more thoughts on the Bad Music Era (1983-84-85-86)
There were some good things around, for sure, some saving graces -- but from a UK perspective, where we'd had postpunk and then New Pop, there was definitely a pronounced fall-off -- that was the view of anybody who followed music seriously, read the music papers closely (where the mood of the writers was really glum and confused), similar atmosphere in the fanzines which were all about handwringing and "where did the energy of punk go???". when 1986 came around there was a lot of 10 Years After Punk, what went wrong, type articles in the papers.
from 83 to end of 86, it just felt very disparate and directionless, there were all these fads, like trying to carry on the constant change ethos of postpunk but really flailing around, a lot of it being revival fads like that folky thing with Boothill Foot Tappers and the Men They Couldn't Hang
the UK indie charts were largely rubbish (the mainstream pop charts if anything slightly better).
listening to John Peel was depressing, where it had been the opposite all through the late 70s and first couple of years in the 80s
here's my thoughts on your list of great mid-Eighties groups
Husker Du -- GREAT OBVIOUSLY
X -- NEVER SAW THE APPEAL, CERTAINLY NOT BY 1985!
Throwing Muses -- GREAT, BUT THEY SEEM MORE LATE EIGHTIES TO ME
Cocteau Twins -- SOMETIMES GREAT, SOMETIMES A BIT FROU-FROU
The Waterboys -- NEVER REALLY SAW THE APPEAL
The Smiths -- OBVIOUSLY GREAT
Echo and the Bunnymen -- TAILING OFF BY THE PERIOD I'M TALKING ABOUT, ALTHOUGH OCEAN RAIN WAS GOOD
Sisters of Mercy -- ALWAYS FOUND THEM RIDICULOUS
Dead Can Dance -- HMMMM, DIDN'T LIKE AT THE TIME, BUT THE WIFE WAS/IS A HUGE FAN SO I'VE COME AROUND A BIT
U2 -- YEAH, GREAT, BUT MAINSTREAM BY THIS POINT
The Bangles -- BIT FEEBLE THIS ONE! NICE ENOUGH I SPOSE. PLUS SUSANNA HOFFS'S EYES FLITTING TO THE CORNER THING ALWAYS A WINNER.
Jane Siberry -- LATE EIGHTIES SURELY?
10,000 Maniacs -- 'MY MOTHER THE WAR' YES YES, BUT AFTERWARDS REALLY BLAND IF LIKEABLE NPR/AOR -- CAT STEVENS COVERS!
Squirrel Bait -- NEVER THAT SWAYED OR IMPRESSED BY THEM
Swans -- YES THEY WERE GREAT AND RADICAL, AN EXTENSION OF NO WAVE
Minutemen -- YES BUT DOUBLE NICKELS (84) WAS THEIR LAST MOMENT WASN'T IT
Laurie Anderson -- REALLY? BY THIS POINT, STILL?
Sonic Youth -- DIDN'T GET REALLY GOOD UNTIL EVOL WHICH IS ON THE OUTER EDGE OF MY BAD MUSIC PERIOD
Meat Puppets -- GREAT BUT UP ON THE SUN WAS IT FOR THEM REALLY
Siouxsie -- I THOUGHT THEY'D GOT PRETTY BAD BY THIS POINT, HYENA A MESS AND
TINDERBOX REALLY BLAND
JAMC -- YES PRETTY EXCITING THOUGH IN RETROSPECT LEADING THE WAY TO OASIS
Re. C86 not meaning anything in America:
Fair enough but in the UK it was fairly inundating, the sound of 86 and much of 87 -- and really not great give or take a few odd groups like the Wolfhounds and James. A fun scene though in terms of the vibe and the style of clothing they all had. I was sympathetic but not a fan of the music, that much.
The other main thing that was inundanting the UK scene then was the shambling type/sub-Beefheart sub-Fall bands that john robb's written his book about, and that was a really dismal scene on the whole, in my opinion, a horrible dead end. Apart from the odd one like Big Flame and Stump.
4AD -- I know they were a big thing in the US for a certain contingent (of which my wife was a member), I've always thought the label really variable, you had Cocteaus and Dead Can Dance and bits of This Mortal coil but also the wolfgang press and the rest. I've come around to Dif Juz since but for the most part it was all a bit vaporous UNTIL they started signing American groups....
The other main things that were going on in the UK were Goth (really terrible by this point), psychobilly (bad cramps imitators) and sort of innocuous 60s arrangement type things like Dream Academy plus post-Postcard things like Aztec Camera (who had an album produced by Mark Knopfler as some kind of big statement). A lot of pointedly slick, cleaned-up quasi-pop groups -- Microdisney seemed vaguely interesting for half-a-second, going on about MOR and liking Andrew Gold.
Also all this second-division avant-funk/late industrial -- Chakk were my first cover story for Melody Maker. An okay area of music -- Some Bizzarre were quite an important label/nexus -- but not having the shock of the new it had during postpunk heyday. Depeche Mode who now seem more valuable to me than they did at the time were the pop extension of this whole area.
A couple of saving graces of the mid-Eighties we've yet to mention:
NICK CAVE obviously at the height of his powers during this period.
THE REPLACEMENTS -- wonderful band
PREFAB SPROUT. Didn't think much of the scene they were part of (Kitchenware label, North East of England, that strange NW obsession with the luxe sound of Steely Dan -- kane gang, hurrah, etc) but loved Prefab.
LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS. C.f. Prefab. Wordy, glistening, slightly-too-clever, irresistibly tuneful collegiate pop. But coordinates of Velvet Underground/Talking Heads 77 rather than Steely Dan and Andrew Gold.
THE WOODENTOPS-- great band until they spoiled the production of their first album by trying to make it radio-friendly.
(Woodentops were part of this sort of vague vibe in the UK -- it seemed to
involve bands who wore big wide-brim hats! And strummed acoustic guitars, but very
energetically. Do you know what I mean? I think It's Immaterial were part
of this (another interesting, oddball group) and maybe Jazz Butcher. The Daintees? )
MEKONS -- reappearing with a folk-and-country influenced song and lyrics of wry stoic political despair ("Hard To Be Human" etc)
THREE JOHNS - a Mekons-offshoot, three men and a drum machine, initially ("men like monkeys) like a socialist version of Birthday Party circa Prayers on Fire, later more stompy and anthemic, like a Socialist Glitter Band
THE BAND OF HOLY JOY -- more bleak folky in the gutter looking at the stars/beautiful losers type stuff, early on like Soft Cell meets Tom Waits meets Suicide, later looking ahead to the likes of Tindersticks and Jack
NEW ORDER... quite variable I think, but "Thieves Like Us", bits of Low Life, yes, yes
Meanwhile, in the US there was all that college rock type stuff, post-REM/Feelies/DBs - -Let's
Active (liked at the time, seems really wet now), and I guess things like Miracle Legion and Camper van Beethoven -- did nothing for me, and even REM seemed to lose it for a bit, after the first two albums.
Also there was the big Americana wave, which Melody Maker supported heavily just before I joined the mag -- true west, Giant Sand, guadacanal diary, green on red, long ryders, Jason and the scorchers etc -- most of this I really didn't like, as
sound or ideology.
Also the Paisley Underground scene in LA... dream syndicate, rain parade, etc ... dreary rock scholars all...
And somewhere in there the Violent Femmes, who I really didn't like at the time but this year actually gave another go and started to see the point of, a bit, maybe..
Australia and New Zealand were getting a buzz too with Triffids, Go Betweens and Chills/Flying Nun
I would include the Chills as a saving grace of the period. and the Go Betweens, in moments.
Towards the end of the Bad Music Era (1983-86) the post-hardcore/US sick noise scene started to take definition, so you would have had Big Black coming through. By that point the wonders of 1987/1988 would be glistening on the horizon though...
What was going on in Europe at this point? Beginnings of EBM (and Skinny Puppy's Mind the Perpetual Intercourse was a 1986 fave of mine, although they're Canadian), the tail end of Neue Deutsche Welle, fading synthpop and faltering industrial...
Another thing that some people in the UK were really into was the whole On U Sound zone -- Tackhead and Barmy Army etc -- but I must say it never caught my fancy
So I think my overall take on the period would remain -- yes, gems and saving graces here and there, like any period, but overall there seemed to a tremendous tide of bad stuff -- the shambling rumbledy-thump noise boors, c86, Americana, most college rock, Goth.. some really rotten music!
but then i am trying to stay true to my memory of that time, this tremendous sense of frustration and being underwhelmed and everything slowing down.
I do have an essentially bi-polar view of music history -- it's about manic mood-swings, highs and lows. Hopes raised and dashed.