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The New Wave era of the 1980’s has proven one of the most versatile genres in music. Evolving from post-punk, and encompassing sub-genres as disparate as Synth-pop, Goth, New Romanticism and Big Music, it laid the groundwork for the alternative rock movement of the 90’s.
New Wave’s elastic brand encompassed so many artists, that for every breakout star (U2, INXS, Duran Duran, Simple Minds, The), there were just as many bands that got lost in the shuffle, or unfairly branded as one-hit wonders.
So let’s look back at 8 underrated 80’s New Wave bands that deserve another listen.
Essential Tracks: Away, Please, Crack In Smile, Happy Boy, Sunday Morning
Essential Albums: Friends, Lindys Party
These Londoners expertly blended dance beats with gothic undertones, making moody songs with killer hooks including ‘Away’ and ‘Please’.
The group had initial success on college radio and a modest hit album with 1987’s ‘Lindy’s Party’. But record label issues stalled their (as yet unreleased) album ‘Country Life’ and the band folded soon after.
As of 2015: Singer/guitarist Trevor Tanner and keyboardist Paul are still active musicians, but work as solo artists.
Essential Tracks: This Is The Day, Uncertain Smile, Giant, Infected, Heartland, The Mercy Beat, The Beat(en) Generation, Armageddon Days Are Here (Again), Love is Stronger Than Death, The Dogs of Lust
Essential Albums: Soul Mining, Infected, Mind Bomb, Dusk
Trent Reznor was inspired to start Nine Inch Nails thanks to the influence of Matt Johnson, the mastermind and sole constant member in music project The The, with rotating guest collaborators including Sinead O’Connor, Neneh Cherry, and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
Mixing electronic textures and dance rhythms with blues rock, Johnson’s work ranged from the deceptively pop of This Is The Day, to darker tracks like ‘The Dogs of Lust’.
His deeply political lyrics have informed songs like ‘Infected’, which dealt with the late 80’s AIDS epidemic, or ‘Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)’, which dealt with the Cold War conflicts of the 1980’s.
As to why they never became a huge act? Perhaps it was Johnson’s refusal to make the same album twice, which made his music hard to pigeonhole from a marketing standpoint.
Thoughtful, provocative and emotive, The The’s work feels as timely as ever, and well worth rediscovering.
As of 2015: Johnson is currently readying a new studio album set for a tentative 2016 release.
Essential Tracks: Between Something and Nothing, Drifting, Falling, Vanity Fair, Myron, Sublime, Mercury
Essential Albums: The Ocean Blue, Cerulean, Beneath The Rhythm and Sound
Unless you knew they were from Hershey, Pennsylvania, you’d be forgiven for thinking The Ocean Blue hailed from the UK.
Their crystalline guitar lines, cooing vocals and lush production were influenced by bands like Echo and The Bunnymen and The Smiths, but their musical output has its own distinct charms.
While the band got significant airplay from their self-titled 1989 debut, they got shafted upon the arrival of Grunge, lapsing into cult status.
As of 2015: After bouts of inactivity, the group resurfaced in 2010. Their most recent release was 2013’s Ultramarine.
Essential Tracks: I Got You, Poor Boy, History Never Repeats, Six Months In A Leaky Boat, Hard Act To Follow, Dirty Creature, Message To My Girl
Essential Albums: True Colors, Waiata, Time and Tide
This eclectic New Zealand group morphed from folk to prog and eventually New Wave. One of the first bands featured on MTV, their videos for ‘I Got You’ and ‘One Step Ahead’ brought New Wave to the masses.
But touring fatigue and side projects stalled their momentum, and they called it quits by the mid 80’s. Co-vocalist Neil Finn would go on to greater success with his group Crowded House.
As of 2015: Although they have reformed for several short spurts over the past two decades, things have been quiet since 2009.
Essential Tracks: I Go Crazy, Siamese Twist, Sooner or Later, Postcards From Paradise, Seven Hail Marys, Every Little Word, Decline and Fall, Day One, Disenchanted, Tame Me
Essential Albums: Long Live The New Flesh, Plastic Fantastic, Gigantic
British rockers Flesh For Lulu are best known for their 1987 hit I Go Crazy, off the ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ Soundtrack.
But despite modest follow-up hit ‘Postcards From Paradise’, record company woes and creative issues caused the group to fold in the early 90’s.
As of 2015: The group reformed in 2013, but charismatic frontman Nick Marsh tragically died from cancer on June 5th, 2015. Now is the perfect time to celebrate his musical legacy.
Essential Tracks: Desire, Upstairs, Stephen, The Sweetest Thing, Gorgeous, The Motion of Love, 20 Killer Hurts, Every Door, Why Cant I, Evening Star, Jealous, Josephina, Heavenly Bodies
Essential Albums: Promise, Immigrant, Discover, The House of Dolls, Heavenly Bodies
The Welsh group fronted by twins Michael and Jay Aston blended gothic drama and glam rock hooks, which worked in concert with their androgynous fashion sense. They had dance club hits with ‘Desire (Come and Get it)’ and ‘Motion Of Love’, but internal discord and record label troubles dimmed their spotlight by the early 90’s.
As of 2015: Due to legal issues there are two incarnations of the band: Michael plays in the U.S. based group as Gene Loves Jezebel, while brother Jay operates as Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston in the UK, as well as his musical project Ugly Buggs.
**Fun fact: my second ever concert was Gene Loves Jezebel and Flesh For Lulu way back in 1987. Life changing!
Essential Tracks: Swamp Thing, Tears, Every Day Im Crucified, Soul In Isolation, Up The Down Escalator, Dont Fall
Essential Albums: Script of The Bridge, Strange Times, What Does Anything Mean Basically?
This Manchester England group had echoing guitar hooks to rival groups like Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure, and a charismatic vocalist in frontman Mark Burgess. So why aren’t they as well known? It’s one of music’s great mysteries.
Songs like the strident ‘Every Day I’m Crucified’, the hypnotically eerie ‘Swamp Thing’ and the shimmering folk of ‘Tears’ all point to a band that deserve far greater acclaim (bands like The Stone Roses, Oasis, and Editors have long sung their praises).
As of 2015: While the original band is no more, Burgess still performs as The Chameleons VOX, most recently on a 2014 U.S. tour.
Essential Tracks: Under The Milky Way An Unguarded Moment, You Took, One Day, Myrrh, Tristesse, Tantalized, Lost, Reptile, Disappointment, Metropolis, Ripple, Dome, Feel, Mistress, My Little Problem, June, Sealine, Louisiana, Miami, On Angel Street, Pride Before A Fall… and too many to fully list here!
Essential Albums: Too many to mention! But start here: Priest=Aura, The Blurred Crusade, Heyday, Starfish, Gold Afternoon Fix, Forget Yourself, Untitled 23, Further/Deeper.
These Australian psych-rockers are best known for their 1988 hit Under The Milky Way. But hardcore fans appreciate their rich body of work (21 albums and counting), which layers labyrinthine guitars over frontman Steve Kilbey’s soothing vocals and clever wordplay.
But despite other modest hits like ‘Reptile’ and ‘Metropolis’ they were yet another band that suffered from lack of promotion during the grunge era… particularly unfortunate given their 1992 album ‘Priest=Aura’ is now seen as a masterpiece.
But while they aren’t massive rock stars their passionate fan base will attest they’re the best band on the planet. The rest of the world needs to catch up.
As of 2015: Still going strong thanks to their excellent 2014 album ‘Further/Deeper’ a 2015 SXSW showcase and current tour with beloved new wavers The Psychedelic Furs.
Well that concludes my list of underrated 80’s New Wave bands. I hope I’ve inspired you give these groups a listen. Their work still holds up. And while The Church’s discography may look intimidating, take the plunge. It’s worth it.
I’ve also included several honorable mentions worth checking out:
Lowlife, The Alarm, Camouflage, The Lilac Time, Boomtown Rats, Translator, House of Love, Japan.
Also, be sure to have a look at my list of underrated 90’s alternative bands for even more hidden musical gems.
Now it’s your turn: agree with my choices? Have some other groups you’d like to add to the list?
Tell me in the comments.
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