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This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… Oh Baby September 18, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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What is it about the 1980s that provides such seemingly endless fascination to so many in the last decade or so? It has become a sort of focus in ways that I find genuinely odd. Not in the sense that there’s nothing of interest there, but I consider how in the 1980s – I was there, so were many of you too – forty years prior to that was the 1940s. Now, there were those who liked the music and cultural artefacts of that decade, we knew these people as parents or grandparents. Amongst our peers, and keep in mind I was 15 in 1980, this simply wasn’t a thing. The mental horizon was perhaps ten to fifteen years back. There were those who had listened to the first King Crimson album. The Doors were widely popular, the Velvet Underground less widely so, but those who liked them really liked them. Janis Joplin too. And all this at a point in time before we hit wireframe graphics and neon lighting graphics, smoke machines, searchlights and industrial sized fans. And Pat Benetar.

But now, look at how 1980s graphics, of sorts, and music and so on has colonised a fair chunk of the cultural space. Consider Stranger Things and how it too has taken another portion as its own. And there’s much much more. I used to have a vague rule of thumb that musical revivals came around every decade or two. So we saw punk reappear in a weird mash up with metal in the 1990s as grunge, and then as numetal and so on. Though since then has there been a sighting? But full blown cultural revivals? There was Britpop in the 1990s – which kind of sort of attempted to run the Beatles/Stones rivalry as farce and inched ever further out into the broader culture (and one could argue the Spice Girls were as important or more important – and by the by, Saint Etienne have some interesting things to say about Brexit and Britpop here).

But I’d hazard this is a very American 1980s that is referenced. One that is built off the back of film as much as anything else. It’s surely not Hackney and squats I visited there during that decade. It’s not the Sisters of Mercy, or Grebo. It’s not really dance and rave, though there’s aspects of that.

But what it is, this particular 1980s, is familiar to so many cultural gatekeepers in a way that the 1970s isn’t – or may be diminishing in memory. The cultural baggage of the 1980s remains in the mainstream: ET, Ferris Bueller…and so on and so forth. And there’s a lot of it. Indeed one can make an argument that the continued cultural currency of so much from the past is due to digitisation, that in a sense there’s a perpetual now which includes anything that can be digitised.

That’s the theory, in practice there are more visible and less visible artefacts which function to allow access or not to a decade. Key Largo is great, Bacall and Bogart likewise, but difficult to build a cultural revival or any sort around them. Whereas… ET, Ferris Bueller, etc… that’s easier. And this isn’t a novel thesis, indeed it’s so much a trope that Will Hutton was referencing it only the other weekend – referencing the ABBA revival and how the boomers are now in control of the commanding cultural heights (true to a point, but only to a point. Those who came after, Generation X in particular have occupied a lot of that territory in the past decade). But I’m not expecting ABBA’s CGI’d return to spark off a renewed wave of disco. Though it might. Perhaps because the 1970s aren’t quite as chilly and cool as the 1980s – even if, once more, if one lived through them this seems inexplicable at this remove. Though, of course ABBA broke up in – 1983.

Which brings me to Oh Baby, a group (mentioned before on the site in passing) who I initially thought were American, but who are, it seems from Manchester and London comprising of Jen Devereux and Rick Hornby. Their note perfect reconsideration of 1980s pop is great – big synths, bigger vocals. A sort of melancholy which – well, is evocative of that period without being quite in hock to it. And that’s a key point. This may well reference the 1980s but it is pared down in certain ways. You might think the choruses of Part of the 80s and What We Do, or Cruel Intentions (or Sound Like Love’s entertaining nod to Echo Beach) are brilliant pop songs which would have worked as singles in 1983 – the guitar sounds (assuming they’re not synths) seem on point, but the songs are quite unlike that period in some of the detailing. The beats are more dynamic, the synths more propulsive, the bass deeper. And that’s why I use the term reconsideration rather than any other. This isn’t simply 1983 dragged into 2020 or 2021, but rather – and appropriately, something closer to an imagined 1983, that decade used as a starting point and touchstone, but building on and away from it.

In that respect this is much more interesting than a simple reprise of that period.

They’ve released two collections of songs – ‘The Art of Sleeping Alone’ and ‘Hey Genius’ – five on each, though they’d work more neatly I think as a single album. There’s a slight shift tonally between the two, Hey Genius being perhaps a fraction softer, a fraction less chilly, a fraction more synth pop oriented, but the change is subtle. Looking forward to hearing where they go next in the 2020s.

Part of the 80’s

What We Do

High Teens

Cruel Intention

I Need Somebody To Love Tonight

Sound Like Love

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