Just Give Me New Wave (That’s What I Want)

New wave is an elusive musical term. As with many genres, it applies to clothing, hair and makeup as much as it does to a cohesive musical style. In fact, a case could be made that new wave is a time period.

But philosophical emulsifications aside, we can find a few characteristics that are common to most new wave music:

  • It’s dance friendly!
  • Synthesizers play an important role (and this is new in rock music).
  • The music is fairly poppy.
  • Some strange quality, be it flamboyant costumes or Flock-of-Seagulls hair, sets it apart from the mainstream pop music culture.

Group 1

Now, if you live in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, you might not have time to review a myriad of albums to find out what the new wave is all about. But fear not! Here on a single album we have hit after hit after hit (after hit) from the late 70s and early 80s, a heaping helping of new wave music, all found on New Wave Gold.

Thrill to the tunes of Adam and the Ants, Berlin and The Flying Lizards (their cover of the iconic hit Money (That’s What I Want) is, by itself, worth the price of admission). Never Say Never to Romeo Void. Want some candy? Check out Bow Wow Wow. Wowsers!

Group2

But wait, there’s more! The bizarre vocalizations of Lene Lovich in Lucky Number, the irresistible poppiness of M’s Pop Muzik and that dance to end all dances, The Safety Dance. Not to mention Ian Dury’s most practical of suggestions, to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

Group3

Speaking of lyrics (well, someone must have been!), Missing Persons provides a reminder that nobody walks in LA, Tears for Fears suggests that when it’s all too late you can Change and The Vapors want a doctor to take your picture so they can look at you from inside as well in Turning Japanese (a song of questionable meaning). But most of all, I beg of you, relax, don’t do it!

Group4

The synth-pop of Ultravox, the silliness of The Waitresses and the teen soundtrack of The Psychedelic Furs. All very different yet all considered part of new wave. Truly, there’s more to this genre than music.

So find that perfect place, comfortable yet not sleep-inducing, perhaps filled with tasty snacks, toss New Wave Gold onto the figurative turntable and prepare to be enthralled to the music. Open ears and open minds required. Puffy shirts are optional.

What’s New Wave in the Library

I’m a categorizer. Okay, in reality I’m a lazy categorizer. I don’t really care about absolute rigid labels, but when organizing music on my computer (and oh yes I do realize how nerdy that sounds) I like to put bands into categories that make sense to me. When it comes to the term new wave, I tend to think of most any new music I was introduced to from 1979 to the early 80s.

Lately I’ve been trying to get more precise in my labelling, partly because if 1,000 bands all have the same label I can’t find any of them on the computer. So I’ve been moving a lot of bands from new wave into post-punk or punk. But it’s interesting to see that new wave has never been a clearly-defined genre. According to Wikipedia, “the 1985 discography Who’s New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories.” One hundred and thirty! So all in all, new wave is a pretty meaningless term.

Yet we continue to use it. So today let us look at what’s new wave in the library.

NW1

One safe bet is Now That’s What I Call New Wave 80s, a compilation featuring bands such as B-52s, Adam Ant, The Go-Gos and many more. It has new wave in the title even! Some of the songs here are the best-known ones by the included bands, but others are not. Quite a mixed bag, which makes it more interesting in my book.

NW2

New York’s CBGB’s was a hotbed of exciting new music in the mid- and late 70s, regularly featuring bands such as Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads. Many Blondie songs could easily be called pop or disco (although their early less well-known stuff is much more hard-edged), Ramones are often categorized as punk and Talking Heads are labelled post-punk, but when the three groups were starting out they were all called new wave.

NW3

What most people came to think of as new wave was music that I hated at the time, far too mainstream, poppy, and hairstyley. Now that I no longer need to prove how cool I am this music has grown on me. Bands falling under this heading include Tears for Fears, The Fixx and Cyndi Lauper.

NW4

Some new wave bands, such as The Cars, The Police and Duran Duran were quite popular, beloved by people from a cross-section of musical tastes.

NW5

One of the largest sub-genres of new wave is synth pop, music that relies heavily or entirely on synthesizers. Groups in this category include Human League, Yaz and Thomas Dolby.

NW6

Perhaps the ultimate new wave archetype is the literate, nerdy singer-songwriter type. This group includes Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. Their songs tend to be thought-provoking and lyrically complex with music ranging from driving pop-rock to ballads and everything in-between.

So there you have it. New wave, meaningless. Music that we call new wave, magnificent. Lots of good music at Everett Public Library. Blog post, finished.

Return of the Grateful Undead

We’ve all seen the sad and scary headlines:

NOW PLAYING AT THE EMERALD QUEEN CASINO, *FILL IN A ONE-HIT-WONDER FROM 20 YEARS AGO*!

Then again, perhaps it isn’t a sad situation; after all, the musicians are doing what they love and making a living at it. But all too often, ahem, mature bands don’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank and their performances, well, tank.

Even scarier is the band that you loved oh-so-many-years-ago coming out with a new album. This is seldom a happy experience. Talents wane, song selection weakens and the rivers of time leave former superstars in stagnant, putrid tributaries.

The reason for this tirade is that a surprising number of bands I listened to 20-30 years ago are now touring and/or making new albums. My automatic reaction upon hearing this is a violent shudder. But much to my surprise, I am discovering some excellent albums being made by these old-timers (i.e. my peers).

OMD EnglishOne case in point is English Electric by synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I came to know OMD in 1980 with the release of their second album, Organisation. It contains perhaps their best known song, Enola Gay, a catchy foot tapper about dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I was struck by the song’s beauty, the bittersweet lyrics, and the metamorphosis of a grim topic into a happy dance song. The remainder of the album is highly atmospheric, what some might think of as soundtrack material. As their career progressed, OMD’s music became less ethereal and more dance-oriented and I kind of stopped paying attention.

So now it’s 2014, I discover that OMD released a new album in 2010 called History of Modern, I give it a listen (expecting the worst) and I’m sorta blown away. English Electric continues in the same positive vein. OMD is one band that after a long layoff sounds as good as, or better than, ever.

Adam Ant coversAdam and the Ants (or Adam Ant after he dropped the backing band) had a bunch of catchy hits in the early and mid-80s. His seemingly final album, Wonderful, was released in 1995. But 2013 saw the release of Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter. This new album is not as strong as his best work, but for someone who is nearly 60 and has lead a difficult life (being bi-polar and dealing with the effects of medications), his voice is still strong as ever. In Adam’s case, perhaps it’s just nice to see him still trying in the face of adversity.

Pixies coversThe Pixies came on the scene in 1986 with a vengeance, oft-screamed vocals and wild-fuzz guitar intermixed with lovely pure pop ditties. The group stayed together until 1993 with their final album coming in 1991. Although they regrouped in 2004, the band did not release another album until this month, Indie Cindy. It’s a bit kinder and gentler than the Pixies of old, but this is all relative as they still deliver a bundle of whopping hard-edged fun.

Other artists to look for

The Cars broke up in 1988 and reformed in 2010. They released Move Like This in 2011, which went to #7 on the Billboard charts. If you like early Cars albums, you should like this one as well.

JoaCars coversJoan Jett, although never taking a break from performing, had not released an album in seven years until delivering Unvarnished in 2013. This is hard-rocking music, a return to form for Joan and the Blackhearts.

Kate Jett coversKate Bush has continued to release albums over the years, but her last (and only) tour was in 1979. She is finally returning to touring in 2014.

Bush covers

Other new releases that will be appearing in the EPL collection soon:

Devo somethingSomething for Everybody (2010) by Devo. Their first album since 1990 shows a return to this band’s golden days.

 

 

 

Presidents KudosKudos to You! (2014) by The Presidents of the United States of America, their first album since 2008.

 

 

And yet even more new releases worth pursuing:

Ultravox brilliantBrilliant (2012) by Ultravox, their first release since 1994.

 

 

 

 

Magazine NoNo Thyself (2011) by Magazine. This brilliant release is their first since 1981!