This band and this record are known for one thing, their highly symbolic if not quite prophetic hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”. Funnily enough it had already been released by a former band member but we don’t know that version because there are no female backing vocals. Well, guess what? The rest of this album doesn’t really have those much either. (At least in the same cheeky way.) So if you’re approaching this record expecting here 7 other songs like the hit, you’re not finding that.
What you do find is sort of a survey of the sound of New Wave and Synthpop as of 1979. Downes and Horn may not have had much commercial success before this record, but in some ways they were already music industry veterans, as one was in their late 20s and the other was 30. I don’t know enough about either to say if they what they learned as they gigged trying to find success, but there’s a distinct sense to their story and this record that makes this album seem a little bit like older people looking at what the kids were making and thinking “We can do that. Let’s do that!”
I say that in part because the record does often feel like they have cribbed from earlier groups. Horn admits a debt to Kraftwerk – certainly here – but I detect other bands too. For example, “Living in the Plastic Age” at times sounds an awful lot like The Police. (The record was engineered by a man who would go on to produce The Police, which is funny.)
But despite really never sounding like themselves – whatever they sound like – I can’t deny that this is extremely catchy and extremely 1980 new wave. If you were looking for a record to capture the sound of the synthpop-new wave spectrum at the time, you could do a lot worse than this one.
So it has catchy songs with occasionally insightful lyrics and it’s very well made in that it sounds both extremely of its time and also not so “1980” that it’s dated poorly. But I still can’t get over my quibble that it sounds just too much like other bands. I want to listen to the genuine article when I can.