On October 1, 1980 Circle Jerks released Group Sex, a landmark hardcore punk album featuring 14 songs in 15 minutes. Here the party punk band tackle subjects like alienation ( "World Up My Ass"), sex ("I Just Want Some Skank") and drugs ("Wasted"), the last one originally recorded when vocalist Keith Morris sang with Black Flag. Morris told Slash Magazine:
"Everyone calls us punk rock. We're just a garage band. We've slowly built up a fairly large following. When we started the only place we could play were places like Blackie's and private parties. Ten we started playing the Hong Kong and opened for the Dead Kennedys at the Whiskey a couple of times.
Also in October of 1980, The Angry Samoans released their six-song, ten minute debut EP, Inside My Brain. Mike "Metal Mike" Saunders explained the band's sound to Creep.
"I don't want to hear songs longer than two and a half minutes. If you go three minutes someone should kick you in the fucking ass. You should have a gun pointed at your head and as soon as you hit three minutes..."
Among the songs is "Get Off The Air", directed at Los Angeles disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer.
Sez Ripper Magazine:
"If your mental profile consists of deeply-ingrained anger and resentment, if you get so pissed off sometimes you just want to explode, if your idea of relaxing is watching horror movies filled with blood and gore, then you'll get a thrill out of this record."
Produced by Philip Glass, Polyrock's self titled debut is full of quirky but faceless new wave pop, highlighted by "Your Dragging Feet". Critics subtracted points from the debut for self consciousness and lack of spontaneity.
From Robert Christgau who graded the album a B:
The same sopranos who sound so right choraling through coproducer Philip Glass's rockish hypnorhythm pieces make this arty dance-rock band sound like, dare I say it, disco. At other points the music whispers, I feel constrained to add, Philip Glass. The strangulated vocals I blame on, who else, David Byrne. That it almost gets over anyway is a credit to crescendo techniques developed by, that's right, the Feelies--who could have used some coproduction themselves.
Roky Erickson and the Aliens: I Walked With a Zombie
13th Floor Elevators cult figure Roky Erickson returned from years inside a mental hospital with Five Symbols, an album full of devils and demons, and goblins and zombies, on an album produced by CCR drummer Stu Cook. It's gritty and grungy and, for good reason, you get the feeling Erickson is still surrounded by demons.
The UK's Inmates follow-up their hit album First Offense with more of the same mix of Dr Feelgood-style garage rock and R+B. You get covers originally done by the Music Machine ( "Talk Talk"), The Rolling Stones ("So Much In Love") and The Isley Brothers ("Why When Love Is Gone"). They're not breaking new ground here but they sound so good.
"Commercial potential? Why not? Since I breathe air, I am commercial. Everybody's commercial. There just aren't that many good publicists and ad people and there aren't that many good record companies. I think kids are bored enough that if they got a chance to hear my music, they'd like it"
- Captain Beefheart in Trouser Press.
In September of 1980, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band released Doc At The Radar Station, an equally good if not more forceful follow-up to the comeback album Shiny Beast ( Bat Chain Puller). Again Beefheart brought in a group of very talented musicians willing to work for a dictator under a tight deadline. They recorded the album in a week! The first song they tackled was "Dirty Blue Gene", originally recorded during the Clear Spot sessions in 1972.
From the new convoluted guitar and drums introduction, the band blaze away in a tricky stop/start creation, fast and furious -bulbous,even - with guitar lines bursting out in bloom all over its surface and (John) French yelling the lyrics behind Captain Beefheart (Don) Van Vliet's ecstatic vocals. Charles Shaar Murray opined: "Something like the intro to 'Dirty Blue Gene' literally could not be the work of anybody else.
Beefheart did a lot of press for the album. At 39, he dismissed the current music scene, telling Lester Bangs
"I don't ever listen to 'em, you see, which is not very nice of me but ...then again why should I look through my own vomit? I guess they have to make a living though".
Guitarist Gary Lucas invited some of the top music journalists to his apartment to listen to the album and they lavished Doc At The Radar Station with praise. "Captain Beefheart's Most Medititative, Heroic Album" was the headline in Ken Tucker's Rolling Stone review. Downbeat gave the album four and a half stars. Doc finished #8 in the New York Times Ten Best list. "As brilliant as album as anyone has released this year," said Musician while Creem said "Prime Beefheart Like You Haven't Heard In Years".
Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of A-, writing :
Beefheart is an utter original if not some kind of genius, but that doesn't make him the greatest artist ever to rock down the pike--his unreconstructed ecoprimitive eccentricity impairs his aesthetic as well as his commercial reach. Only don't tell grizzled punks now discovering the boho past, or avantish rockcrits who waited patiently through the cleansing storm for musicianship to come round again. In synch with the historical moment for once, Beefheart offers up his most uncompromised album since Trout Mask Replica in 1969--never before have his nerve-wracking harmonies and sainted-spastic rhythms been captured in such brutal living color. Me, I've always enjoyed his compromises, which tend to be crazier than normal people's wildest dreams, and wish he'd saved some of his melodic secrets for the second side.
On September 29, 1980 The Police learned their new single, "Don't Stand So Close To Me", had entered the UK charts at #1. It would become the best selling single of the year in the UK, a top ten hit in the United States, and the theme song to 2020, the year of the Coronavirus.
The song was not, of course, written about social distancing. Now a sex symbol fronting the biggest band in the world, Sting had once been a school teacher.
In 1981 he said:
I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom. I'd done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don't know... Then there was my love for Lolita which I think is a brilliant novel. But I was looking for the key for eighteen months and suddenly there it was. That opened the gates and out it came: the teacher, the open page, the virgin, the rape in the car, getting the sack, Nabokov, all that.
In September of 1980 Tom Waits released the US#96 Heartattack And Vine, an album full of vitriol for Hollywood bashed out in about a month. It's a transitional album for Waits, as Spin's Alternative Guide's Bill Wyman put it, "out of his jazz-cat's rut and (into) something closer to rock'n'roll." On the title track Waits unleashes his fury, yelling over the backing track like a madman.
And mad he was.
Waits has just moved to New York when Francis Ford Coppola hired him to write the soundtrack to One From The Heart on the Zoetrope lot. But Coppola's second guessing and indecision took its toll on Waits. He used Heartattack and Vine as an outlet for his frustration
The album is also home to "Jersey Girl", later covered by Bruce Springsteen. Waits had met a Jersey Girl , Kathleen Brennan, at a New Year's party in Los Angeles just days before his move to New York. Little did he know she worked for Zoetrope as a story analyst so four months later, as Waits recalls:
Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.
The album is also home to "Jersey Girl", later covered by Bruce Springsteen. Waits had met a Jersey Girl , Kathleen Brennan, at a New Year's party in Los Angeles just days before his move to New York. Little did he know she worked for Zoetrope as a story analyst. So four months later, as Waits recalls:
Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.
Rolling Stone's Stephen Holden wrote of the album:
In a time when hipness is often equated with selfishness, Waits’ woozy, far-out optimism has never seemed fresher. While he can be faulted on many counts — the godawful condition of his voice, his perverse love for dime-store kitsch imagery — the purity of his intentions is never in question: Tom Waits finds more beauty in the gutter than most people would find in the Garden of Eden. If his lack of objectivity has kept him from developing into a major artist, Waits’ indivisibility from his self-created persona makes him a unique and lovable minor talent.
Minor talent? Waits would become one of the major artists of the 80's. His 1985 album Rain Dogs is one I have always treasured. But Waits would never have made Rain Dogs if he hadn't taken that ride across the river to the Jersey side.
On September 26, 1980 Madness released its UK#2 album Absolutely. The album spawned three hit singles, the UK#3 "Baggy Trousers", the UK#4 hit "Embarrassment" and the instrumental "The Return of the Los Palmas 7" climbed to UK# 7. This is my first time listening to the album and it comes across as a bit of a novelty record and something to entertain the dance hall crowd.
Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B- writing:
Just like the Specials and the Selecter, they have second album problems, with the cockneys soft-pedaling the same subject that confounds the two-toners: "Embarrassment," which saxophonist Lee Thompson says was inspired by his sister's mixed-race pregnancy, sounds like it's about an arrest, or the wrong haircut. And though close attention reveals the same class contretemps and irrational fears that haunt Jerry Dammers, no American will suss these songs unaided. This may be localism and it may be songcraft, but it's probably both.
Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone dismissed the band as "a clunky, clowning, all-white outfit from London, their 'wild' sense of humor couldn't disguise the fact that they were little more than the Blues Brothers with English accents."
And yet Madness would be the ska band to find the most success. Suggs explained why in a 1981 interview with Smash Hits:
The reason is we're better looking, funnier, more cheerful and more easily acceptable.
Never mind the American critics! Madness wouldn't lose its appeal in the UK for at least eight more years.
On September 25, 1980 John Paul Jones and road manager Benje LeFevre discovered the body of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham in a bed in Jimmy Page's Windsor's house. He was 32 years old.
“Benje and I found him," Jones recalled. " It was like, “Let’s go up and look at Bonzo, see how he is.” We tried to wake him up… It was terrible. Then I had to tell the other two… I had to break the news to Jimmy and Robert. It made me feel very angry – at the waste of him… I can’t say he was in good shape, because he wasn’t. There were some good moments during the last rehearsals … but then he started on the vodka.”
While rehearsing for their first American tour since 1977, Bonham went on a 12 hour drinking binge that lasted until he passed out.
"I think he had been drinking because there were some problems in his personal life," Jones said. "But he died because of an accident. He was lying down the wrong way, which could have happened to anybody who drank a lot.”
Robert Plant may have taken Bonham's death the hardest.
“On the very last day of his life, as we drove to the rehearsal, he was not quite as happy as he could be. He said, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me.” We were driving in the car and he pulled off the sun visor and threw it out the window as he was talking. He said, “I’ll tell you what, when we get to the rehearsal, you play the drums and I’ll sing.” And that was our last rehearsal.”
An inquest into John Bonham’s death was held at East Berkshire coroner’s court on October 18th where it was determined that Bonham had died from inhalation of his own vomit during sleep which led to pulmonary edema. At the time Led Zeppelin were probably the most successful rock group of the Seventies. Now they were no more.
Manager Peter Green issued the statement:
“We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”
Plant would explain why in an interview with The Globe and Mail two years later:
"Led Zepplin was a four-man band, we played as a four-man band, and recorded as a four-man band and now that's over...Led Zeppelin will never play or record again".
On September 24, 1980 Utopia released Deface The Music, an album that apparently confused fans. Todd Rundgren had said Utopia never had a set sound and would never be predictable. My own theory is Rundgren watched The Rutles one night and decided he could write faux Beatles songs better than Neil Innes. He doesn't. But that doesn't mean Deface The Music isn't a fun way to spend 32 minutes, playing spot the influence. "Alone" may be based on "And I Love Her" but it stands on its own.
Rolling Stone's David Fricke seemed to appreciate the exercise, writing:
A literal rewrite of the Lennon-McCartney songbook may seem as pointless as a new Knack LP. But Utopia–and Rundgren, in particular–have always had a talent for this sort of snappy, crackling pop. Besides, the ingenious, engaging way they go about it here is a tribute to the spirit of fun that marked the originals. That kind of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
"Take It Home", inspired by "Day Tripper", is another song that stands on its own. Think Cheap Trick with more cowbell.
Side Two takes on the psychedelic era with fewer good results. Rundgren's Beatleisms would come in handy when he produced Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now and XTC's Skylarking years later.
In September of 1980 NRBQ, the "world's greatest bar band", released one of my favorite albums of the year. Tiddlywinks has all the elements of a great NRBQ album: Terry bashes the clavinet on the rockers. Joey sings sweetly on the love songs, Tom keeps things moving on the drums and Big Al Anderson's two contributions are among his best.
I grew up in Connecticut where NRBQ regularly played at places I was too young to attend. I finally saw them in New Orleans where I was attending Tulane University and liked everything about them. I spent a night at my college radio station making a 90 minute tape of NRBQ songs from the various albums we had. I had a lot of choices but ten of the eleven songs on this album made the tape (Only "Roll Call" failed to win me over).
My NRBQ tape got played in my dorm room more than anything else because my roommate kept requesting it. He was especially taken by the cover of Tommy Dorsey's 1930's hit "The Music Goes Round And Around". The next time NRBQ came to town we all went out to see them and I think we are all fans for life.
In any case, next to Yankee Stadium, this is the NRBQ album that serves as the best introduction to the band in its heyday.
In the Fall of 1980 the Tex-Mex new wave band Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns released their self-titled debut album in both the UK and the US. Stiff Records released the UK version while Hannibal Records released the American version. That album came under fire from Louisiana's McIlhenny Company for altering the label on their tabasco sauce. Later prints of the album would have the bottle blacked out with a sharpie, the way a certain president hides his mistakes.
Carrasco is a master showman as Trouser Press' Scott Isler pointed out
The main argument against Joe "King" Carrasco seems to be that he's doing nothing original and his music has absolutely no redeeming social value. His critics may be justified within their standards, but they're missing the point -and a lot of fun. Would you expect relevance from a performer who wears an Imperial Margarine crown, an equally tacky cape, paisley or leopard skin pants and dirty sneakers?
The band would join Any Trouble, Tenpole Tudor , The Equators and Dirty Looks on the Son of Stiff bus tour of Europe. Carrasco seemed to be having the most fun.
And Robert Christgau liked the American album enough to give it a grade of A-, writing:
Genuine punk Tex-Mex, Sir Doug meets Them meets the Shadows of Knight meets Sam the Sham, and the only problem is that the Ramones thought of it first: toons stripped down to their hooks, with Kris Cummings's friendly Farfisa doodles replacing Johnny's monomaniacal strum and echoes of polka and norteño in the jerky propulsion of the thing. Minimalism with roots, kind of--the irony in these calls to fun is a lot sweeter, a lot surer of its ground, than New Yorkers commonly get away with.
The single that summed up NYC's Lower East Side circa 1980, according to critic Robert Christgau, Bush Tetras's "Too Many Creeps sold about 30,000 copies and came in #18 on the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critic's Poll. The band, made up of Contortions' founding guitarist Pat Place and vocalist Cynthia Sley, specialized in paranoid, groove-centered post punk. Sley's deadpan vocals and Place's slashing guitar clearly inspired Sonic Youth, whose "Kool Thing" even had Kim Gordon repeating the phrase "I Don't Wanna".
In September of 1980 The Teardrop Explodes released the UK#47 single "When I Dream" b/w a dreamy "Kilimanjaro", which would be left off the original pressing of the upcoming debut album by that name. In fact, "When I Dream" is a remixed version of the Kilimanjaro track. This track added to the massive expectations for the album .
Julian Cope would tell Trouser Press he gave up the bass to concentrate on vocals.
"I really want to be a great singer. I want more than anything to be a technically good singer. There are three singers I think count more than anything. (Jim) Morrison, Scott Walker and Tim Buckley. People like Dylan have some kind of primeval power about them, but I do love voices. I love singing.
Smash Hits' Mark Ellen's could have only been written by an Englishman :
Brilliant. Further upstream from their once sombre, sparser sounds, Liverpool's Teardrop devise a richly textured tuneful keyboard ballad (that's the word!) that's bursting its sides with lightness, depth and ingenuity. The 'B' side is a curious gothic chant faced with ghost synths and native drums --a mystical cruise to "Kilimanjaro"--it's the most essential swop for a quid note this fortnight.
In September of 1980 The Minneapolis band The Suburbs released their debut album In Combo on Twin-Tone Records. Robert Christgau was one of the band's early supporters grading the debut an A- and writing:
I know it's endearing amateurism that makes middle America's new wave tick, but these Minnesotans think clockwork is fun--their music is glibly witty, even decelerating into a mournful country-rock triad to make a joke. Their scattershot, nasty-to-nutball humor is oblique or tongue-in-cheek enough to convey an undercurrent of empathy most of the time. And when they're comparing cows' feet to those of sheep, little empathy is required.
In 2015 local music critic Jon Bream put In Combo #2 on his list of favorite Minneapolis albums, writing:
Their quirky, jerky, danceable modern rock was ahead of its time. Much of the vintage ’Burbs music on this LP, such as “Cows,” still sounded fresh and current in the ’90s and ’00s.
There were more bands to come out of the Minneapolis scene thanks to Twin Tone Records, including one that was getting banned from venues in 1980. Originally called The Impediments, until they got kicked out of a halfway house for alcoholics by showing up drunk, The Replacements would release their first single in August of 1981.
In September of 1980 the Los Angeles band/ comedy troupe Oingo Boingo released a 10" EP on IRS Records made up of demos they recorded when they went label shopping. The eight piece band is led by Danny Elfman. There are three original songs including "Only A Lad", which got heavy airplay on the local new wave radio station KROQ-FM, and a cover of Willie Dixon's "Violent Love"
At the end of the month another Los Angeles band, Wall of Voodoo, released its self titled debut EP on Index Records. The band would reach its commercial peak in 1983 with its US#58 hit "Mexican Radio".
Mutant Moments was the name of Soft Cell's vinyl debut on Big Frock Rekords. The band is made up of the art school duo David Ball and Marc Almond. In just 15 months they would release their infamous debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret featuring the UK#1 "Tainted Love"
In September of 1980, Elvis Costello And the Attractions were the subject of an odds'n'sods compilation released in America. With Taking Liberties, American fans got their hands on 20 B-sides, UK album cuts and outtakes. It also includes three previously unreleased cuts — "Clean Money," an alternative take of "Black And White World" and "Hoover Factory."The UK counterpart is a cassette-only release called 10 Bloody Marys and 10 How's Your Fathers.
Here's an ad for the album plucked from Trouser Press magazine
Among the highlights are "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," from the English version of This Year's Model and Costello's reclaiming of "Girls Talk", best known by the Dave Edmunds cover version on Repeat When Necessary.
The Village Voice's Greil Marcus wrote of Taking Liberties:
Costello's great theme is hardly exhausted, though it may, for the time being, have exhausted him, or closed in on him. I think it remains the key to his career: that will to take revenge on the guilty conscience he has received from the past. The question now is whether Costello can find the music, recreate the craft, to keep the key turning. Yes, he's a star, with a year or so of free ride left in his name, but he's never given the slightest evidence he's interested in stardom for its own sake.
NME's Nick Kent sums it up :
I'm glad I've got the record end I don't feel shortchanged. I see no reason why you should feel differently.
In September of 1980 The Fall released another classic single, "Totally Wired" b/w "Putta Block". While most critics recognized the amphetamine-paced A side as one of the band's best, NME"s Danny Baker wrote "Totally Wired is ugly, and terribly produced – yes it does matter!" and "I can't see there's an audience for he Fall's constant verbal battering.
"Totally Wired" peaked at #2 on the UK Independent singles chart.
On September 15, 1980 John Peel played a new single by Echo and the Bunnymen, "The Puppet". Backed with Crocodile's raver "Do It Clean", the single fails to chart. Fans who missed the single would have to wait for the live version on the Urgh! soundtrack or the 1985 compilation Songs To Learn And Sing.
In September of 1980, the month they released their UK#8 hit "Enola Gay", Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys provided Smash Hits with their all time top ten list. Both musicians have room for two songs by Joy Division and both select "Atmosphere". They are also like minded about Kraftwerk and Brian Eno.
In September of 1980 the Scottish new wave band Simple Minds released Empires And Dance, an album inspired by the Eurodisco they came across on their European tour. The sound is cool. The synths have come to the forefront. The hair has fallen in front of Jim Kerr's eyes.
The first single, " I Travel", failed to chart but NME's Paul Morley called the opening track one of "the great disco-rock songs" and "the magnificent" "This Fear of Gods" the band's "most impressive work to date".
Morley concluded: "Simple Minds have invented their own ways, melodramatic yet modernist. An authentic new torch music. I'm dancing as fast as I can."
After setting up bandmates with lessons in mime with the legendary Lindsay Kemp, Arista Records allowed Simple Minds 30,000 pounds to record the album but only printed up five thousand copies of Empires And Dance.
"It was ridiculous," Kerr told Smash Hits years later. "We've got a cult following of 30 or 40 thousand that buy all of our records. Anyway, I've got about 8,000 friends!"
The band would move to Virgin in time for New Gold Dream, their American breakthrough.
Scary Monsters for me has always been some kind of purge. It was me eradicating the feelings within myself that I was uncomfortable with… You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona. You have to understand why you went through them. That’s the major thing. You cannot just ignore them or put them out of your mind or pretend they didn’t happen or just say ‘Oh I was different then.’
On September 12, 1980 David Bowie released Scary Monsters...(And Super Freaks), his first #1 UK album since Diamond Dogs. Recorded in New York City without Brian Eno, the album is a departure from the Berlin Trilogy. Producer Tony Visconti says Bowie, perhaps inspired by the success of Gary Numan, wanted to make a commercial album. The tag line for album promotions would be "Often Copied, Never Equalled".
At 33, Bowie had become an elder statesman of the rock scene and like most of us older fellows, he thought less of the current strain of music. In "Teenage Wildlife" he is almost certainly targeting Gary Numan in the lines
Same old thing in brand new drag Comes sweeping into view As ugly as a teenage millionaire Pretending it's a whiz-kid world
Numan's reaction: "I was quite proud about it at the time, to be honest. Even though I'd fallen out with him it still made me feel, Wahey!I'm in a Bowie song. That's cool."
Sessions began in March of 1980. Although Adrian Belew had been paid for the sessions Robert Fripp did most of the guitar work. Both Pete Townshend ("Because You're Young") and Tom Verlaine, whose "Kingdom Come" is the only cover, made appearances at sessions, but Verlaine, like Belew, is absent from the recording.
The original songs took months to evolve. "People Are Turning to Gold" would become "Ashes to Ashes" (previously discussed) ; "It Happens Everyday" became "Teenage Wildlife" and "Jamaica" became the second single "Fashion". ( Bowie's acting skills would come in handy during the video age. Here he plays both an iconic star and his biggest fan).
Bowie took the New York tapes with him and eventually came up with the lyrics. The vocals were recorded in London at Good Earth where actress Michi Hirota added forceful Japanese narration to the title track.
Sean Mayes, the pianist on Lodger and the Stage tour, later recalled listening to Scary Monsters with Bowie. " David was depressed – as he always is after completing a project. He was sure it was terrible and would be a failure. But then he laughed and said this was how he always felt!”
That's not how critics felt. Record Mirror's Simon Ludgate awarded it seven stars out of a maximum five. Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ writing
No concepts, no stylistic excursions, no avant collaborations--this songbook may be the most conventional album he's ever put his name on. Vocally it can be hard to take--if "Teenage Wildlife" parodies his chanteur mode on purpose the joke's not worth the pain, and if you think Tom Verlaine can't sing, check out "Kingdom Come"--though anyone vaguely interested has already made peace with that. Lyrically it's too facile as usual, though the one about Major Tom's jones gets me every time. And musically, it apotheosizes his checkered past, bringing you up short with a tune you'd forgotten you remembered or a sonic that scrunches your shoulders or a beat that keeps you on your feet when your coccyx is moaning sit down.
Scott Isler, writing for Trouser Press:
Bowie's current high-relief music may not be to everyone's taste, but Scary Monsters represents a plateau in a career made up of plateaus. Its songs are quirky, intriguing and meticulously presented; musically, only Fripp has any leeway, and his solos total about a minute and a half for the whole album...Bowie continues to amaze.
And from Smash Hits:
Scary Monsters doesn't have the consistency of my favorite Bowie albums. Not all of the songs are up to the standard I associate with Bowie. Apparently critics felt this was a high water mark because every album of the 90's would be called the "best Bowie album since Scary Monsters". He wouldn't top it until his final years.
On September 12, 1980 XTC released Black Sea, their fourth album and biggest hit to date.
“Oh, it’s much more muscular," Andy Partridge tells Todd Bernhardt in Complicated Game: Inside The Songs Of XTC. "We took Drums And Wires and increased it to the nth degree, if you see what I mean. The drums got boomier and bigger and more gated and more aggressive, and the guitars got slashier, with more punch to them.
"This was Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite refining their trade, finding out how to get a certain sound and then taking it on until they could go no farther with it, you know? They were doing a lot of their experimenting on us! "
The album begins with Partridge's "Respectable Street", inspired by Partridge's neighbor living in the apartment next door.
“I’d found a nice, rather kind of jagged chord change—the opening B, and then the really strange-sounding D-flat7. So, I was working on this song, and I was kind of annoyed that the woman who lived next door to us at the time was always banging on the wall if I had my stereo system on, just even barely audible. It really annoyed me, because we weren’t a noisy pair. We called this woman ‘Mrs Washing’, because she washed everything. So I guess the song grew out of the annoyance with her, and the million-miles-away respectable people living on Bowood Road opposite, and the hypocrisy, the veneer of respectability, of the ‘curtain twitchers’, as they’re called. They get behind the lace curtains and have a look—down their nose—at what’s going on. ”
"Respectable Street" is followed by Colin Moulding's "Generals And Majors", an attempt at a composition with one chord, inspired by the Beatles' "Doctor Robert" and "Paperback Writer". This is far from the only Beatlesque moment on the album. "Towers of London" stemmed from Partridge "subconsciously" trying to rewrite the Beatles' "Rain", desiring "clangorous guitars crashing together, and sort of droning" . "No Language In Our Lungs" has guitar chords reminiscent of Abbey Road's "I Want You (She's So Heavy) and "Because".
“It’s almost like the entire Abbey Road album in one little four-bar sequence, you know?," Partridge says. In a Trouser Press interview he says more: When you're speaking you never get across what you really want to says. You can only give quick sketches of what you're thinking. I don't think anybody can communicate; they can only use certain set of patterns. You can never get emotions into words. I do honestly think that speech is basically outmoded.
Here's a review from Smash Hits:
From Robert Christgau, who gave the album a grade of B+
Virtuosos shouldn't show off--it's bad manners and bad art. I'm suitably dazzled by the breathless pace of their shit--from folk croak to Beach Boys croon in the twinkling of a track, with dissonant whatnot embellishing herkyjerk whozis throughout--but I find their refusal to flow graceless two ways. On what do they predicate their smartypants rights? On words that rarely reclaim clichés about working-class futility, middle-class hypocrisy, militarist atrocity--not to mention love like rockets and girls who glow. They do, however, show real feeling for teen males on the make and, hmm, the recalcitrance of language.
From Don Shewey writing for Rolling Stone:
On Black Sea, the material is especially good, from the Kinks-style "Respectable Street" to the jarring, almost frightening rock-dub tune, "Living through Another Cuba," to the jubilant "Burning with Optimism's Flames." Only the overextended "Travels in Nihilon" strays from the intersection of punk and pop where XTC are most at home.
As a college radio DJ, I knew I could always find a track off this album to play. It's truly one of their best, despite moments like "Travels In Nihilon", which is not a trip I would want to take a lot. It's based on the John Peel approved novel by Alan Sillitoe about a country founded on nihilism.