Originally released in 1982. Review first published November 11th, 2008.
Now if you wanted to get to the real start of the eighties in a single twelve months, then 1982 is the place you should be looking. For the early part of the decade society was still shaking off the protracted cultural hangover of the constipated seventies, flailing around in the dying embers of punk’s aesthetics and the fractured musical consciousness it created. 1980/81 were the years-between-eras which languished in the dying embers of homogeneity; riots, unemployment, rapidly dislocating social cohesion and a belated cry of anger rose against the status quo.
Some of the biggest selling records of 1982 tell their own story. ABC, a Sheffield quartet resplendent in gold lame and Fred and Rita chutzpah brought with them plasticised soul, courtesy of Trevor Horn, whilst Duran Duran bid us to swap dole queues for catwalks and ignore the rats and strikes. It was a glamour which owed much to its old friends youth and self-deceit, as to the delight of Daily Mail readers everywhere, those nice young men from Haircut One Hundred turned up on Top of The Pops sporting cable knit sweaters and warbled about love, romance and the obtainability of happiness through conformity. Globally, Michael Jackson minted consumerism with Thriller, created MTV with the video and became his own new religion. After briefly pissing against the values of the moral majority, it wasn’t like punk had never happened, it was the truth.
Formed in Liverpool in 1979, A Flock of Seagulls were as effervescent, neon and disposable as any of their contemporaries and with producer Mike Howlett (Comsat Angels, Teardrop Explodes, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, etc. etc.) behind the wheel of their eponymous debut, they were making, as lead singer Mike Score has said, music “With a certain kind of vibe”.
With its cover featuring a garish Dali-esque montage, the vibe in question was created by juddering electronic drums, wailing synthesisers and a lyrical dose of hokum which made circuitous references to amongst other things inter-galactic close encounters. So far, so gratuitous fluff. And yet there was still something so compelling about its lack of pretension, the zeal with which the band bounced child-like ideas and textures off the darker pastel shades, along with their nu-pop mix of tokenist sensibility and modern neuroses.
It’s not a formula as such, but when this futurist mish-mash happens upon a bullocking melody, the results were ear-opening. “I Ran”, the previously mentioned tale of a Von Daniken style meeting with our founding fathers, is an anthemic blast through the ozone layer. “Space Age Love Song” is as beguiling as its eye-wateringly clumsy. There are also plenty of nods to the by now in-retreat new wave, especially in the punchy, staccato outro of “Modern Love Is Automatic” and the almost frantic helter skelter of “Messages”. There are inevitable failures, and Score’s voice resembles the tone of a Speak And Spell, but only a bully would pick on the new kid in class so heartlessly.
Where Score and co. truly succeeded was in partially creating the American synth-pop market that lasted well into the middle of decade, one which Simple Minds would, simply by adding a layer of neo-mystic pomposity to Once Upon A Time, exploit to it’s fullest. Kitsch but fun, A Flock of Seagulls marked the real start to the eighties we recognise today.