. I needed those dissolutions, like at the end of The Great Pretender when the crickets (or whatever they are) just take over, suck us into the insect realm, alien and strange.” (Philip Random)