This post about bands that were big in the 80s releasing new music now has been cooking for a few weeks and only came together after Midnight Oil released their new song, “Rising Seas,” earlier this week. While they might not top many lists of the best bands of the era, they were hugely important in raising awareness of social, environmental, and indigenous issues not only in their native Australia, but in many other parts of the world as well. They also put on one hell of an energetic live show. I was fortunate to have gotten front row seats when they came through my town and holy moly was that a fun show.
I’m not sure what they’ve been up to for the past 30, 35 years and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve listened to them in almost as long, and then this week they released “Rising Seas” with a new video. Apparently they released another song earlier this summer that I totally missed. So it goes. Though it starts off a little ponderous, letting Peter Garret’s raw voice waver, and you think the whole thing is just going to topple over with the weight of its own gravitas, it moves quickly into some very interesting musical directions.
The band is so tight, the song has a very catchy melodic hook, and its messaging is solidly on brand. A protest song. A socially conscious song. A call to action song. Something we haven’t heard a while and I welcome it. It is also musically very interesting.
Another, even more, musically interesting band that was big iln the 80s also announced a forthcoming new album with a video. Tears for Fears were huge back in the day. Both “The Hurting” and “Songs From The Big Chair” were massively influential spinning off multiple songs and videos that were both popular and critically acclaimed.
You may remember Curt Smith from some social media posts last year. During the height of the pandemic, a video of him and his daughter singing “Mad World” went viral. It is a darling little video. Apparently he and Roland Orzabal have been working on this album for a while. it has been 17 years since their last album but you wouldn’t know it by the doozy of a song they released a couple of weeks ago. I am really, really looking forward to this one:
And then we have Duran Duran. Though they have stayed active since the heights of their dizzying popularity in the 80s, they have even had a few hits, it has been a few years since their last album. “Future Past” was released earlier this month and the reviews are all really, really positive. The general theme of the reviews is that on this album, the band embraces both their pop legacy but also continues to try to innovate.
It is easy to forget that they, really, were the band that invented the music video. They were very progressive for their time and have made it a point to continue to try to innovate throughout their career. Sometimes though that led to absolutely terrible albums like “Liberty” or “Red Carpet Massacre.” Shudder.
I am going to tell you now that my favourite Duran Duran album is “Big Thing,” not for the front half, the shots at chart-topping, but for the back half, for the weird, experimental stuff. For the “Tel Aviv” and “The Chauffeur” type stuff. There was a bit of online hype preceding the album release of “Future Past” describing the contributions of Giorgio Moroder and the other two producers, Mark Ronson and Erol Alkan, as well as the guitar and songwriting stylings of Graham Coxon from Blur. The singles that were released were ok. Better than anything on “Paper Gods,” but still, I approached the new album with lower than usual expectations.
Imagine then my slowly dawning delight as it became clear that they had made another “Big Thing.” There are some decent pop hits on the A side that will get, and are getting, the most media attention. Side note, do not bother watching the Rolling Stone interview. Its terrible and is what prompted me, ultimately, to write this post. The back side of the album has some really interesting songs, most notably, “Nothing Less.”
Another side note, liner notes. Remember those? It take a bit more work to dig them up in these streaming days if you haven’t bought a physical copy, but it is always worth reading them. It was in the liner notes that I noticed that Simon LeBon’s daughter, Saffron, is credited with vocals on three of these back side songs. And though I haven’t read a lot of reviews, again Rolling Stone, ugh, I have yet to see any exploration of this. This is a question I’d really like to ask Simon: what was it like inviting your daughter to sing on these songs with you? Tell us about that. Same question for you Curt. Perhaps instead of doom-scrolling one night this week, I’ll spend some time reading some longer-form articles/interviews to see if anyone has already had this discussion.
So what’s driving my creativity this week is the longevity of artists, the proven fact that if you are still breathing, you can be still creating. It also strikes me the art I love, the art I chose to build my self-identity around when I was a teenager, both still exists and doesn’t. I think there is probably a much longer conversation here about the relationships between and amongst identity, creativity, nostalgia, and the short trajectory of our lives.
But in the mean time, I’m listening to some great new music from bands who I chose to include in my teenage self-definition back in the 80s. Looking back with a touch of nostalgia but also looking forward to something a little bit new.