Combat Rock (1982) gave the Clash the commercial success in America that their rabid fanbase felt they deserved and critics had expected from them since their landmark record London Calling was universally heralded as the last great record of the ‘70s. (Depending on which side of the Atlantic you were on, it could have also been the first great record of the ‘80s.). Combat Rock’s first two singles, the funky new-wave boogie of “Rock the Casbah” and the sloppy power pop of “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, were performing exceptionally well, getting them plenty of airtime on MTV, a booking on Saturday Night Live, and a gig as the opening act on the Who’s 1982 comeback tour in arenas across the United States.
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Dance music is often accused of seemingly prizing escapist content over substance. That’s a critique based upon faulty expectations. “Substance”, that very thorny, very rockist notion tied to overall determinations of worth, is honestly not often required in such music. Dance music, after all, has a very basic goal it must achieve, and anything beyond facilitating a good time on the dancefloor is an expendable bonus.
However, that doesn’t mean dance music has to sacrifice intelligence or wit, or lyricism more nuanced than the most primal exaltations. Martin Fry’s excellence as a wordsmith is a hefty reason why I enjoy his band ABC’s 1982 album The Lexicon of Love so much. Though it lacks the gargantuan and obtuse experiments typically associated with concept albums, The Lexicon of Love is most assuredly such a specimen, for every aspect of its being is employed in the service of Fry’s bitter deconstruction of modern romance.
Of all the intense young men making art from angst in the UK post-punk/New Wave scene of the mid-80’s, The The‘s Matt Johnson was perhaps the fiercest. Exhibiting a near-pyromaniacal obsession with images of hell and burning, this was a man who seemed to make music from inside the flames of his own private purgatory.
I should clarify. A Ghost Is Born is a disappointment not because it’s worse than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was easily one of the best albums of 2002 and which was, for me (and for I imagine tons of others after Pitchfork gave it a perfect score) the entry point to the band. That line of thought definitely does not need to be pursued.
Lou Reed was one of those stranger-artists whose life, health, and death interested and affected me greatly. As I spent several years listening to pretty much nothing else but the Velvet Underground and, even more, Reed’s solo work (a duration of which a friend said to me, “God, that must’ve been depressing”), I’ve felt closer to Reed than perhaps any other artist, musical or otherwise. He just seemed to speak a language I wanted hear, simply and effectively.