Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Neon Hearts - Popular Music (1979)


Here's a name which first lodged itself in my consciousness whilst watching Look! Hear! back in the early sixteenth century - as I believe I may have mentioned here - and it's somehow taken me thirty years to get hold of the album, a fancy red vinyl reissue by this point. Initial impressions, or at least this century's initial impressions are of a band resolutely of their time - sleeveless t-shirts, eyeliner, thousand yard stare, and honking saxaphone, and yet the shock wears off with just three plays as Popular Music nails itself very firmly to your soul.

Neon Hearts really are peculiar - a sort of punky Roxy Music with glam splashes of maybe X-Ray Spex or Cockney Rebel, and a strangely well spoken lead singer swooping all around the lyric with a wink and a smile much in the spirit of Neil Innes, of all people - or maybe Neil Innes with a hint of Adam Ant back when he still used to scare the life out of everyone. Specifically Tone Dial - as he is called - does that thing Neil Innes used to do where you can't actually tell if he's sincere or taking the piss in massive quantities. There's a mild preoccupation with the artificial, manufactured, and generally fake - as the name implies - and so we have Popular Music, the title track and single which should have been enormous. I recall a maxim about how the best way to have a hit on fabtacular seventies radio was to write a song about it, and Popular Music ticks all of the boxes so hard it almost foreshadows both Alan Partridge and Denim, right down to the preposterous exclamation of great song! Amazingly, and against all odds, the other nine tracks are at least as strong, and have since become so firmly ingrained in my mind's ear that it feels as though they've been there all along, and that I've crossed over into an alternative universe where this lot turned up on everything from Whistle Test to Cheggers Plays Pop.

Neon Hearts seem best remembered for having spawned Raven, Killing Joke's late bassist; and I have to say it's quite a pleasure to see him tarted up like the one with the earrings from Mud on the cover, given his later presence as a hurhurhuring chorus to Jaz Coleman describing Boy George and other purveyors of - ahem - pouffy music being marched off to some hopefully figurative gas chamber. So, much as I've loved Killing Joke, I've had my reservations, and this sort of redeems one of them. We really should have embraced the Neon Hearts when we had the chance. I guess you could say we fucked up.

Another one I bought from the very wonderful Overground Records, if you're interested.

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