Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Obsession Now: The Lucy Show, "Ephemeral"

A lot of alternative music released in the 1980s had a quite distinctive sound. There's a lot of reverb, a lot of layered guitars but little guitar-wanking; a certain melancholy tinges it even as rhythms are mid-tempo or faster.

A friend tipped me to The Lucy Show's "Ephemeral (This is No Heaven)", a song I'd never heard. In less than a minute, it had slipped into the well-worn conduits blazed in my mind by the likes of Wire Train, U2, the Smithereens (yes, them) and especially the Chameleons UK, with faint echoes of post-Bauhaus Peter Murphy and the Church. It's a gloriously different sound from the constipated AOR of the 1970s, consciously rejecting the diluted blues that had made the Stones so powerful but which by the end of the decade had been warmed over too often by too many imitators and had lost all its vigor. The new sound was cold and suggested the impersonal mien of the electronic machines then making their presence felt everywhere. It was not music that you loved, not at first. Significant mental rewiring was required before you could imagine it being "familiar" and therefore enjoyable. Only the thorough exhaustion of all life in the old sound could have accounted for the success of the new.

I like the vague sense of foreboding carried by the minor key melody. I like that the vocals are much less prominent than in your average AOR song, and almost seem to be trying to break the surface of the guitar-painted soundscape. I like that the guitars shimmer and ring like multitudinous bells, filling the air but leaving the instrumentalists very much in the background: a known presence yet still invisible, like the wind.

It's a curious reflection of my own mental journey, I suppose, that when I contrast this with the contemporary pop music I hear, the latter comes up absurdly short. Today's pop mines rhythm and blues, funk (by way of hip hop), country, and even folk, but for all its conscious sourcing, the end result falls terribly flat: it universally reads as stagey, inauthentic, and emotionally void. By comparison, even an obscure band like The Lucy Show seems to be saying something interesting with "Ephemeral". I suppose the difference lies not in the eras but in The Lucy Show being obscure and "alternative" (back when the term actually meant something) while the pop I dislike is, well, pop, calculated and produced to within an inch of its life. The comparison, then, is unfair inasmuch as a decent struggling artist is always going to seem more authentic and interesting than a performer that has sanded off all the rough edges so as to turn off the fewest possible potential fans.

Anyway, if your mind appreciates the curiously anomalous sound of '80s alternative, you could do much worse than "Ephemeral". I have been obsessively replaying it online, hoping against hope I don't burn myself out on it before I can make it to Amoeba and search the cut-out bins.

No comments:

Post a Comment