1986. It’s a very different proposition to the sequence of four digits we’re currently lounging under. Different, but also eerily familiar; the films, the books, the breaking news writ large – not to mention the weight of vinyl that occupied the new release racks in your local record store – they pose as cultural mileposts. Moments of punctuation; a previous chapter that’s helped us to where we are right now. Should you be too young for 1986 to have made any personal impact, you may be thinking along the lines of what is this old fart wittering on about? And I probably wouldn’t argue back, to be honest – although this isn’t some candle held aloft for nostalgic purposes. It’s more that in a certain light, this is a period of time that doesn’t necessarily feel as far back as it really was.
The flipside to which arrives when browsing the list of ’86’s significant albums – research, kids – where the only contemporary album I purchased at the time would have been Please by The Pet Shop Boys. I was listening to a large quota of ’60’s / early ’70’s stuff around then; the obvious (Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kinks) as well as some less well-known stuff (The Pretty Things in particular); the ironic tinge being that there’s far less distance between 1986 and the late ’60’s than the space defining now from ’86.
1986. Obviously I’ve subsequently added to the Pet Shop Boys compliment. The Man by Bill Drummond – there’s a semi-forgotten disc that deserves a higher profile. A gent with a hair-trigger constantly eyeing up the reboot button, this is eclectic dining. Miles away from the particulars of the KLF material, it nonetheless wields that sense of outsider iconoclasm that his later work with Jimmy Cauty exudes.
Born Sandy Devotional by The Triffids and Filigree & Shadow by This Mortal Coil are both strafed entries in my notebook. The latter in particular is a specifically dense listen; earnest in design and by execution, the mixture of cover versions and glazed, dreamy instrumental pieces flows without ever entirely convincing. At times sounding like a vanity project for 4AD main-man Ivo Watts Russell, it nonetheless intrigues as much as it frustrates.
Bend Sinister contains ‘Bournemouth Runner’, my favourite track by The Fall – and is therefore an album which possesses a special place in the vinyl pile. Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration features three of four songs defined by a sly momentum, stylings not totally unacquainted with brutalist posturings; unfortunately (to be honest) it also aligns itself with quite the chunk of filler – we’d have to wait for Violator for the definitive DM LP.
1986 also witnessed three début albums that us sad music geeks grow somewhat teary-eyed over (especially when drunk). Sound Of Confusion, Spacemen 3’s début, is in certain respects well-titled; fuzzily-hewn dynamics concussed by a paucity of original material and an undercut of production. The eponymous LP by The Shop Assistants (aka Will Anything Happen) works better as a construct, even if they did split soon after release. Wonderful jangly guitars, perky songwriting, and female vox make this required listening, even if potential was never met. Thirdly, there’s Giant by The Woodentops. Ambitious, idiosyncratic, layers of acoustic guitar across which the broad strokes come courtesy of a range of instrumentation. Could have been a messy introduction – instead it’s deeply engaging.
Next: The Colour Of Spring by Talk Talk. A band who’ve had a ridiculous degree of exposure of late on this blog – and that’s not counting the excitement generated from two forthcoming mandatory purchases; Spirit Of Talk Talk, a beautifully designed band biography by Chris Roberts; and an accompanying tribute LP compiled by aficionados and featuring King Creosote alongside many others. Hence the avoidance of overkill suggests the brevity route; this is a record defined by the false friendship of autumnal colour – and is all the more beautiful for it. Taking the middle ground between the poppier sentiment of their first two albums and the more esoteric, jazz-influenced anti-commercialism of the Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock records, this is music that replenishes the psyche every single time it hits the turntable.
The Colour Of Spring is a terrific album; the fact that The Queen Is Dead – the third studio album by The Smiths – was released in the same year makes it particularly difficult to arrive at any definitive accolade. This is an wildly expansive record, Johnny Marr all broad canvas and assertive in the particulars of composition, as if in competition with Morrissey’s lyrical dexterity. This is the first Smith’s album in which every single track is capable of delivering a knock-out blow; swaggering, caustic, emancipating, electrifying from the opening title track onwards – the sound of a creative unit and the top of their game.
Spacemen 3 / Losing Touch With My Mind
The Woodentops / Travelling Man