Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Doot Doot"

Back in 1983 we had pretty much fully digested the corpse of punk rock and had more or less put to bed the real, proper, experimental first flush of the New Romantics. It felt like music was at a loss for direction.

To put things into perspective, punk rock as a genre really started when the Sex Pistols played their first gig in November 1975; the Clash released "Should I Stay or Should I Go"in 1982. Pretty much everything "punk" happened in between those dates. "New Wave" came very quickly on the heels of punk, a more acceptable label for bands who were just that little bit more together, consumer-friendly or ambitious.

By 1983 though, punk and new wave had both been overtaken by the New Romantics, who kicked off around 1979 and had their commercial heyday from about 1981 to 1985. Tubeway Army's "Are Friends Electric?" was the first New Romantic hit, quickly followed by the likes of Visage, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. Before long, any of the novelty we might have associated with eyeliner, lipgloss or unabashed indulgence had gone and New Romantics had become more or less mainstream.

Later of course would come the guitar backlash of Britpop, but for a brief while in the early to mid 1980s we really didn't have a great deal of direction.

I remember 1983 principally for the Tears for Fears debut album "The Hurting", which I found confusing and entrancing in equal measure, and for the final descent of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd into the abyss of middle-class irrelevance with "The Final Cut" (though much of that album is close to my heart for strange, unaccountable reasons).

And I remember 1983 for this little treasure. I think I may have heard it first on the same West London pirate station that had first introduced me to The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" and industrial music. I had no idea who Freur were, and I had no idea why they'd think to title a song "Doot Doot". I loved the gentle rhythmic intro, the fantastic orchestra of synthesizers and the wondrous overlaid vocals. And I still do.

But best of all, I discovered not long ago that in 1987 Freur became Underworld, who gave the world the terrific Born Slippy in 1996 as well as the utterly mesmerising music for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. It makes perfect, logical sense that a whimsical song that so ensnared me in 1983 should be the grandfather of the music that gripped me so tightly in 2012.

Friday, March 20, 2015


There are many ways to measure progress. A lot of people would point to tangible signs of mankind's advances: the internet, travel, post-industrialisation, you name it.

But how have we as little insignificant humans moved on? From the group of hirsute neanderthals huddled around a fire, to the rag-clad plague-infested hominids of the middle ages, to the sharp-suited masters of all we survey of the 21st century. Is that progress too?

I don't buy any of that. That's merely circumstance, and not particularly insightful into the way we live, interact, love, associate and grow.

I like to think that our development as a race and as a society can be measured in the way we nurture our young. How we prepare them, teach them and equip them for their own adulthood.

Back in the day, children were brought up to respect, revere and in some cases fear their elders. Father's word was law and that was that. Mother dried the tears and bandaged the scars when we decided to learn the hard way.

For the most part, that's old school. I caught the tail-end of that in the 60s, and now that my kids are teenagers, I'm only rarely interested in that kind of autocracy. I say only rarely because there are times, you know, times when our children just want a little too much leeway, don't you find?

And when things get to that level, what are the options? Well, back in the Beatles' heyday, you just left home. You packed a bag and climbed out the window or tiptoed downstairs in the wee small hours, like the girl in that song.

Forty years on, it's more likely that teenagers or young adults don't have to push all that hard to get themselves a little extra leeway. Parenting has moved on from simple autocracy to a more consultative democracy. Privileges and permissions are negotiated, or in some cases annexed.

So when the Rainmakers sing "Do you know your daughter well, and do you know she's dreaming? You know as well as I she stays higher than the moon" they're reminding us that in this age of parenting-as-partnership we still have a duty to curb excesses, point out the straight road and sometimes even pick up the pieces. Which lately it seems we're in danger of forgetting.

When a father kills his daughter because she consorted with the wrong kind of boy, what message is he sending? Is he saying that she should never be allowed to make her own mind upSeriously? In this day and age?

The Beatles seem to hark back to a time when parenting was a pretty inflexible thing, and that there was no wiggle room, no leeway and certainly no room for negotiation. The Rainmakers seem to be telling us that there's no point bolting the stable door after the 60s.

But look all around, and you'll see that accepted norms have shifted in almost every facet of our lives. What was seen as harmless fun 40 years ago is now pounced upon as racism, sexism, homophobia, harassment or abuse. And expectations have shifted too. Our children demanded it once, and now they expect it. If we don't listen and consult we're sidelined, and that's perhaps even worse.

So we walk an ever-tightening line of consent and goodwill, and we rely increasingly on innate good sense combined with whatever lessons we can pass on at an ever-earlier age. Parenthood becomes a higher-stakes game than it has ever been.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Personal Jesus"

I found this moody wonder hidden away in a dark corner of my iPod last week, and it's been on repeat a fair amount ever since. I'd forgotten what a shock this was when I first came across it around 1990, how different it was to everything else I'd heard from Depeche Mode, and just how good they'd suddenly become.

It's about relationships, about dependency of a sort, and how we look for redemption in a partner. Maybe it comes from a nagging worry that we, I, you, aren't worthy unless we're saved by a relationship that consecrates us, validates us.

And that's slightly worrying, in a sense. I'm sure we've all been told that relationships are supposed to be a meeting of equals, where strengths and weaknesses are complemented, and where neither partner holds the upper hand, the moral advantage. So it must be a shock when some of us reach adulthood and realise that we're not necessarily strong, or brave, or whatever the adjective is, to approach a relationship without uncertainty, a lack of self-confidence and the resulting feeling of inadequacy and dependence.

As if by magic, I'd just written the paragraph above when the relationship between Pierre and Marie Curie popped into my head. Both were scientists in the 19th century - he worked on the properties of magnetism, while she pioneered the study of radioactivity. Together they won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 (she won a second, in chemistry, in 1911).

They came together through their studies and recognised in each other an equal - no "Personal Jesus" there, rather a corresponding pair of intellects and interests. But are they the exception rather than the rule?

Look around at the never-ending parade of public marriages (for they're the ones we get to observe on a daily basis), and they're often out of balance; one partner is more prominent, successful, fulfilled. The other tends to be a background figure - the power behind the throne? - or a happy soul that feels no need to find balance in superficial things. Look around at your friends. We're more likely to be equals - we find a balance in the things that each partner does well.

All of which is to say that while Depeche Mode obviously saw the dependence and imbalance in Elvis and Priscilla Presley's marriage, it may not be something we all feel.

Doesn't stop this being a cracking song, though. For a start, it's a Depeche Mode song with real guitars, a simple, powerful riff backed by a stamping beat that kicks off with real intent. Slide guitar and synthesiser filigree decorate the simple marching rhythm, and the whole song is wrapped up in a sense of menace that's hard to place and hard to describe. It's menacing like the Polyphonic Spree's version of "Lithium" but without the added diabolical glee. Enjoy.