Snapshots. Skeins of recollection, re-visitation, recalibration. And then 1983, shuffling onto the agenda like a tawdry, half-cut actor during the matinee. “Look, my pretties. I have Jonathan Richman’s Jonathan Sings! I have Song And Legend by Sex Gang Children”. And whilst technically correct – he’s holding copies of both albums aloft in his sweaty paws, ensuring each record sleeve catches the eye of every pensioner and great-grandchild in the audience – he’s dallied onto the wrong stage again; to urgent gesticulation from the stage manager – as well as the wailings of another ruined pantomime – he realises that it’s Beckett next door.
This series is entitled Significant Albums because the word significant implies a thin layer of objectivity abounds. There’s a small yet recognisable elevation beyond the more trite postures of favourite and best of. It also comes in useful for years such as 1983. Because even if I was taking my tentative steps to possessing a record collection back then – as well as Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), released in early January, I also purchased Touch, Eurythmics’ autumn-released follow-up; I think that the former is the stronger record, if only because ‘Love Is A Stranger’ features a deliciously light-footed Dave Stewart synch hook – I’m not convinced that the musical vintage of ’83 echoes across the taste buds in the same manner as, for example, an ’84 or an ’85.
This is the type of year where significant can be deployed and its wider reach will come in useful. A Walk Across the Rooftops by The Blue Nile. Before Hollywood by The Go-Betweens. “Look, my pretties, I have The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire in my sweaty paws”. One album that rarely receives the kudos it deserves is Torment And Toreros by Marc And The Mambas. The tidal flux behind Soft Cell was frequently lacking in the majority of mainstream synth-pop around this time, yet they were conventions all the same; therefore Torment And Toreros was the sound of Marc Almond at play, a rotating cast of musicians, influences, stylistic trappings pushing the aesthetic beyond set templates.
And perhaps ’83 was all about convention. Pushing against. Running with. Porcupine, Echo and The Bunnymen album #3, was originally rejected by their (major) record label as being too cold and ill-lit, not subservient enough to the grander, anthemic qualities guitar-orientated alt-rock was pointing towards. Thrown back at the mixing desk, re-recorded and with strings, the revisit became their biggest seller to date.
Not that Mark E Smith ever understood convention. Perverted By Language was first album by The Fall to feature Brix E Smith, whose tenure was eventually to coincide with a slight shuffle towards more mainstream territory (emphasis on slight). This record, however, is as gloriously rough-hewn, ramshackle and rumbustious as ever.
Elsewhere, I’m going to float three words in your direction – Power, Corruption & Lies – then leave them hanging; for an outfit with such the cultural indentation, New Order misfired frequently, although this, their second album, has to be approaching their apex. Next Zeichnungen Des Patienten O.T. – the second Einstürzende Neubauten LP. Just as experimental as their début, but the form and function of the sound was pulled from a far wider pool; scavenged morsels of ambient soundscape and analogue sampling amid the more deliberately obtuse industrial motifs and grinding bass lines. At first glance there isn’t too much shared genetic material between this and Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again, yet the latter marked a turning point – the moment when just your ordinary, clean-cut electro pop suburbanites began to explore far darker territory – dissonant lyric contexts and – in the style of Einstürzende Neubauten – off-kilter accessorisation.
All of which leaves me scrabbling around for a favourite from this year like a drunk actor after a simile. That’ll be Soul Mining by The The. Only seven tracks, but all clouded an emotional state almost dystopian in nature. A record full of wet Tuesday evenings, drinking gin alone at the kitchen table whilst the strip light flickers. Cheers.
Jonathan Richman / Those Conga Drums
Cabaret Voltaire / Haiti
Einstürzende Neubauten / Armenia
The The / Uncertain Smile (Promo 12”)