The wild popularity of the Netflix series Stranger Things told me something was up. This wasn’t some cleaned up riff on the 1980s like That Seventies Show was for the previous decade, but all the ugliness of the period in living colour. Big hair, badly fitting clothes, and that legacy of 1970s botched renos cast against a backdrop of deeply sonorous yet strangely ominous keyboards. Imagine Krafwerk playing in the background of Three’s Company. Then when Walk The Moon’s spot on reproduction of a 1980s pop dance single “Shut Up and Dance With Me” hit the top of the charts I knew it was ‘welcome back 1980s, all is forgiven …’
Bleachers really nailed the 1980s sound on their 2014 debut, Strange Desire. It was like Jack Antonoff went through all the great records from that decade and isolated the keyboard and drum sounds from various hits to act as the palate for his own songs. I couldn’t stop listening to “Rollercoaster” with its Springsteen-esque wistful opening that gives way to an insurgent and relentless poprock mini-masterpiece. I could just laud the whole album – it’s that good – but check out the John Waite “Missing You” meets Hall and Oates loping rhythm of “Wake Me” or the frosty ‘I’m so cool being this indifferent’ English vibe of “Like a River Runs.” 2017’s Gone Now complicates things with a host of guest producers but the 1980s resonance is still there, particularly when he’s channeling Prince on songs like “Hate That You Know Me” and “Let’s Get Married.” Personally, I really like the pastiche quirkiness of “I’m Ready to Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise,” which sounds like a Fun b-side.
Wake MeI’m Ready to Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise
For others the 1980s influence is more muted, sometimes temporary (maybe just one song), or operates at the level of gut feeling. Dreamcar have been dubbed a new wave supergroup, which is not something anyone would have predicted from former members of No Doubt and AFI. “Born to Lie” has all the right 1980s bombast, with stentorian hooks hit home via a tapestry of overlapping vocal parts. Imagine some of the new romantic bands mingled with Asia, from their first album. Paramore’s excursion into the 1980s is more one off and atmospheric. It’s there in the keyboards, it’s there in the vocals, but really “Grudges” fits the label in the prelude to the chorus and chorus.
Born To LieGrudges
A more serious engagement with the 1980s comes from Ireland’s The Strypes. The buzz around this group’s early material had Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller, and Jeff Beck lining up as fans. And why wouldn’t they? The band was doing British blues like the pros, but with an inspired spring in their step. Hey, that’s fine for people who like that sort of thing. But I love the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Jam when they leave the blues behind and develop their own distinctive, more melodic songwriting styles. So I was thrilled with the transformation of the band on their most recent release, 2017’s Spitting Image. Now the blues sinks into the background in favour of more 1980s poprock stylings of Rockpile and the Jam. Things rocket out of the gate with “Behind Closed Doors” and never look back. Just check out the masterful poppy roll out of “Grin and Bear It” or Jam-like intensity of “A Different Kind of Tension.” And then “Black Shades over Red Eyes” has the easy swing of Elvis Costello’s first album, with a bit of Springsteen thrown in. The album still shows its blues roots here and there, with a particularly bluesy sense of melody on “Oh Cruel World.” An acoustic EP of the record is also great, particularly the stripped down version of “Grin and Bear It.”
A Different Kind of TensionOh Cruel WorldGrin and Bear It (acoustic)
Like decades before it, the 1980s will be broadly mimicked for a while but that will tire. It’s long-lasting contributions will show up more subtlely. Let’s give Bleachers, Dreamcar, Paramore and The Strypes a hand (and some cash) for getting it all started with such talent.