Julian Cope's Head-On is a fantastic book, proof that musical and literary talent have no necessary correspondence - whether krautrock or megalithic exploration, his books are invariably better than the records. Anyway - one of the many pleasures of Head-On is in its unsentimental but unashamedly mythic evocation of place - Liverpool - and time - 1978-82, to the point where it's hard to read without an intense historical jealousy taking over. It makes both seem shabby, petty and breathlessly exciting, a scene that combines the expansive, bohemian and bitterly provincial, which is Liverpool all over. Part of what is interesting in it is in seeing just how wrong the Liverpool in-crowd (of which Cope was unabashedly one) were, how their coolness and their talent were in inverse proportion. As a rule, if the young Cope dismisses a band - John Foxx's Ultravox, Visage, Japan, Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark - they will be very interesting, but if he takes them seriously - Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah!, his own group - then it's Merseybombast all the way. Until recently, conventional wisdom would seem to agree, and one of the most exciting things about the early, canon-forming days of K-Punk was that we were reminded that Visage presaged techno, while the Bunnymen merely presaged Oasis.
Efficient, logical, effective, and practical.
Using all resorces to the best of our ability.
Changing, designing, adapting our mentalities.
Improving our abilities for a better way of life.
The contempt in Head-On for OMD is very funny - pretentious ex-hippies fronted by 'Leo Sayer' with a risible name. Out of the list above, they're still relatively unhip, lacking any Sylvian panache, their rep marred by astounding lapses in taste (three words: Joan of Arc). They have an obvious appeal for me as poets of port cities, hymning the romance of the Wirral rather than the Cavern, observers rather than participants. The relationship of postpunk to Modernism and industrial decline is an odd one, with much of it missing the imminent shift to the post-industrial - making songs that evoked factories when the factories started disappearing. OMD's best work has an industrial melancholy to it, a sense of loss, of something ending - so Architecture and Morality, with its gorgeous Peter Saville cover of abstracted international style details, claims on the sleeve to have taken the term from arch anti-modernist David Watkin. Songs like 'Sealand' have an expansiveness, sense of transience and an overwhelming, abstract longing that seems to fit the experience of a major port as much as Joy Division incarnate a mythologised tower-and-motorway Manchester or Cabaret Voltaire steelworks and New Brutalism. This all comes together perfectly in Dazzle Ships, picked up by me a few days ago for a very reasonable sum and seldom off the stereo since. Unsurprisingly, as according to Paddington, what we have here is 'a farewell to a utopian period whose potential was never allowed to be realised, a recognition of the empty nothingness of the present, a grim forecast of tragic future.'
Machines are living too, they're working for me and you!
There is, or was, a radio station in Southampton and Portsmouth called 'Ocean FM'. It played the usual pish, but it should have played this - the sound of a bleak month on a container ship compacted into a half-hour. If Dazzle Ships is a concept album, the concept seems to be communication, travel and distribution as enabled by technology, something usually carried out dispassionately, but here made overwhelmingly romantic, a pathetic fallacy for obsolete machinery, with an underlying terror at the prospect of turning ourselves over to abstractions, whether technology or capital. So there's a willed innocence to much of it, with 'Telegram' making this wholly superseded technology wildly exciting - 'I've got a telegram!' he sings, attempting to tap into the joy of its early discovery. Elsewhere, it's about deception as much as communication. The Dazzle Ships of the title are perfectly chosen, as this experiment in warpaint for Great War battleships was, until after 1945 Britain's only major experiment with Modernist abstraction in public life, a utopian idea utilised for depressingly, if impressively atavistic purposes. The title track, with its collage of empty space, foghorns, forlorn drones and sudden, panicked alarms, is almost synaesthetic in its evocation of a locked-down landscape controlled by the defence industries, a blank lullaby to Cold War big tech.
The sound always returns to that pioneered on 'Sealand', a wistful industrial balladry, wrenched away from sentiment by the speak & spell tones, Czech radio announcers, crackles of noise, blank snatches of broadcasts on torture in Latin America. Each of them all but begs a listening position where one is surveying cranes, ships, silos, pylons, microwave receivers, an album permanently on the viewing platform by the docks but seldom allowed to come any closer. It's intensely sad, marked by the realisation that all the things that were supposed to bring us together and make us into more decent creatures - radio waves, international transport, communications technologies, automation - are easily used for less rationalist purposes. It's an album of laments by and for disappointed modernists. If it predicts any future at all, it's one where these technologies will have expanded exponentially, and where we will have drifted ever further apart. And with that, I'm off to Southampton for a week or so, and will be testing its synaesthetic properties when there.
(the fantastic videos here are taken from The People's Palace on YouTube)