Friday, June 19, 2015

Comin' Back Around

Man, I love the music of the '80s.

From the moment I really fell in love with music and wanted to make it a career, I've loved the tunes that came out of that decade. For me, the crescendo of great rock and pop music began somewhere in the late '70s, hit hard in the early and mid '80s, plateaued and diversified for awhile, and then started to fade somewhere around 1995. Two classics from that era - U2's The Joshua Tree & The Police's Every Breath You Take - are the records that most directly compelled me into becoming a musician. And, if pressed, I can make a pretty strong argument for the idea that that particular 15-20 year span marked the brightest shining moment in the history of pop & rock music in terms of consistency, musicality, performance, and artistry. You just got more bang for your buck if you were tuning into radio then.

This is not to say there weren't other timeless & legendary artists, records, and songs released before that time - of course there were. But let's consider just a partial list of the artists around releasing records, writing hits, getting radio play, and touring the world during the period of the 1980's: Van Halen, U2, Rush, Toto, Phil Collins, Aerosmith, Metallica, Guns 'n' Roses, Michael Jackson, Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Police, Sting, Genesis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Prince, Whitney Houston, Steve Winwood, Huey Lewis & the News, Don Henley, Dire Straits, Marvin Gaye, Queen, Bruce Hornsby... and we're just scratching the surface.

Honestly, even the bad stuff was better back then.

Despite all of this, I grew up in a time when most of this kind of music was considered passé, out-dated, and irrelevant. And, really, I've never stopped hearing about how the music of the '80s was lame, uncool, and a relic of the forgettable past.

Well, readers, I'm glad to report that, apparently, I wasn't the only person in the world growing up with a fondness for truly great pop music. The sounds and vibes of the music of the 1980's are storming back onto the scene and achieving some notable success - and it hasn't been lost on me. What's hilarious about all of this, of course, is that most of the younger kids listening to this stuff probably don't realize where the influences for it are coming from, and that's fine. What's more important is that a lot of the things that made the music of that era so great are beginning to reappear in some really cool modern music.

Dig on this:

The 1975 - The 1975
If you can listen to the huge drum beat of 'The City', the opening synth of 'Heart Out', the dance-y guitar riffs of 'Girls' or the groove of 'Robbers' and not think to yourself, "1980's", then you're definitely hip to something I am as yet unaware of (that, or you're completely unaware of musical history). Matt Healy has been honest about being influenced by cats like Prince, Phil Collins, and Joy Division and has talked about being a big fan of John Hughes movies. The groovy drums, the big electric guitars (Adam Hann is an underrated monster of a player), and the layers of synth unabashedly scream '80s, and, from the looks of things, plenty of people are all about it.

Bleachers - Strange Desire
Jack Antonoff plays guitar in Fun. (a band with its own obviously massive Queen influence). While they were blowing up a few short years ago, Antonoff was secretly constructing a project on the side called Bleachers,
and the first album dropped a little less than a year ago. And basically, it sounds like the soundtrack to a John Cusack movie. It's a great record, with traces of The Hooters, Peter Gabriel, and a bunch of the British new wave bands. If you don't know this record yet, you need to get it and start rocking some air drums and belting out the choruses. There's an epic quality to Strange Desire that makes it unforgettable and you won't regret picking it up if you haven't already.

Walk the Moon - Talking Is Hard
A few years ago when I was touring with Tyler Ward, we ended up playing the same venue on the same night as Walk the Moon. They were in one room, we were in another. They hadn't finished by the time we were done with our set, so I got a chance to catch some of their performance from the balcony. I hadn't heard of them at the time and, to be honest, nothing really grabbed me that night. Fast-forward to a few months ago when I was perusing iTunes and ended up listening to a few clips from their Talking Is Hard record. I downloaded the album right then and there, hearing even in the short previews the kind of sounds this entire blog has been about. And Talking Is Hard did not disappoint. You'll hear Bowie, Talking Heads, and even a smidgen of The Police throughout the songs. Great, great, GREAT hooks on almost every track. Yeah, I know, 'Shut Up & Dance' is everywhere right now, and it's a solid single. But there's depth to this album that the single only begins to hint at. It's a strong offering start to finish and, like the other albums I'm talking about here, loudly, blatantly, flagrantly '80s.

Matt Wertz - Heatwave
This one's a year or so older, but it's a personal favorite of mine so I'm going to include it. Wertz is one of those vastly underrated singer-songwriters that world really needs to get hip to. All he's been doing for the past 8 years or so is writing and releasing great music, but for some reason, he has yet to receive anything even remotely resembling his just due. He put out Heatwave in 2013, deliberately trying to release an '80s album. This record is so genuinely fun that so far, it's been impossible for me to grow tired of it. It's easy to hear the Kenny Loggins & Bryan Adams influences on this one, and believe me, that's a great thing. He gets into more classic Wertz on the back half of the record, which somehow only adds to the timeless feel of the more '80s-saurated tunes. (He also released Old Flames in 2014, which features some B-sides and cuts that didn't make the original release of Heatwave.)

So, for all the people back in the day who tried to tell me that the beanie-wearing, coffee-drinking, soul patch acousti-rock was the wave of the future and better than the stuff I was listening to at the time: this one's for you. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if the Doc Marten & flannel jam bands made a comeback sometime down the line, too. But, at least for now, I'm gonna revel in the fact that the music I've loved my entire life is back in the limelight, makin' noise, reminding people of what the pairing of solid musicianship and great songwriting can do.

It's been too long.


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