(Melt Once Again with Modern English)
The power of communication and networking that the Internet has afforded the world has been a big help to the entire music industry. For instance, many New Wave and Postpunk bands that were commercially popular in the 1980s but had faded off the media radar in the Grunge-dominated 1990s have been reinvigorated in the recent years because of the Internet. This made them realize that, because of their recorded music, they have accumulated many fans from many parts of the world, and that many of these people are still raving for their music and craving for something new from them.
Despite the sprouting of new, younger Rock bands, many returning pioneers of the genre have proven that they still have the chops to come up with new materials–age plus experience is indeed an edge. Words of reverence from new bands have also contributed to the success of the return of many veterans. For example, contemporary bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and Coldplay have cited pioneers like a-ha, Duran Duran, The Killing Joke, and Gang of Four as being influential in their own music; and this resulted in generating new fans for these veterans as well as reigniting the interest of their old fans.
Here’s one classic New Wave band that was very popular in the 1980s but had faded out of the commercial radar in the 1990s. Surprisingly, it recently returned to form, with its original lineup and with a new album in tow.
Modern English may be regarded paradoxically as popular and obscure at the same time—popular because their 1982 single “I Melt with You” continues to be a favorite radio staple in many countries; and obscure, for many people recognize the song but not the band and usually dismiss the band as a “one-hit wonder” despite its discography.
Formed in Essex, England, in1979, Modern English started as a Gothic-sounding band—dark mood and lyrics on a backdrop of low-bass-driven beats obviously influenced by Postpunk/Gothic pioneers such as Joy Division and Bauhaus. The band’s debut album, Mesh and Lace (1981), best represents this style. Modern English catapulted to commercial popularity when “I Melt with You” (from the second album, After the Snow, 1982) was included in the soundtrack of the 1983 film Valley Girl (starring Nicolas Cage as a romantic New Waver who lives downtown and Deborah Foreman as the happy-go-lucky girl who lives in the valley).
As Modern English progressed, its music became more instrumentally intricate and Synthpop-oriented. The third album, Ricochet Days (1984), may be regarded as the peak of the band’s musicality—a bittersweet mélange of electric guitars, synthesizers, piano, violin, cello, oboe, and horns. The next album, Stop Start (1986), geared toward an edgier type of Rock, emphasized by the dominance of the guitar and the drums. The change in the band’s members was most likely one of the reasons for this change of musical direction. Add to that, the changing tide of what’s commercial in the Alternative Rock scene as the 1980s began to end.
In 1990, Modern English released its fifth album, Pillow Lips, which contains a re-recording of “I Melt with You”; and then they disbanded. Some of the members, headed by vocalist Robbie Grey, reformed in 1995 and in the following year released a new album, Everything’s Mad. In between low-key concerts in the United States, the band began recording new songs for a new album; but because of difficulty in securing a record label, they were able to release the album, entitled Soundtrack, already in 2010.
Modern English is currently comprised by original members Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitar, vocals), Michael Conroy (bass, vocals), and Stephen Walker (keyboards) with Steven Walker (guitar) and Ric Chandler (drums). The reinvigorated group are currently on tour promoting the new album.
If you want to have a feel of the central style of Modern English’s music without having to listen to everything, you may start with the following: “Smiles and Laughter,” “Sixteen Days,” and “Swans on Glass” from Mesh and Lace; “Someone’s Calling,” “Life in the Gladhouse,” and “I Melt with You” from After the Snow; “Rainbow’s End,” “Spinning Me Round,” “Hands across the Sea,” and “Blue Waves” from Ricochet Days; “The Border,” “Ink and Paper,” and “Breaking Away” from Stop Start; “Life’s Rich Tapestry,” “Beautiful People,” and “Care about You” from Pillow Lips; “I Don’t Know Anything” and “Heaven” from Everything’s Mad; and “It’s OK” from the latest album, Soundtrack.
(Some more new albums from New Wave / Postpunk pioneers in the next issues: Blancmange, Gang of Four, R.E.M., The Killing Joke, Crowded House, and The Wild Swans)