1980, ’81 and ’82 aren’t seen as a glorious period in popular music. Punk was dead. Punk’s second wave was dying. Ian Curtis had (rightly, in my opionion, and that’s said with love) hanged himself. Most legendary American (post)punk bands were in the infant stage, if born at all, releasing scintillating but inchoate slabs of fury (PIL, Black Flag, etc). Even Prince was only gaining speed. At the same time, the cheesy new wave garbage that would dominate the eighties hadn’t totally defeated 70s soft rock yet. The sound of those years went beyond transitional. It was downright lost.
And in there, as I discovered belatedly in the mid-nineties (having been so young 80-82 that I was still listening to my parents’ records), there’s the Genre That Cannot Be Named. It certainly nods to Joy Division, sometimes taking the rhythmic innovations of Hook/Morrison to subvert the usual structure of a three minute song. They were also often poppier, usually production-wise. Low tenor, emotive singing. Reverb-heavy and impressionistic guitar.
These bands were the first to harvest all of Joy Division’s innovations. Bowie is famously quoted as saying “It’s not who does it first, it’s who does it second,” or some such shit, although when he said this, rock was so young that no one had had the chance, yet, to do it third. Third-chancers like Interpol, Editors, Bravery, even Wilderness et al, are lucky that ‘second’ came so quickly after ‘first’ that no one noticed. Especially since they forgot to do one thing that the 80-82 gang often did quite well — write songs. Interpol gets lucky with a few. And I do like Wilderness. But man, those albums get boring real fast. And don’t get me started on the Bravery, the Stills, and the second rate regulars of that patch.
Not to mention the fact that U2 steals the particulars of this Nameless Sound for the majority of its career, which was going nowhere before they shed their infantile cock-rock for the atmospherics of Boy. There’s just no question Edge was listening to The Comsat Angels, the Teardrop Explodes or the Sound. To name a few.
I’m sticking to the mostly unchic, unreleased, and unspoken-for, leaving out the cats you’ll catch on VH-1 classics, and rightly so, like Echo and the Bunnymen. So we’ll start with The Sound, a British outfit who rearely, if ever, had their records released stateside.
A quick lowdown: Their Jeopardy (1980) and From the Lion’s Mouth (1981) comprise the pinnacle of their work, two records unjustly ignored even now, for the most part. Someone could really beef their indie rock street cred by covering one of these. Sadly, there’ll be no reunion: Bassist Max Mayers fell to AIDS and principal songwriter Adrian Borland killed himself in 1999. All three are from From the Lion’s Mouth:
The Sound – Skeletons