Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sailing on the Seven Seas

When founding Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark member Paul Humphreys decided to up and leave the synth-pop pioneers back in 1988, taking along multi-instrumentalist Martin Cooper and drummer Malcolm Holmes with him, it looked as though it meant the end of the road for the Liverpudlian collective, which had, up to that juncture in time, enjoyed almost a decade of critical and chart success in their native Britain. However, remaining co-founder Andy McCluskey did some serious bootstrapping, successfully retained the OMD name (although only after coming through a rather rancorous legal dispute), and launched a de facto solo career that utilised the OMD moniker for commercial familiarity's sake. The first album by the McCluskey OMD incarnation was 1991's 'Sugar Tax', a surprisingly effective blend that combined classic-style experimental sensibilities from the early 1980s, with an early-1990s sense of sleekly produced operatic-pop aesthetics. Maiden single 'Sailing on the Seven Seas' embodied this new-found methodology perfectly, with its poised, glam-rock-inspired rhythmic underpinning, neatly framed electric-piano chords, and a general, palpable air of artistic self-confidence. Check out the intentionally surreal video, shot somewhere in a desert in the Southwest United States, featuring an array of incongruous imagery, all juxtaposed together to form a dreamy, Dali-influenced panorama.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bad Lieutenant

Coming about a couple of years after the unofficial (and rather acrimonious) break-up of British rock legends New Order, Bad Lieutenant, formed by New Order alumni Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, and augmented by veteran indie-rock studio hands Phil Cunningham and Jake Evans, are starting to carve a name out for themselves amongst the cognoscenti. However, instead of the dance-inflected post-punk guitar-rock that constituted New Order's stock in trade, Bad Lieutenant offered a more Spartan, back-to-basics straightforward form of pop-rock that might be frills-free and rather unassuming, but is still compellingly melodic and engagingly accessible enough to make it to the mid-levels of the indie charts. Check out their first single, 'Sink or Swim', which makes for a very valid example of Bad Lieutenant's unpretentious artistry (with a minimalist-themed video clip to match).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mad World

'Mad World', a hoary old new-wave nugget by Tears for Fears that managed to land itself within the British singles chart top three way back in 1982, received a new lease of life in 2001, when singer-songwriter Gary Jules delivered his own unique take on the song. This reinterpretation, poised as the signature track from Richard Kelly's landmark mind-expanding, genre-defying cult classic 'Donnie Darko', was done as a slowed-down piano ballad, with minimal production values. Freed from the at-times stilted, synth-heavy trappings of its original surroundings, the song managed to take on a whole new, refreshingly different existence here, making its inherent message of alienation and existential angst even more poignant and impactful. Check out the ridiculously simple but highly effective and inventive video clip, courtesy of enfant terrible director Michel Gondry, showing a group of schoolchildren creating all manner of animated shapes on a sidewalk, which successfully displays Gondry's natural penchant for manipulating the basic elements of mise en scène in his own inimitable, unorthodox style.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unfinished Sympathy

No matter what history’s final judgement on that gauzy genre of popular music called trip-hop might be, there is no denying that its standard bearers Massive Attack remain one of the more innovative and groundbreaking acts in late-century British rock. One of Massive Attack's, and by virtue, trip-hop's signature tracks is the awe-inspiring 'Unfinished Sympathy' from 1991, the key single off the Bristol collective's phenomenal debut album 'Blue Lines', which has constantly been voted into 'best of' lists, even right up to the present day. This superlative opus features a superb, emotional vocal turn from British soul diva Shara Nelson, which drifts effortlessly above a majestic, elegant sheen of sweeping orchestral strings, offset by a inherent, streetwise hip-hop attitude, as embodied in a lockstep drum cadence and some subtle turntable scratching. Check out the revolutionary video clip, one of the earliest promos to make use of the continuous-shot concept, filmed at a gritty area running along West Pico Boulevard, and featuring an array of downtown Los Angeles-specific low-lifes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

True Faith

One of the most distinctive examples of the legendary New Order's patented synth-rock aesthetic is the mighty 1987 single 'True Faith', which was co-produced with studio wunderkind Stephen Hague. Boasting an immaculate, polished synth-pop sheen (it was one of the first ever all-digital recordings), infused with just the right amount of post-punk grittiness, this tale of lost innocence and the confusion of post-modern life had all the classic New Order artistic trademarks in place: Peter Hook's earth-rumbling, high-register bass lines, Stephen Morris's drum-machine genius, Gillian Gilbert's innovative synth wizardry, and snarling, jagged guitar motifs and an oddly sympathetic vocal from frontman Bernard Sumner. The accompanying promotional clip, done by French mime choreographer Philippe Decouflé, was an exercise in post-modern surrealism, featuring all manner of bizarre elements, from pugilists in colourful costumes running backwards in slow motion, and then beating the crap out of each other, to a sullen, bizarrely made-up girl stuck in an overturned boxer's punching bag, spelling out the song's lyrics in sign language.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Cure's Lullaby

One of the more distinctive promos in Goth-rock icons The Cure's ridiculously extensive video-clip repertoire is the one for their 1989 single 'Lullaby'. This Tim Pope-directed short film features an exhausted Robert Smith stuck in bed in some rundown Victorian-era Cheapside dive, clearly frightened out of his wits at the prospect of being eaten alive by the so-called Spider Man, an archaic and possibly mythical boogeyman of sorts. The rest of the band also put in an appearance as well, garbed as ghostly (and dusty) Salvation Army members recently resurrected from the dead. Check out this utterly spine-chilling, yet paradoxically humorous, clip, and watch out for the bit at the end where poor Fat Bob gets swallowed whole by, what else, a giant arachnid.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Learning to Fly

While more well-known for their sometimes ridiculously elaborate and complex onstage sets, a lesser-known but no less compelling aspect of prog-rock godfathers Pink Floyd's artistry is their penchant for putting out ambitious short films. One such video clip is the promo for 1987’s ‘Learning to Fly’, which was directed by longtime Floyd collaborator and venerable graphic-design icon Storm Thorgerson. Encompassing a multi-layered, conceptual storyline, this video takes in the tales of three different subjugated individuals who eventually blossom into luminaries more than the sum of their respective parts. It also garnered an unlikely MTV Video Music Award for Best Concept Video in 1988, surely a genuine surprise for the hoary old rock fogies.