Music

A Flock of Seagulls: Remixes & Rarities

This odds 'n' ends compendum from the underrated '80s band does exactly what it says on the box, for better or worse.


A Flock of Seagulls

Remixes & Rarities

Label: Cherry Pop
Release Date: 2017-03-31
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In the 1980s, pop music was a lot more efficient than it is today. For example, during that decade A Flock of Seagulls came on the scene, released some era-defining singles, made an indelible impression on the culture, jumped the shark, and disbanded within the time it now takes between Depeche Mode albums.

Even at the time, the Liverpool quartet were seen as a bit strange at best and kitschy at worst. There was the self-titled debut in 1982, which, like its smash hit "I Ran", was centered around alien abduction. There was the name, daff but somehow fitting, which derived either from Richard Bach's new-agey Jonathan Livingston Seagull album or, more rock-respectable, from a Stranglers lyric. There was the clumsy, cut-rate artwork. There was the guitar player with the oversized Elizabeth Taylor shades and the singer who '80s-danced behind a synthesizer while he sang.

And there was that hair. Something of a paradox, it certainly garnered AFOS a lot of attention in its early days. Yet in becoming an iconic symbol (both sincere and sarcastic) of the '80s, it has defined the band's legacy at the expense of its music.

Of course, it hasn't helped that frontman Mike Score has spent the last three decades touring with a revolving cast of long-haired, would-be metalheads under the Flock of Seagulls name, doing the nostalgia/state fair/dive bar circuit, releasing precious little new music in the process.

In the '80s A Flock of Seagulls released three albums whose quality varied between respectable and really quite good. Several of the singles from those albums were excellent, and have since become classics. So a moderately-priced, two-disc compilation highlighting the band's glory days would sound like a great find. But it isn't exactly.

The truth is in the title. Remixes & Rarities collects nearly all the non-album material from the band's Jive Records days. Therefore, it gives you the essential hits, but mostly in inferior 7" edits. Then it gives you several other versions of those hits in various lengths, live cuts, alternate edits of b-sides, and then some really inessential stuff, such as an instrumental mix of "Who's That Girl", from their 1986 nadir.

Even so, there's enough to salvage a more-than-respectable impression of the band. The "longer" version of "I Ran" captures the band's underappreciated knack for dynamics as well as undeniable hooks. It still sounds like something out of another world. That impression is made even stronger by "Space Age Love Song", A Flock of Seagulls' true masterpiece. With its thundering effects, heartfelt lyrics, and Paul Reynolds' effects-drenched guitar runs in place of a chorus, it works up a swell of sound that is positively Spectorian; it's little surprise the legendary producer was himself a fan. Add in the earnest, surging, E-bow'd coda of "Wishing", especially in its nine-minute iteration, and it is safe to say A Flock of Seagulls inadvertently helped invent shoegaze. It is mind-blowing to think both songs made the US Top 40.

Remixes & Rarities has other delights to recommend it. The harrowing "Nightmares" ("Mama I keep having nightmares / Mama am I ill?") invokes Joy Division in its understated intensity. The live tracks show that the band were capable of reliably reproducing their outsized music with confidence. And b-sides like "The Last Flight of Yuri Gagarin" reveal a more abstract, experimental facet of the band. Though, how many people are truly interested in A Flock of Seagulls' more abstract, experimental side? One person's treasure is another person's detritus.

Cherry Pop went out of their way to track down the original masters, which is an indication that Remixes & Rarities is intended mainly for hardcore completists. A Flock of Seagulls' first three albums have already been reissued, and they are a much better place to get an accurate picture of this underrated band.

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