As folks who've read my rhapsodic waxing on Bow Wow Wow, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or even Haysi Fantayzee can attest, I remain an ardent enthusiast of classic new wave. The '80s glow vibrantly in my memory, and for good reason. In the space of that decade, I survived high school and college, lost my virginity, spent three blissful years in true love's cocoon, launched my writing career, and even sang in front of Cher at Leonard Bernstein's 75th birthday extravaganza. And my soundtrack was some of the most inventive, colorful pop music ever.
But as ABC ("The Look of Love") proclaimed on its disastrous second album Beauty Stab in 1983, "That was then, and this is now."
I am putting my foot down. I have had it up to here with half-assed '80s compilations, musical milestones from the sublime ("I Melt with You") to the banal (Trio's "Da Da Da") being pimped for television advertisements, and soulless tribute albums choked with contemporary hacks essaying my musical youth. Have you heard Third Eye Blind's cover of "Train in Vain"? As one of my colleagues announced on his first (and only) listen to this abomination, there are wedding bands that hammer out Clash jams with more chutzpah!
When the original artist being f괥d in such dubious fashion radically influenced a subsequent generation, I can be accommodating. Recent Depeche Mode and Gary Numan remake/remodel albums didn't set my CD player on fire, but their synth-pop innovations warranted a modest nod from the hoi polloi. And Gary in particular probably welcomed the royalty checks. But when second-generation ska bands—already an exercise in needless derivation—begin gutting classics by Dexy's Midnight Runners and Duran Duran like (real) big fish, I reckon the Four Horsemen will be galloping through my backyard any day now.
What's tied my boxers in a knot on this topic, you ask? Virgin Voices: A Tribute to Madonna (on Cleopatra Records), that's what. This 14-cut CD is a hopeless mish-mash of industrial stalwarts like KMFDM and Frontline Assembly, plus far, far too many washed-up '80s acts, tearing pages from the Material Girl's songbook. Could Heaven 17, Gene Loves Jezebel, Information Society, and Berlin have done anything stupider to ensure they'll be forever frozen in a profitable but stifling retro purgatory? (Answer: Is Dead or Alive's Pete Burns still wretchedly tacky?) You can only play the Ballard Firehouse so many times a year, kids.
This infuriating disc completely misses the essence of Madonna's appeal. "Holiday" and "Like a Virgin" and "Into the Groove" were great records largely because our heroine appreciated the ephemeral nature of pop. She tapped into underground club sounds, and downtown NYC fashions, and art-world trends, and rolled them all up into tasty bonbons the teens of mainstream America could swallow. "Lucky Star" might sound dated technically today, yet it still shimmers with an effervescence that transcends the moment it captures. But you can't play it on a grand piano. The actual songs were often the weakest part of the whole package, a point almost every desperate rendition on Virgin Voices drives home.
What about these compilations of original or refurbished new wave is attractive to consumers? Sure, "Don't You Want Me?" and "You Spin Me Round" and "We Got the Beat" can still set even the laziest baby boomer's keister bouncing, but when the music stops, you're still gonna be rocketing towards middle age! Scrambling to reclaim these songs in mass quantity 10, 15, 20 years later can't bring back your looks. Renting The Wedding Singer and Grosse Pointe Blank won't smooth away tiny lines and wrinkles, or restore your vitality. Only alpha-hydroxy, and bathing in the blood of virgins, can grant that miracle.
Well, there's one other way: Live in the now. Before it's too late.