The 1980s are back in vogue, for better or worse. With bands like Interpol garnering critical success for aping Joy Division, Duran Duran earning a Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, and the ubiquity of VH1's I Love the 80s, you'd think there was a Bush in the White House. Oops.
New York City's the Fever have caught the retro '80s zeitgeist, but rather than evoke that decade's doom 'n' gloom, the band revels in its fabulousness. The debut EP, Pink on Pink, is full of (for five songs at least) glammy, sleazy synth-pop that could have been beamed directly from 1986. It's a thin line between genuine appreciation of campy new wave and an eviscerating parody thereof, and the Fever try to have it both ways. Those looking for send-up of the '80s almost-pornographic levels of excess will find Pink on Pink hilarious, while others hoping for a rollicking revisit to the era of the keyboard-drenched rock album won't be disappointed . . . though Pink on Pink is occasionally too arch and bloodless for its own good.
A wiser man than I once said brevity was the soul of wit, and to their credit, the Fever turn in four sharp originals and an inspired cover of Sheila E's 1984 smash "Glamorous Life"; however, one fears they've only got enough material to sustain the joke for five songs. That said, what they have works. Sanchez Esquire's (everyone in the band uses a nom de rock) sloppy, sleazy guitar work is a perfect match for keyboardist J's organ and Geremy Jasper's rough-hewn vocals on "Ponyboy" and "Ladyfingers". One gets the sense that the band has seen '80s NYC drag scene documentary Paris Is Burning a few dozen times.
"Ponyboy" and "Ladyfingers" won't spur you to buy old Square Pegs episodes off eBay, but "Bridge and Tunnel" and EP centerpiece "Pink Paganz" very well may. The former, described by the band as the inverse of Tom Waits's "Jersey Girl" (Jasper's narrator pines for the hustle and bustle of the city), is all bassist Pony's pulsing bass and Esquire's nervy guitar keeping pace with Jasper's very fast, very faux-British vocals. The tune doesn't have much to say -- "The devil collects token when God is on your side", to sample one line -- but to these ears that bespeaks an understanding of '80s style over substance.
Meanwhile, "Pink Paganz" is Pink on Pink's standout track. Musically, it's a synth-pop burlesque waltz that calls to mind California-era Mr. Bungle. Jasper snarls a commentary of '80s excess -- "The faker the fur / The heavier the pet" -- then turns the chorus over to a synthesized computer voice. Good stuff, and they end strong with a thematically apt cover of "Glamorous Life", whose final line sums up the worth of all the fabulous materialism: "Without love / It ain't much".
Picking on '80s culture -- a popular activity now because culture seemingly is doomed to repeat itself every 20 years or so and because there's an army of ironists out there who love to do so (see every talking head on I Love the 80s) -- might as well be shooting fish in a barrel. Fun as Pink on Pink is, and I must admit that the Fever do a fine, fun job lambasting a decade ripe for just that, I can't shake the feeling that they'd have had just as much fun playing it straight, instead of with eyebrow arched. There's plenty of silly, cheesy, disposable '80s tunes that will be remembered long after the Fever hang up their legwarmers.