801: Listen Now (Island)

I DON’T know what I expected, but I thought it would be good (I mean credentials: Roxy Music/ Eno/’Diamond Head/’Tomorrow Never Knows’/Nico/etc.) but this wasn’t it… It would be very easy to write this album off as hip MOR. Whatever that means.

Actually it’s a very good pop album. Aaaaah, fragmentation! Paradoxically, the number of categories restricts you even more within them… This album doesn’t fall outside them but cuts through enough to make the idea look silly. I suppose I’m trying to say that there are hidden strengths here which aren’t immediately apparent and which take time to seep through. Like water dripping, or subtle muzak encroachment…

So what we have here is ‘Love Is The Drug’ Roxy/’Diamond Head style music, or music with enough of both in them to make it recognisable, mixed with other elements (disco bass/CSNY-Beatles harmonies/ritzy ‘total package’ cover, i.e. down to the label centre) to make it an attractive product. In fact, at times the album reeks of Beatles through 10cc – it’s no accident that Kevin Godley and Lol Creme appear – tempered with Manzanera quirkiness.

Well so far it sounds like a mainstream avantgarde turns pop/MOR eventually style move, but wait… Look at the lyrics. Without exception/redemption, the songs are bitter, down. Communication breakdown/big city paranoia/Big Brother/synthetic media distance moving to total Isolation… ‘’Is it any wonder when you’ve got no power/When you pay a thief to keep if from you?” “And though they say that home is where the heart is/They don’t know that this damned city’s heart is dead…” Or: “Saw your face on TV/You said it’s alright have no fear/I’m here/Panic’s ended/Your rights defended/From those who tried to tell you /About the other side of life…” sung oh so sweet, lilting.

Ooooh, how do yon match the two? Do you need to? Like reggae maybe: analogous heavy message in sweet medium, except little kickback: Bearing in mind its creators considerable pedigree, it wouldn’t be too much to surmise that the record is fighting fire with fire: using the established commercial medium to get over message, mirroring bland synthetic control with cool, production distanced music… with taped airport ambience (ersatz synthetic through synthetic…). Mmmhmm.

Now: care is needed here because I’m not habituated to this stuff recently: but this doesn’t inspire me like Diamond Head did. That seemed an album of joyous risks, like the riotous punning of ‘Miss Shapiro’ – this is, after all, 801 and is more calculating, consistent, and cold-blooded. Objectively, this album is too excellent not to be rewarded starwise, but personally… A lack of vitality, a certain coldness at the centre worries me. What they want, I don’t know… money? Cultural subversion? But some parts I really do like. What the hell: fire usually gets assimilated by fire and I have to feeling this’ll happen here. But listen: it’s fine… (retreats in confusion…).

© Jon SavageSounds, 15 October 1977

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