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Usually when people say that a band is underrated, they are really saying one of a series of more complex things: that the band has largely been forgotten, or that they're better than generally considered, or that they deserve a wider audience, or that they were overhyped and deserve a critical re-assessment, or that they're the butt of jokes or comments about their extra-artistic lives that get in the way of really considering their music, or that they like them more than you do, or something along those lines. But our world loathes nuance, so we have the useless phrase "underrated".

#3 in my infrequent series of band reappraisals, "Up from the Under-rate", is Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A lot of the backlash against them was their own fault: they were largely a studio creation; they spawned a vast sea of FRANKIE SAY marketing tie-in products that obscured their actual work; they pushed their then semi-outrageous gay image at the expense of their music; they left no legacy of quality multiple albums; there were a bunch of people in the band that didn't really do anything; and they were a pretty calculated product of a musical Svengali. But that Svengali was Trevor Horn, who did a masterful production job on their one worthwhile album; Holly Johnson's voice was a stupendous musical instrument that made his dumbest lyrics worth hearing and his smartest lyrics absolutely stunning; and Paul Rutherford did a more than decent job creating high-NRG dance music that perfectly fit the zeitgeist of the time. Their three biggest singles are about as great a sequence of songs as was released by any popular band in the 1980s: “Relax” is still a hugely infectious, irresistible, and sexy-as-hell dance track, “Two Tribes” overcomes its simplistic message with a killer bass hook and some indomitable vocals from Johnson; and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” is just a massive song, lush and complex and perfectly of its time, yet not dated. FGTH proved to have no longevity, but they were an absolute phenomenon for one double-album, and the greatness of what they did on it shouldn’t be minimized just because they had no staying power.

Comments

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ortho_bob
Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
Two great singles (didn't like "Power") and a image that really caught the moment like no other. Remember seeing them on TV in '83 and thinking - oh good, something new. (Simon Reynolds sez this marked the end of postpunk, which at the time seemed like a good thing.) Although it's growing hard to separate that MIDI-studio sound from Art of Noise and Propaganda as the years pass....

They didn't need to make an album - much less that second mess.

ADDED: Rutherford didn't create the music though. He just danced and scared BBC DJs.

Edited at 2009-04-22 08:47 pm (UTC)
dreamweasel
Apr. 22nd, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Am I the only one who actually liked Liverpool? "Warriors of the Wasteland" / "Rage Hard" was a solid one-two punch, and "Is Anybody Out There?" sounded just sterling in the early hours of the morning (ideally while the streetlights were still glowing from the night before).
(Anonymous)
Apr. 22nd, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
You're NOT the only one. I still enjoy it. "Watching the Wildlife"?
hooper_x
Apr. 22nd, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
They also created one of the weirdest fucking video games ever made.



A loosely connected series of mini-games in which you have to get Pleasure Units and become a real person so you can find the Pleasuredome.

One of the mini-games involves Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbechev spitting in each others' mouths.
ludickid
Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
I...that's very, VERY strange.
hooper_x
Apr. 23rd, 2009 10:45 am (UTC)
Apparently contemporary gaming magazines published reviews that consisted of "We cannot do this justice. You really do have to play it for yourself."

But that's kind of the way of music-themed video games, you know? Either they're hilariously bad or they're some attempt at high art (i.e. Revolution X vs. that thing Peter Gabriel did way back in the day) I do wish the purported Madness-themed platformer had come out, though. It was scheduled for release sometime around 1992, IIRC - which is about ten years too late for a Madness-themed anything. (except reunion tour, I suppose)
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ludickid
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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