October 22, 2017

Return of the ’80s! Synth-Pop Bands Stage a Middle-Aged Comeback

Return of the ’80s! Synth-Pop Bands Stage a Middle-Aged Comeback


“Dynasty” is back on television. “Blade Runner” is in theaters. And all your favorite synth pop bands from the 1980s, including Depeche Mode and New Order, have new albums.

As Generation X moves into wistful middle age, the new-wave hit makers of the MTV V.J. era are back and touring. Here are some new long-playing discs (also available for streaming!) that recall a time when all it took was an angular haircut and a Yamaha DX7 to rule the world.


Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

New release: “The Punishment of Luxury,” released Sept. 1, is the band’s 13th album (and its third since reforming in 2006). The 12-track album remains true to the band’s signature robo-pop sound and offers a rumination and indictment on have-it-all consumerism.

Synth Classics: “Enola Gay” (1980); “So In Love” (1985)

Liner notes: With their knack for infectious hooks, the founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have been called “the Lennon-McCartney of synth pop.” The hit single “If You Leave” is forever burned into Gen X consciousness, thanks to John Hughes’s Brat Pack film “Pretty in Pink.”

’80s fashion faux pas: Kraftwerk for the masses (skinny ties and black turtlenecks).

Reviews: “As returns to form go, this is like Roger Federer winning this year’s Wimbledon. No, forget that — it’s like John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg winning this year’s Wimbledon.” — God Is in the TV, a music fanzine based in Britain.


New Order

New release: Following its highly regarded 2015 album, “Music Complete,” the band released a live album in May, “NOMC15” on vinyl, CD and for download, featuring new tracks and ’80s classics. It comes after a bitter breakup with the original bassist, Peter Hook.

Synth classics: “Blue Monday” (1983), “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986).

Liner notes: Formed by the surviving members of the seminal post-punk band Joy Division after the lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide, this Manchester quartet fused angsty guitar rock, electronica and a little bit of disco to become one of the most influential bands of the last three decades.

’80s fashion faux pas: Schoolboy gone to seed (messy haircuts, rumpled button-down shirts).

Reviews: “Not the best way to experience New Order, but it nevertheless doesn’t take anything away from their timeless studio albums or their memorable live shows face to face.” — Under the Radar, an indie music magazine based in Virginia.


Depeche Mode

New release: Like other ’80s bands trying to navigate the Brexit and Trump era, Depeche Mode has gotten ever more woke. The band’s 14th studio album, “Spirit,” has fiery anthems like “Where’s the Revolution” and “Going Backwards.”

Synth classics: “Just Can’t Get Enough” (1981), “Personal Jesus” (1989)


Liner notes: Depeche Mode turned synth pop into stadium rock with its 1988 show at the Rose Bowl that drew 65,000 people. It has been in a nonstop comeback in the three decades since. Currently packing arenas on a world tour, Depeche Mode sold out two shows at Madison Square Garden last month.

’80s fashion faux pas: Transylvania Leather Bar (goatees, slicked-back hair, black leather).

Reviews: “The music moves away from the club dance floor; it moves in six beats rather than four. And the lyrics are as bluntly political as old Depeche Mode songs like ‘New Dress,’ openly confronting a new propaganda regime.” — The New York Times.


Erasure

New release: “World Be Gone,” the band’s 17th, was released in May and offers a more brooding Erasure, trading the disco frothiness for weighty social commentary on topics like political disenfranchisement on tracks like “Oh What a World.”

Synth classics: “Chains of Love,” “A Little Respect” (1988)

Liner notes: After helping start Depeche Mode and Yaz, Vince Clarke put an ad in Melody Maker in 1985 for a singer. That led him to Andy Bell; the two spawned dozens of hits that became dance club staples and went on to sell more than 25 million albums.

’80s fashion faux pas: Glam goes electronic (gold lamé, thigh-high boots).

Reviews: “Whether you like Erasure’s 17th studio album will depend on how you feel about facing the world, in its current state, in the mirror. Musically it is not their strongest, but this is one such occasion where the lyrics overpower almost everything.” — musicOMH, a Britain-based indie music site.


Alphaville

New Release: Strange Attractor, the band’s first in seven years (and only its second in 20 years) was released in April, and goes beyond the band’s synthpop DNA to dabble in funk, industrial, and rockabilly. Marian Gold’s voice still sounds ethereal on haunting songs like “A Handful of Darkness.”

Synth classics: “Big in Japan,” “Forever Young” (1984).

Liner notes: Along with Lena and Falco, this German outfit brought a Teutonic moodiness to the Day-Glo MTV era. Alphaville crossed over, however unintentionally, to a new generation when Jay-Z reinvented one of its biggest hits as “Young Forever” on his 2009 album, “The Blueprint 3.”

’80s fashion faux pas: Star Trek: Die Nächste Generation (military-style jumpsuits channeling the 23rd century).

Reviews: “Ultimately, ‘Strange Attractor’ is a take-it-or-leave-it Gold moment. After all, for an artist who has been operating with an array of sonispheric colors and hues for thirty-five years now, there is really nothing more to defy. Gold is simply making music the way he feels like it.” — Cryptic Rock, apparently your go-to site for music and horror coverage.


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