1982. A year when a stramash between tinpot dictatorship and eighteenth century imperialism over a rock and some sheep in the South Atlantic forced the UK government to introduce a musical blacklist, by which any song with even tenuous references to war and conflict was formally denied radio airplay. Combat Rock by The Clash wasn’t on heavy rotation in 1982 (although that’s probably a good thing). Neither, unfortunately, was Junkyard – the final Birthday Party album – although the latter is probably a consequence of radio conservatism and a lack of taste in the mainstream (see also Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall – one of their finest).
We have eidetic tastes, us humans, always subconsciously snuffling out patterns where they don’t necessarily exist. And so it is with the significant albums of 1982, in which the fascination is derived less from voguish templates than touches (and flourishes) idiosyncratic. ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love may be a fine pop record but it doesn’t transfix in the manner of – say – Big Science by Laurie Anderson. It’s clever and conceptional, sure – two traits that don’t always translate well in popular music. Yet it’s a remarkably elegant record, minimalistic, assured, tracks such as ‘O Superman’ and ‘Born, Never Asked’ framing an inherent intelligence, not regarding it as a barrier. This is the type of music James Murphy would have been making if DFA had existed in 1982… this, or maybe avant-garde hip hop. Or maybe even elegant soul records.
Talking of which, if this was a piece on self-released début singles from 1978, chances are the centrepiece would be Scritti Politti’s ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’, a wonderfully angular slice of post-punk evocation full of clever references and undertones of Marxist theory. In short, not necessarily the first band you’d expect to be arriving at when discussing the finest soul albums of 1982. And whilst Marvin Gaye’s Midnight Love was the prominent soul release in this year, it’s Scritti’s Songs To Remember that’s far more interesting. It’s a consciously populist record, which is usually enough to garner a dismissal by the LGM mainframe. However, it’s also so much more than a deliberate attempt to infiltrate the music charts; supple, exotic, ambitious (in terms of the subtle musical influences sprinkled across every track). The lyrics are delicate yet atmospheric, a dexterous application of fragility, whilst Green Gartside’s voice flows from the grooves of vinyl like honey. A great record.
If the concept of situationist soul sounds odd until listened to, Heaven 17 + cover versions + a number of guest vocalists not necessarily at the apex of career curve is an idea that could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. And although it’s not the most refined synth-pop album of ’82 (that’ll be the surprisingly enticing Upstairs At Eric’s by Yazoo), and is responsible for bringing Tina Turner back into public consciousness, Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume One by British Electric Foundation is actually a rather fine record – particularly Bowie’s ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ with Billy MacKenzie of the Associates on vox (the latter band’s Sulk was also out in 1982 – similarly recommended).
Other significant releases in ’82: Garlands, the début from Cocteau Twins, a rich promise of the wonderment yet to come. Two albums of jangly Scottish perfection from Orange Juice; You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever in March followed by November’s Rip It Up – the concept of artists recording two LPs in a year feeling quaint and anachronistic by today’s standards. And then there’s A Kiss In The Dreamhouse by Siouxsie And The Banshees. Possibly, probably their finest album, rich, deep, textured, alluring – gothic, not goth.
Goth is a label I have manifold difficulties with. An argument for a different time perhaps, but goth does have a different lexicographic reach to the dark, brooding, almost architectural facets of gothic. Which leads me to Pornography, The Cure’s fourth studio album. Gothic, best in class in 1982, and also a termination point; the sheer density of this record wouldn’t be repeated, Robert Smith repositioning the band’s sound after this. The album was recorded amid drunkenness, depression, antagonism – and it shows; not via the execution but in its tonal verisimilitude. An acuteness, the sound of a band engaged in a form of emotional strip-mining. Sonically this has everything you can want from a record; a miasma of overlapping textures, unorthodox percussion, swirling, hanging reverb. There are only eight tracks but they consume (any more would probably be overload), enfold, endanger – your homework tonight is to lock yourself in a darkened room – headphones on, volume cranked to dangerous levels – and listen – really listen – to the eponymous final track from this album; astonishment awaits.
The Fall / The Classical
Scritti Politti / Sex
B.E.F ft Billy MacKenzie / The Secret Life Of Arabia
Cocteau Twins / Grail Overfloweth