Friday, October 1, 2010

Dead Eyes Opened by Severed Heads

Linguists love the concept of family trees, and when comparing languages, it is often used to describe relationships between them. It can be said, then that the Vulgar Latin is the parent language of, for example, Spanish, French, Romanian, Italian and other languages which are daughter-languages to Latin and sister-languages to each other. This model is helpful in other classification schemes, and oftentimes commentators would like to chart those same kinds of relationships between, say, genres of music. This is a natural habit, but one that doesn't always work. In linguistics, the concept of the Sprachbund is one where languages that are unrelated (or at best distantly related) acquire the illusion of relatedness through prolonged contact with each other, where so-called areal features cross "genetic" boundaries, and unrelated languages can take on very similar appearances despite having originally come from somewhere quite different.

This concept is also very apparent in the electronic music of the 80s. While I talk about this blog being dedicated to synthpop, it's often very difficult to distinguish synthpop from other musical approaches, and those other musical approaches often converged with synthpop to the point where there wasn't any longer a meaningful distinction. This resulting Musikbund leads to such finely split subgenres that it becomes very difficult, and ultimately fairly silly, to correctly "bin" some of this music.

For example, while it's not necessarily too hard to separate the early futurists like early Ultravox, early Human League, John Foxx and Gary Numan from New Romantics like Visage, Depeche Mode or Spandau Ballet, New Romanticism is itself an eclectic movement that was almost only coincidentally associated with synthpop at all, since some of its artists were purveyors of "pure" synthpop. Others, however, including much of the Visage output, Midge Ure era Ultravox, Duran Duran, Japan and others used a lot of synthesizers, but were also very familiar with regular guitars, bass guitars, live drums, etc. and some iconic New Romantics, like Adam and the Ants, didn't really use any synthesizers or drum machines at all. So where do they all fit here?

There was similar convergence with early industrial pioneers. For that matter, is Kraftwerk the prototype for synthpop, industrial music, techno, or just more generally all electronic music? While Chris & Cosey and Severed Heads are strongly associated with the industrial movement, how are songs like "October Love Song" and "Dead Eyes Opened" not synthpop? Italo-disco and Hi-NRG are linear descendants of disco, not post-punk like the rest of the synthpop movement, but again, convergence had made outfits like Bobby Orlando, Ken Laszlo, Savage, or others sound completely indistinguishable from synthpop except by the most esoteric of cues. And where in all this do other bands that don't really qualify as any of the "sungenres" very well fit? Soft Cell, Blancmange, Fad Gadget, later Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, and others? Just "plain" synthpop?

What am I do to with all of this? For purposes of this blog, I'm adopting a more "open" rather than "closed" approach. If it has a "close enough" sound and is from the right time period, I'm not going to quibble about exactly where one or the other song's genesis was. I'll include stuff by italo-disco artists, synthpop artists, New Romantics (including stuff that may feature more guitars and live drums than you'd expect), early industrialists, futurists, and more. For right now, I'm specifically including Severed Heads' "Dead Eyes Opened", which was a reasonably successful hit in the band's native Australia, but which was sufficiently underground in the US that I didn't discover it until the mid 90s, when it was already quite old, having originally been cut in 1984 or so. While the industrial influence will be quite evident, so too will be the synthpop influence, the 4/4 beat, the resolving chords, the melodic synthlines, etc. Vocalist Tom Ellard often sang lyrics too, which made their output even more synthpopish than perhaps this song would indicate. This is also the shortened, "radio" version of the song; the longer one is, mostly, just longer without adding too much other than more length.

No comments:

Post a Comment