I’ve long said that my personal favorite era of pop music is England from 1977 to 1984 or so. While most would immediately cite the boom that was 1963-67, and that was certainly a fertile ground for much dynamic invention, I’ve always liked where the form went in the later era. It seemed that pop music was nothing but dead ends by the late 70’s and yet miraculously by the middle of the next decade there seemed to be countless new avenues and directions to go (and indeed it did). The inventiveness of dozens of major and minor bands broke so much ground at a time when moving the form an inch was akin to a mile (whereas the artists in 1963 saw a mile to be just about a mile) that 30 years later there is still countless records ripe for discovery.
While I wouldn’t say that today’s pick is anything that obscure—though they aren’t where they should be in fans memories—regardless, I wanted to say more that in my favorite era this band produced two stellar records that I turn to as much as any when I’ve nothing readily in my mind to listen to.
The Au Pairs where a band in line with many of the post-punk dub practitioners not unlike Gang of Four, PiL or Medium Medium. Like Delta 5, much of the allure of the Au Pairs was that it wasn’t an all male affair, or really it wasn’t even a majority of men driving the sound. As such, the Au Pairs saw much of their songs centered on feminine concerns doubling the vantage point of the politics and the thrust of the songs scope. No longer were just large concerns at stake, but small too, and a female reading of David Bowie’s ‘Repetition’ gives just one reason why this was vital; the politics were being sung by the very gender it affected and performed with simmering aplomb only drove the power that much more. By the time their second record Sense & Sensuality arrived in 1982, they’d opened up within their style even further. A full on horn section arrived to perform on many tracks, as did Keith Knowles synthesizers parts, but in the end it was still Jan Munro’s driving bass that carried the day. One song in particular, the closing ‘America’ seemed a tantalizing offering. A close to a great record, and yet, sadly, it’d be the last track on any album they’d record.
Listening to the song now it’s a wonderful pop record; full of righteous indignation, a fury of a vocal that’s also cool and relaxed somehow (not to mention the most wonderful lazy harmonizing as backing), a repetitive drum track providing the tether, with inventive, ever changing guitar noodles weaving in and out. But it’s Munro’s bass that provides the songs spine; pulsing and bubbling, urgent and expertly performed. How it doubles the rolling floor tom parts while added additional color shows the expert taste level at play here; it’s rhythmic backing while also very much the lead. The songs sounds refreshingly modern, its politics as astute now as they were in 1982, and with the extra degree of Western referencing, could have probably worked in 1882 as well.
I’d started this mini-series as a celebration for buying instruments to form a band; and this song is the template. Bass everywhere, minimalist guitar there with just enough time to freely dance about. Politics over everything else. Perfect.