After months of Internet rumors and wishful thinking, the last remaining high-volume sellers of music CDs have confirmed brand spanking new releases this month from four consequential artists that left a righteously memorable mark in early video music. Based on each of the first singles circulating on various music and video channels online, the Eighties’ aren’t so distant anymore. Although their hits will forever define the music of the decade, evidence suggests that these new releases could very well outline the electronic pop genre of 2012. Let us indulge in the offerings, shall we?
TRANS-X: Hi-NRG (LOV/RECS)
Last year, the Neon Sign Museum made its debut in downtown Las Vegas, featuring over 70 years worth of Andy Warhol-style modern art that ignited the Vegas strip with bright-light illustrious illumination. Undoubtedly, a museum showcasing the golden age of video arcades will too celebrate its grand opening in the future. When it does, the theme song welcoming guests will unquestionably be ‘Living on Video’ by Trans-X, the infectious floor-burning dance track that bottled the best of Atari and Casio audio samples into one hypnotic groove to be heard around the globe. Selling over one-million units world-wide, the single brought Trans-X, the Montreal duo led by sound-engineer Pascal Languirand, American fame on MTV in 1981 while making them notoriously synonymous with electronic music internationally. However, like Space Invaders, mall arcades withered from popularity as did Trans-X. Now, 30 years later, Trans-X are back to reclaim the sound that crowned them godfathers of electro-dance with a brand new record adjectivally titled ‘Hi-NRG’.
The album’s first track “Into the Light” kicks off this space age journey, spanning an audible galaxy of modern technology while unapologetically confronting the retro past. Although much of this ride is completely virtual and synthetic, full of auto-tune vocals, Hi-NRG manages to bridge the generation gap between members of the breakfast club with fans of Top-40 porn-pop. Whereas many of Languirand’s contemporaneous synth-wizards like Thomas Dolby have archived their electronic triumphs, Languirand has adventurously resurrected many of the original Trans-X tricks that framed them in the 1980s. The generation of Speak & Spell speech synthesizers and digital whistling keyboard strokes will proudly be reminded why life was sensational when living on video. Unmistakably though, Hi-NRG doesn’t arrest listeners to an Eighties’ past. With its Euro-club dance beats and Ga Ga grooves, the record fulfills the desires of today’s music streams with effortless lyrical melodies delivered with lipstick sex appeal albeit with one exception: a respectful cover of Joy Division’s 1979 underground hit ‘Transmission’. In an unusual circumstance, we find Trans-X out of the box, covering this post-punk artifact honorably without tainting that spirit of the late Ian Curtis. A daring move which usually ends in disaster (i.e. Paul Young’s cover of ‘Love will tear us apart’); this could be the defining moment for Trans-X in the 21st Century.
MORTEN HARKET: Out of My Hands (Island Records)
Although he originally started his career as a shadowy blues-singer, Norway’s Morten Harket was destined to be a renowned pop star. Not only did his charming good looks add to his fortune, his remarkable soaring vocals would front one of the most successful European acts of all-time, creating a globally multilingual fan-ship that’s now larger than ever, though his former band a-ha have now permanently disbanded (2010). Unlike other poster pin-ups that we’ve seen come and go since as far back as the Sixties, Morten Harket was a song-writing musician first and foremost, working the studio much harder than working the camera. Harket, who turns 53 this year, has just released one the strongest records of his 30-year career. Not only does he launch a nuclear falsetto performance that rivals ‘Take on Me’ on several tracks, Out of My Hands is an effervescent attempt to pick up where a-ha abandoned the warm synths of their biggest albums (1985’s Hunting High & Low and 1986’s Scoundrel Days). With nothing further to prove, perhaps the album is tinged with regrets. After all, a-ha alienated their fans to transition and adapt their melancholic, acoustic guitar pop shortly after winning six ‘astronauts’ at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. The album’s first single ‘Scared of Heights’ vindicates any grudge one might hold with a-ha since they parted ways with their synth-pop mantra as this could very well be the best release from the Norwegian’s catalog in over 25 years. The rest of the album, including the electronic-orchestral ‘Listening’ featuring the Pet Shop Boys, demonstrates Harket’s innate ability to express his emotions through heavenly vocals content on bringing affectionate serenity to listeners of all ages.
ULTRAVOX: Brilliant (EMI Records)
Since 2009, we’ve seen Ric Ocasek shake hands with his former band-mates and take the wheel to reunite the Cars; we’ve also seen Spandau Ballet fire their attorneys and settle their differences not in court, but on stage touring the world in a reunion that the critics said would never happen. And today, news that the first Ultravox record in 28 years is now complete, with a release date scheduled for June 5th preceding a reunion tour this summer, featuring Midge Ure on vocals. Unfortunately, this reunion won’t carry much anticipation weight in America, but fans of new wave are eagerly waiting. We shall never forget how Ultravox stole the stage at Live Aid with their powerful, electrifying performance of ‘Vienna’ that still gives music historians chills today. The first single off the new album, the title track Brilliant could inarguably be an A-side single from the band’s glory years pre-1985. The song’s deep pianos, acoustic drumming, and atmospheric synthesizers composed beautifully against Ure’s frosty vocals are almost surreal. To add to the excitement, this week the band offered a sneak-peek preview of five tracks from Brilliant exclusively on their official Facebook page for 24-hours only. If the rest of the album is as potent as the first single, Ultravox could be the brightest stars on the comeback trail since David Lee Roth reunited with Van Halen.
MEN WITHOUT HATS: Love in the Age of War (Cobraside/City Hall Records)
Last year, MWH founder / lead singer Ivan Doroschuk pledged a new MWH album in 2012 and by gosh, he has delivered on that promise. However, when leaks appeared that the band were in production with David Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson), there was serious skepticism on whether or not this would be a ‘Hat’s-friendly’ session of retro proportion. According to Doroschuk, “(he) brought a whole new dimension to Men Without Hats.” – gasp. However, the first single ‘Head Above Water’ is filled with saccharine and all of the wholesome ingredients that carried MWH throughout the '80s. In other words, ain't much changed since Pop Goes the World and that's a sigh of relief we all can breathe. Love in the Age of War is now available as a download release-only and according to sources, a CD format is scheduled for release weeks before the band kicks off a US tour this autumn.
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