21 September 2008

Landscape - European Man

(Edit on 3 Oct: It would seem that the YouTube user has suddenly disabled embedding on this one, so go here instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpRjbl3pX-Q)

Much has been heard about a revival of eighties production values in the last few years, but it's worth reminding ourselves that, like all retro-celebration, only certain parts have been shaved off and repackaged for our enjoyment. When Britpop revived the sixties in the nineties, it was very careful to only dig out the most credible of reference points - The Kinks, The Beatles, The Who and The Small Faces all got a look-in, but there weren't many jolly, smiley suited bands out there doing their best Freddie and the Dreamers or Herman's Hermits impressions. It was exactly like Friday Night at the London Palladium had never happened (although I for one would have killed to see John Powers out of Cast doing a Dave Clark Five footstomp, or perhaps Digsy out of Smaller doing a Freddie Garrety dance).

Selective memory when it comes to referencing previous decades is an ongoing phenomenon, and here we are again, giving nods of respect to Gary Numan (whose past output actually, contrary to any lazy off-the-cuff remark you've heard just about anywhere, really doesn't look especially dated these days) and Duran Duran, but politely ignoring pioneers such as Landscape who seem rather more like a Not the Nine O'Clock News parody of New Romanticism.

Landscape, you see, were one of the first British bands out of the traps to fiddle with synthesisers, had one member (Richard Burgess) who supposedly invented the term "New Romantic" - although I'd wager that's something a few others would also lay claim to - and were so utterly Now at the turn of the decade that they blew my little infant mind. The trouble is, of course, that their vision of the future was so about-cock that it lead to goofy videos like the one above, which is a messy visual salad of arch campness and techno-angst. Like many bands of the period, they also thought that the use of digital pocket calculator fonts in their videos and packaging meant they were being forward-thinking, and thought nothing of putting out album sleeves designed on cheap eight-bit computer interfaces. Even by the time the decade closed they looked like peculiar relics, the sorts of chaps who probably thought we'd all be consulting Ceefax in the 21st Century on special mobile teletext headsets, rather than using the Internet on mobile phones.

To be fair to them, they did release one bona-fide classic single along the way which now never seems to crop up on anything other than Eighties compilations with Rubik's Cubes on the sleeve - "Einstein a Go Go". Besides that, there was also the vicious and marginally disturbing "Norman Bates" which has a much more convincing video below.

Less famously, all the members of Saint Etienne once argued that the Landscape album "From the Tearooms of Mars to the Hellholes of Uranus" was the 'worst ever made'. This is a little harsh for an album that has a few prime pieces of early electronic pop on it, but generally speaking, I would offer the advice not to bother with it unless you see it really cheap. Unless of course instrumental tango tracks played on synthesisers are your bag. Like I said, for a supposedly futuristic band, they weren't particularly gifted at understanding what the future might bring. Perhaps in a parallel universe somewhere there's a world that matches exactly with their predictions, although I'm not sure I'd want to visit it.


Paperback Tourist said...

Landscape were featured quite prominently in 'Nathan Barley', however. The Numan thing confuses me a little. I was a fan, my first gig was Gary Numan supported by OMD, but generally he was loathed and derided at the time.

23 Daves said...

I'd forgotten about the Nathan Barley feature... I wonder how many royalties they received for that?

My personal theory about Numan's career is that he was always a difficult popstar to like through his own behaviour. He came across as an idiot in numerous interviews and also through various anecdotes that have been in circulation about him, and I actually had to work past all that stuff to begin to enjoy his music. I think it helped when I finally began to realise that most pop stars are berks in one way or another, and some just disguise it much better than others. At least Numan has always been honest, and frequently self-deprecating with it.

I did do a little experiment the other week, too, watching Numan videos and those of other eighties electronic acts back to back. Whilst most of the latter do appear horrendously naive and awkward now, Numan's largely still stand up (with the odd howler here and there, but you can't have everything).

Paperback Tourist said...

Bob Satanley wrote a thing for The Guardian a few weeks back and his take on Numan was interesting:
"Gary Numan's cyber-baldie geek figure - and his unstoppable gob, telling the world every detail of his crumbly life simultaneously shattering and reinforcing his public image - seems like the kind of pop star we're unlikely to see again."
It makes him sound like Lawrence from Denim.

I've a few Numan anecdotes, like the time we went round his house in Virginia Waters and he threatened us with a baseball bat for leaning on his car. He had no furniture except a Coke dispenser.

23 Daves said...

I think I remember you telling me that one: "Get away from the car, it's not a toy!"

At the time I believed the standard stance most music journalists had taken on him, which was that he was a rather bland, slightly unfashionable Tory boy, but the more I've heard about him, the more I think he probably was (and maybe still is) completely mad. Not quite up there (or down there) with Lawrence or Dan Treacy, but definitely a rather strange man.

I didn't appreciate how much effort he put into how he was presented until much, much later either. The story about how he dictated to the lighting and camera crew precisely what he wanted on Top of the Pops before he'd even had a proper hit is actually quite ballsy and impressive.

Jim P. said...

The strangest thing about this band is their early work as a jazz/funk outfit. If you haven't heard their first release (U2XME1TIME2MANY or something like that) it's light-years off from any of this.

Excellent, excellent blog by the way. Spent the last hour going through it. Bravo.

23 Daves said...

Ah yes, the early jazz-funk stuff. I listened to that once but haven't been back since.

Glad you like the blog, Jim - do continue to drop by.