Category Archives: MoonTunes

MoonTunes Classic Reviews: Sons And Fascination/Simple Minds

By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer, wired.com

Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call

Simple Minds

1981 

SimpleMinds We take inspiration where we can find it and today I happened to be sitting in a restaurant in downtown Toronto when the inspiration for today’s review struck. I was savoring the smell of roasting garlic while stewing over the fifty bucks in gas it cost me to drive there from London. Then I heard a familiar song start up on the sound system -Love Song- a classic Simple Minds tune and one of my favorites. Horror of horrors though, the tempo began to accelerate freakishly and within seconds it devolved into a mess of sampled bits, hyperactive percussion and racing keyboards. Someone had done a particularly barbaric job of remixing. Time to look at the original in self-righteous indignation. 

Release sequences get confusing, especially when dealing with prolific bands, North American versus British versions and the vinyl to CD transition. Simple Minds’ 1981 release Sons and Fascination originally included a bonus EP, Sister Feelings Call, which was later sold as a standalone album; the North American release contained both records together (minus several tracks) under the Sons and Fascination title. Confused? 

Scotland’s Simple Minds were busily evolving from a post-punk, art-disco band to something more pop-based and commercially accessible. Sons And Fascination is the transition album and it comes off as a sort of progressive rock-new wave hybrid. Ambitious and sweeping songs, with layered, atmospheric synths; a prominent rhythm section featuring powerful disco bass lines and snappy drumming; distorted guitar accents and Jim Kerr’s emoting vocals. 

In Trance As Mission, the first of the thirteen tracks, launches the disc with pounding bass and drums, around which the synths, guitar and vocals soon begin to intertwine.  Five tracks in is Love Song, that classic bit of 80s goodness. Again, the bass and drums figure prominently, but the guitar is given free reign with distorted riffs answering each of Jim Kerr’s chanted lines: “America’s a boyfriend, untouched by flesh of hand, heartbeat under, heartbeat under, heartbeat under, heartbeat under, some promised land.”

Theme For Great Cities is one of the better instrumentals of the decade, an epic, hypnotic number. Twentieth Century Promised Land gives the keyboards the chance to lead for a bit and begins to show the direction the band would head in later albums. There are a number of other notable tracks including: 20th Century Promised Land, The American and Sweat In Bullet.  

All in all a really solid album- perhaps a little ambitious and a tad industrial, but a good listen. Do yourself a favor, skip the remixes and buy Sons and Fascination.

Rating: 8/10

MoonTunes Classic Reviews: Speak & Spell/Depeche Mode

By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer, wired.com

Speak & Spell

Depeche Mode

1981

SpeakAndSpell Speak & Spell was an electronic gadget released by Texas Instruments just in time for the 1978 Christmas buying season. Within a few years the educational toy with the voice synthesizer was everywhere and musicians had even begun experimenting with it. I remember sitting with my brother, killing ourselves laughing while making one of the little boxes utter semi-intelligible naughty phrases. By the time we were finished with it, that poor thing could have served a mute longshoreman very well.

Speak & Spell was also the title of the 1981 debut album of one of the 80s most dominant bands, synth pop outfit Depeche Mode. While the synthesized voice was absent (at least I could never find it), the intended association was obvious.

This album is a classic example of the coldly futuristic electronic style gaining in popularity for those who wanted a taste of punk’s attitude but still wanted to be able to dance, dammit. Where contemporaries like Kraftwerk were a tad industrial and the Human League slightly fluffy, Depeche Mode went for the sweet spot in the middle. At the heart of every song on Speak & Spell is the beat box kicking out electronic drum in a disco beat. Over top is layer after layer of synthesizer -repeating sequenced bits, atmospheric leads and quirky sound effects. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Depeche Mode in concert several times, and I can tell you those guys standing at the banks of keyboards certainly look busy.

Depeche Mode became known for sneaking in hints of furtive sexuality, sometimes approaching deviance, and this started with Speak & Spell. Take the song Puppets, for example. A rather sinister tune, its chorus is “And I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to say, I’ll be your operator baby, I’m in control.”  Photographic adds to the dangerous mood with a tempo like a racing pulse and the chorus of “I take pictures, photographic pictures. Bright light, dark room. Bright light, dark room.”

But along with the seedier material, we get the futuristic New Life and Tora! Tora! Tora! and the pure, unabashed pop of the hit Just Can’t Get Enough: “When I’m with you baby, I go out of my head and I just can’t get enough.”  Nothing industrial, sexually suspect or futuristic there.

Speak & Spell is a must buy for any Depeche Mode fan. It is also a milestone CD, the first shot by a band that has gone on to three decades of commercial success and influenced countless other artists. It should be part of any 80s music collection.

Rating: 8/10

MoonTunes Classic Reviews: Kings of the Wild Frontier/Adam and the Ants

Another classic review of a classic album.  We take a look back at Brad Moon’s feelings on Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam and the Ants, the group rumoured to be the inspiration behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  No, not really.  

By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer, wired.com

Kings of the Wild Frontier

Adam and the Ants

1980

AdamAnt Time for another Jeopardy question. This 80s pop icon has spent the 21st century keeping British tabloids hopping via firearms charges, assaults whilst dressed in a cowboy outfit, an arrest for throwing rocks through windows then dashing into a café and mooning the patrons, multiple psychiatric evaluations (couldn’t imagine why) and a newfound mission to save the gorilla.

No, it’s not Courtney Love- she’s more 90s and reserves her best implosions for this side of the Atlantic. Need a hint? His real name is Stuart Goddard. His band, assembled and then “stolen” by 80s musical impresario Malcolm McLaren, sold some 15 million records. Give up?

Answer: Who is Adam Ant, the preening leader of Adam and the Ants.

Adam and the Ants are remembered largely for their bizarre costumes (dandified pirate get-up featuring velvet coats, frilly shirts and leather pants combined with stylized Apache face paint, beads and headdresses), and their quirky hit single, Antmusic.

Kings of The Wild Frontier was released in 1980. The album featured thundering tribal drums made even more commanding by the band’s use of two drummers, pounding bass, extensive use of feedback, chanting choruses, Ant’s sneering vocals and numerous appearances by twangy western guitar. Take out those vocals and you’d be forgiven for mistaking some songs for Bow Wow Wow; not surprising given that McLaren whisked most of the original Ants off to form that band.

Antmusic, the album’s second track, is the hit that drove the album to no.1 virtually everywhere but the US, where it still managed no. 44 on the Billboard Top 100. Even then the Americans were probably a little more conservative than most. Ants Invasion –this is starting to feel like a branding exercise- is an ominous, sinister tune. The percussion fades into the background to allow for heavy, crunching guitar. Kings of the Wild Frontier brings those drums back to the front along with the western twang. A bit further along comes Jolly Roger, their buccaneer song and tribute to Blackbeard: “Any man who sailed with him was taking quite a chance, he’d hang them from the gallows just to see if they could dance (ha! ha!)”. The Human Beings wraps things up with a not-so-subtle aboriginal theme, a repeated chanting chorus of: “Blackfoot-pawnee-cheyenne-crow, Apache, Arapaho” set once again to western guitar riffs, thumping drums and a driving bass line.

Given the cartoonish posing and unusual themes, Kings of the Wild Frontier was a surprisingly good album. Buy the CD if you are looking for fun, artish punk/pop music you can actually dance to.

Rating 7.5/10

MoonTunes Classic Reviews: Upstairs At Eric’s/Yaz

By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer, wired.com        

Upstairs At Eric’s

Yaz

1982

“To our credit to the thirty faces you created, to your subscription for the million copies of 1980, I’m glad that we don’t hear you any more, I’m tired of fighting in your fashion war. Goodbye Seventies, Goodbye Seventies.”

Yaz It’s pretty much a given that every generation expends a great deal of energy and effort in dismissing the musical decades that preceded them. I’m not sure how far back that holds true- did big band aficionados in the 1930s thumb their noses at the flappers from the 1920s? But dissing the musical styles you are rebelling against has been a constant trend through the rock and roll era. The opening quote, for example, is from Goodbye Seventies, a musical kiss-off to a decade by British synth-dance duo, Yaz. It took less than ten years before another generation of musicians was sending the same message of dismissal toward the artists of the 80s. But there’s another funny truism in the rock and roll era and the entire pop culture milieu for that matter: what’s old is eventually new again. “Old school” synth-dance music from the 80s is fashionable again, influencing pop musicians and a new generation of electronic dance music outfits.

Yaz (Yazoo in England) was an interesting group, a duo made up of the unlikely combination of Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet. While the names may not mean much, Clarke was a founding member of synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode. Moyet was a blues singer looking to start up a new R&B project. The combination proved incredibly successful and the blending of Clarke’s keyboards and electronics with Moyet’s powerful vocals was a hit.

1982’s Upstairs At Eric’s was the debut release for Yaz. Opening track Don’t Go, was a hit single and a showcase for Moyet’s throaty voice. A series of mediocre songs follow- experimental bits where one can often detect a lot of early Depeche Mode in the keyboards. But at the midway point the album gains steam again. Only You is a simple but effective love song that proved another hit. Goodbye Seventies again recalls Depeche Mode, both in arrangement and the slightly menacing undertone, but it’s a more viable song than the previous few. And then their big American hit, Situation. An extended dance groove with a big beat, Situation parlayed Moyet’s vocals and Clarke’s funky synths to a number one spot on US dance charts.

Yaz lasted only two albums before Clarke once again got the urge to move on. Given the limited material, there is really little compelling reason to buy Upstairs at Eric’s if you don’t already own it- instead, buy the Yaz best of CD and you’ll only be missing the filler.

Rating 7/10