Punk and New Wave

The Psychedelic Furs “The Psychedelic Furs” (1980)

Disjointed. Messy. Sassy. Irreverent. Loud. Acidic. Mocking. A strange brew of psychedelia, glam rock, post punk, and new wave with a lead vocalist who can not friggin’ sing.  Kind of sounds like the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music had a one night stand and gave birth to a love child. And while we are on the stupid subject of love… God, I’m in love with this album! One of my all-time favorites. Ignore the claims usually made for ‘Talk Talk Talk; This is the best thing in the Furs discography. If the opening tour de force of “India,” “Sister Europe,” “Imitation of Christ,” and “Fall” doesn’t do anything for you, we just can’t relate, bro.  Magnificent! —Minimalism

Iggy Pop “The Idiot” (1977)

This is probably Iggy’s best record, thanks to Bowie’s inspired production touches and obvious assistance in the songwriting department. The weird post-glam sonic breakthroughs Bowie and cohorts were making in these days provide the perfect foil for Iggy’s nihilistic hedonism and manic-depressive urbanity, which ranges from the proto-goth, blasé-in-crowd banality of “Fun” to the “hey, where the f*ck did everybody go?” sentiments of “Dum Dum Boys,” to a final affirmation to just go out for cigarettes in “Mass Production.” The proto-industrial soundscapes give Iggy’s alienated musings the perfect setting, and the Eno-inspired spaciousness in the production gives him room to rant, rave, mumble, and croon his way through the urban wasteland without miring him down; in other words, even when it’s a semi-catatonic drag, this disc rocks with a kind of cold sweat and shivery stagger that reinvents rawk with an ever-so-slight intellectual angle: which is what we call post-punk, even though this is, chronologically speaking, in punk’s very midst. But never mind the conceptual bollocks: play this and Joy Division’s first in rapid succession and the influence becomes readily apparent. Thing is, though, this is a far better album than that one. And I’d even venture to say that this is better than Bowie’s own “Berlin” albums, at least in some respects. The melancholy and menace are more precariously balanced, and Iggy walks a fine line in his lyrics between abstraction and specificity, in vocal persona between a man driven to murder by boredom and an idiot getting stoned and running around (thus splitting the difference between the two and showing up their identity under conditions of mass production, wherein China Girl is not quite what it seems). And the cold, steely textures are at once severely remote and warmly inviting, thanks to Tony Visconti’s richly minimalist mix, which evokes neon nights, gothic fog, factory noises, radio static, and the little voice of one’s bad conscience, among other things. Not only an important and influential record, but one that remains honest-to-goodness great, and fully rewards repeated listening. –Will

Kid Creole & The Coconuts “Tropical Gangsters/Wise Guy” (1982)

Coming out of the same NYC/Ze Records school that fostered the likes of Tom Tom Club, James Chance, and Was (Not Was), Kid Creole managed to stand out in a scene with no shortage of eccentrics, jokers, and flat-out freaks. One glance at the album covers confirms that no two words could have better summed up the entire ethos of this bizarre ensemble better than Tropical Gangsters, the UK title of the Coconuts third album. Kid Creole was an ex-English teacher who put his Masters degree into the service of a theatrical, but light-hearted take on the post-disco-funk explosion that was setting NYC clubs on fire in the early-’80’s. Creole’s former career bled through into the highly conceptual narratives that pre-occuppied his songs and albums, and Tropical Gangsters is no exception. The loose theme of the album revolves around the group being shipwrecked on an island of outcasts and their “gruesome ordeal”, as they are forced to play “RACE MUSIC” to broker their escape. Being of Latin descent, the Kid and his half-brother and bandmate never demurred from their background, often winkingly embracing it in the music and image of the band. Their sense of humor naturally extended into the songs themselves – “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” employs the female Coconuts in a dialogue wherein our hero must settle a question of paternity the only way a tropical gangster knows how – with brutal frankness – “See if I was in your blood/Then you wouldn’t be so ugly”. Tropical Gangsters takes the coconut and runs with it from here, with seven more hilarious tales of island-life scandal and intrigue that duly threaten to grind the dance floor to dust while they’re at it. KC had made good albums before this, but this was where the songs and the groove finally came together to create the perfect tropical storm. —Jonathan

John Foxx “Metamatic” (1980)

With every listen, Metamatic takes me into this whole other world, a deserted Metropolis where daylight never comes and the only sound you hear is the menacing “click-click drone” of human-hunting cyborgs. John’s eerie man-machine vocal,combined with bizarre, doomy lyrics provoke an entertaining kind of dread in me, then there’s the music… while the clanking beats and deathly-cold synthesizers show their age, the way they fit with the vocals and lyrics, astounds my senses to the point where its hard for me to hear these tunes as just the work of a creative young man, its more like each song has a life of its own, beyond the confines of its creators imaginings. A difficult sensation to explain, but a very powerful one that places Metamatic among my most played and highly regarded records.

“No One Driving”,“030”, “A New Kind of Man” and the completely surreal “Tidal Wave” (Should I laugh or be very scared?) are a vital part of an extremely weird set of songs that would provide the ideal soundtrack to a mind-bending Sci-Fi/Horror fest. —Misfit

Shoes “Black Vinyl Shoes” (1978)

My pick for the fizziest power pop album ever made. The home-recorded guitar buzz even gives the cozy impression of a warm and constant carbon dioxide “fffffffff” across these fifteen catchy melodies. The group recorded it themselves as a demo—then they just released it as is—and each track is pure melody adorned only with the barest, ghostly living room production. It’s a uniquely spectral record, a little hook-filled cry in the night. Everyone notices its odd sound. Today, roughly 275,000 homemade albums come out each year, but in 1978 there wasn’t much else that sounded like this. Today, it feels timeless. It’s also consistently good. I can’t pick favorite songs off this any more than I can pick which M&M was the best out of the bag, but I’ve thrown “Fatal” onto a few mixes due its great percussion. —Jason

The Cure “Seventeen Seconds” (1980)

What a difference a year can make! Released only 11 months after the rather straightforward post-punk of Three Imaginary Boys, Robert Smith and company completely reinvent their sound and deliver one of the defining albums of the gothic rock movement. The songs here are bare and carefully measured, with little trace of the distorted wall-of-sound that would dominate later efforts like Pornography. Where Seventeen Seconds is very similar to those later releases is via the somber lyrics and the vocal delivery itself, which routinely take a backseat to the arrangements and rarely structures itself into a verse/chorus format. So if you enjoy the atmospheric slow-building side of the Cure, you’ll probably love this album. I personally consider it to be among the best in the Cure discography, rivaling the likes of Faith and Disintegration.

Despite a similar musical approach as Faith and Pornography, I find far more standout tunes on Seventeen Seconds. The entire back half of the album is nearly flawless. “A Forest” is particularly effective, mixing a haunting ambience with an almost Krautrock-esque driving groove. “Seventeen Seconds” is another personal favorite, although it does feel slightly underdeveloped at ~4 minutes. Gothic rock fans will also undoubtedly adore “Secrets”, “In Your House”, and “At Night”, while “M” should placate listeners starved for a slightly catchier and more upbeat melody. All things considered, one of the finest albums of the early-80’s. —Paul

Blondie “The Hunter” (1982)

Here’s an album waiting for some serious revaluation. The Hunter features several tracks of sheer classic quality, accompanied by lesser ones that still have, without exception, something remarkable to offer – a thing not always achieved by today’s acclaimed albums. “Orchid Club”, “Dragonfly” and “The Beast” are among the most interesting Blondie ever created, experimenting with hypnotic beats and unconventional song structures, hinting – along with “Fade Away and Radiate” from Parallel Lines – toward a parallel-world instance of Blondie as a trancey ambient-techno unit. “Island of Lost Souls” is not a rehash of “Tide Is High”, as some would imply. It’s arguably a better song, with a livelier tune and interesting lyrics. “English Boys” is a beautiful anthem honouring the hoisted flag of Pop Music. “War Child”: a fierce electro-disco with stabs of percussion and wind instruments – again, a faultless track. “For Your Eyes Only”: a cunning stylistic amalgam that could fit nicely among Parallel Lines’ reinventions of ’60s pop. “The Hunter Gets Captured…”, while anticipating Debbie Harry’s future work as a jazz singer, rounds off the record nicely, flashing a light on its undercurrent themes of life as adventure / race / bush warfare. —Redux

Gogo’s “Beauty and the Beat” (1981)

The Go-Go’s’ 1981 debut LP Beauty and the Beat is as aptly titled as it is underrated. Few shiny power pop records are as dark as this one. The record is known primarily for its two big-beat hits “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat,” two of the early 1980s’ greatest songs. The rest of the album, though, with few exceptions, is much different. After the Shangri-Las’ sounding “How Much More,” Side One takes a darker turn, focusing on the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles nightlife. As such, “Tonite,” “Lust to Love,” and “This Town” succinctly capture the exhaustion of being a scenester and the psychological toll it can take, especially in the superficial world of Hollywood. This tone is maintained on Side Two with “Fading Fast” and “Automatic,” probably the two most morose tracks on the record. From there on out, they return to catchy, bubbly pop in the form of “You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep” and the irresistible closer “Can’t Stop the World.” The reputation of Beauty and the Beat is dampened to a certain extent by outside forces, like the decline in the quality of the Go-Go’s’ music after this album, Belinda Carlisle’s weak solo career, and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, which articulates these themes in a far more gritty, blunt manner. Nevertheless, Beauty and the Beat should not be slept on, and is a great early 80s’ power pop record. —Yerblues

Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri “Toy Planet” (1981)

A great forgotten 1981 album from the Can keyboardist, Irmin Schmidt. Delicate synth passages a few sudden astonishing gypsy disco stomps. Slightly camp, but in a good way. Sometimes sci-fi creepy, like watching Tron after eating Nutmeg. Irmin’s album does not overstate itself or outstay its welcome. It cheers me up with happy tunes. —TheGreatCurve

David J “Crocodile Tears & the Velvet Cosh” (1985)

David J played bass, wrote songs, and occasionally sang for both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. He also worked briefly with Jazz Butcher. Since most of his early solo work was recorded more than twenty years ago for the long-defunct Glass label, it is no surprise that it tends to be both unknown and underestimated.

Unlike his uneven debut, “Etiquette of Violence”, which sounded a lot like the final Bauhaus album, “Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh” is a back-to-basics, acoustic set with thoughtful lyrics and graceful songs that fit together cohesively. Particular selections reminds me of the tracks he would contribute to Love and Rockets’ “Earth Sun Moon” a few years later, but–believe it or not–this material is even stronger. Bottom line: if you own just one album by David J, this should be it. —Thomas

The Clash “The Clash” (1977)

It’s remarkable how well this music holds up for me. Decades after “punk” happened this is still relevant, exciting, and simply a joy to listen to. Must have something to do with the excellent songwriting throughout – it took years for it to sink in just how great a song “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” is because I was so enamored of the rush and roar of the rest of the record (plus the ace cover of “Police and Thieves”) and if that rush still holds strong, the songs that didn’t grab me initially have only gotten better over time. But really there are hardly any songs here that didn’t grab me by the throat right from the get-go – the spit out vocal and jagged guitar riff of “Clash City Rockers,” the great lyric on “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” the amazing less-than-two-minutes of “White Riot,” their other ace cover (“I Fought the Law”) – this record just don’t let up. Every substitution from the U.K. version constitutes an improvement even if the two versions of “White Riot” are equally convincing. This is as good as that thing called “punk” ever gets, got, or will get. A masterpiece – and with a great, iconic cover to boot. —Patrick

Eyeless in Gaza “ Pale Hands I Loved So Well” (1982)

Eyeless In Gaza created one of the best ambient albums of the time with “Pale Hands I Loved So Well”, though it wouldn’t do it justice to call it just an ambient album. Their instrumental vignettes were plunged in a spiritual fervor, and had the quality of fragile bitterwseet contemplations or of metaphysical longing.

“Tall And White Nettles” combines gentle guitar strumming, found sounds and eerie female vocals to great effect. The chamber music of “Blue Distance” is built around mysterious organ-drones, piano ripples, and imperceptible chanting. The mystical dance “Sheer Cliffs”, which is half-gypsy and half-Indian, is truly a magical moment. “Falling Leaf/ Fading Flower” is a concerto for brass wails and gentle tones, part free-jazz and part electronic-experiment. “Lies Of Love” is another numinous dance, eventually expanding in a mist of metallic percussion, longing voices and Middle-Eastern brass. Beautiful. “To Ellen” is possibly the most transcendental moment here; a spectral hymn of haunted organs and sublime vocals by a siren. “Pale Saints” is a fusion of free-jazz and musique concrete. “Letters To She” is an ecclesiastical chant combined with subsonic drones and unsettling electronic effects, culminating in hysterical celestial voices and orchestral ultrasonic frequencies, before finally settling for a pensive tone. This is the soundtrack to man’s reincarnation as pure energy in outer space. In comparison, “Light Sliding” sounds timid and shy, though still deployed like a philosophical reminiscence. Then “Big Clipper Ship” is yet another stunning eclectic moment, partly kosmische, partly European-folk, partly chamber, partly ethereal, partly exotica percussion, partly militant march, and played in their usual recondite way. A fantastic ending to a fantastic album. —Ily