Thursday 30 July 2015

Soundtrack to... 1985: In 20 Albums

Ah 1985, the mid eighties is now officially three decades ago, it was an eventful 52 weeks... It was the year the Internet’s DNS was created. The year Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union. The year of the first Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden. And the year of the first Live Aid concerts in London and Los Angeles which raised more than £50 million for famine relief.

It was also a good year for music that saw a slew of classic albums released in every genre in alternative music be it post-punk, goth, rock, metal, or electro and took their artists to international fame. There were so many in fact that this list could have been a lot longer. But we decided to keep it to just twenty LP/EP releases that stood out and set the standard for that year.

As with most of these kind of articles this is by no means the definitive releases of the year. Rather a cross-section of classics and other gems celebrating their 30th year. So sit back and relax as we take a trip back to 1985...

 Cocteau Twins – 'Tiny Dynamine' EP

1985 saw the Scottish ethereal rock outfit Cocteau Twins release three separate EPs in between full-length albums. All three had never really originally been intended for release and as such provided an opportunity for the band to indulge their more experimental sides in ways that would ultimately culminate in the stunning 'Victorialand' the following year. However all three EPs offer plenty of great tracks to get stuck into, in particular the second of the year's releases 'Tiny Dynamine'. The EP boasts four stunning cuts of pure richly layered ethereal joy with the rare instrumental 'Ribbed And Veined' being a highlight, as well as the opening number 'Pink Orange Red' which is a perfect summation of everything the band had been doing up until that point.

The Sisters Of Mercy – 'First And Last And Always'

After a run of independent singles and EPs caught the attention of the public and music journalists alike in the preceding years, The Sisters of Mercy unveiled their full-length début album in 1985 and secured their spot as the kings of goth. Moody atmospheres, icy guitars, throbbing bass, the mechanical beats of their drum machine Doktor Avalanche, and of course Andrew Eldritch's baritone croon combined to create one hell of an album. It's a formula that endeared them to a generation and provided a template that is still going strong 30 years later. The album is crammed full of essential hits such as 'No Time To Cry', 'Marian', 'Black Planet', 'Walk Away', and 'Nine While Nine'. Although the band would split into three entities with Eldritch carrying on the Sisters moniker, and guitarists Gary Marx and Wayne Hussey going on to form Ghost Dance and The Mission respectively, 'First And Last And Always' remains a key album in the history of gothic rock.

Slayer – 'Hell Awaits'

We lurch now toward the USA and the distinctive satanic thrash metal of Slayer. Now considered legends for their horror influenced heavy metal and paving the way for more extreme forms of metal to emerge from the underground. However in 1985 they were a young band who needed to follow up their début. The result of their efforts was the far more powerful and assertive 'Hell Awaits'. Continuing to develop from the previous year's début, 'Show No Mercy' the band upped their game with a much more professional sounding recording, as well as much tighter song writing and vocal performances. Tracks from the album including 'Hell Awaits', 'Kill Again', 'Praise Of Death', 'At Dawn They Sleep', and 'Necrophilliac' have become essential to cover for many up-and-coming (as well as a fair few established) metal bands in the years since. Although the band's subsequent output may eclipse their sophomore outing, it is here that Slayer truly came into their own.

Killing Joke – 'Night Time'

Five albums in five years may seem like a killer schedule for any modern band, but for the most prolific post-punk group of the 1980's it seemed effortless. Killing Joke by 1985 were already and established force with their hard, post-punk attitude and aggressive execution finding favour with the public. 'Night Time' saw the band balance this earlier antagonism with a more refined pop sensibility, and as a result saw the album become one of their biggest hits. Complete with the stunning singles 'Eighties', 'Love Like Blood', and 'Kings And Queens' the band left an indelible mark on the musical landscape of the mid-80s. 'Night Time' is the high water mark of the band's 80s output, and although it could be retrospectively looked at as the first step in the gradual softening of the band before they ultimately swerved back into heavier territory in the 90s, it is nonetheless and perfect blend of accessible dissidence.

Skinny Puppy – 'Bites'

The début album by Canadian electro-industrialists was a game changer when it was released in 1985. Prior to its release industrial had been distinctly more abrasive in the hands of acts like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and Einsturzende Neubauten. Born originally as an experimental side project for composer cEvin Key while working with new wave band Images In Vogue, the band would quickly evolve to incorporate dark electro-pop elements into their sound and as a result developed a strong dance potential. The band's début album 'Bites' immediately spawned club classics such as 'Assimilate', 'The Choke', 'Deadlines', and 'Last Call' as well as providing an influence on acts such as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and many more. Although the band would find success with the breakthrough albums 'VIVIsectVI' and 'Rabies', 'Bites' remains a cult classic for all of the right reasons.

Laibach – 'Laibach'

With the release of Laibach's 2014 album 'Spectre' it seemed as though the musical intelligentsia had finally caught up with the pioneering Slovenian group's manifesto that had been laid out on their challenging 1985 eponymous début. Provocative, ambiguous, clever and always memorable, the band blended martial industrial with folk elements on this artistic and cutting edge release. The album may seem primordial compared to subsequent releases 'Nova Akropola' and 'Opus Dei', which refined the band's early industrial menace before exploring more electronic and rock orientated territory in the 90s. However its rawness amplifies its ferocity and menace, and despite its age the band still regularly return to tracks such as 'Država', 'Brat Moj', and 'Panorama' for live performances. To this day it continues to exude a gravitas that few early industrial albums are able to, and for that reason it remains essential listening.

Bathory – 'The Return......'

Bookended by the iconic albums 'Bathory' and 'Under The Sign Of The Black Mark', Bathory's second album 'The Return.....' is somewhat overshadowed. Yet it remains a highly influential album that would help to shape the growing black and death metal scenes in Scandinavia. The album is constructed almost like an epic poem with the track list leading you on a journey that ultimately reveals the full title of the album on it's penultimate track. Raw thrash metal and first wave black metal influences combine to create a visceral assault on the ears as the guitars and vocals screech around thunderous rhythms. It's production may be pretty lacklustre by today's standards but with tracks such as 'Total Destruction', 'Bestial Lust (Bitch)', 'Possessed', and 'Sadist (Tormentor)' still finding favour among fans of extreme metal, time certainly hasn't dulled its edge.

Talking Heads – 'Little Creatures'

The New York based quartet Talking Heads had been pioneering new wave music for nearly ten years by the time they released their sixth album 'Little Creatures'. Already a firm favourite of the iconic David Bowie, the band had by this point enjoyed a fair amount of commercial success. But it was this album that proved to be the highest selling in their back catalogue. And with singles such as 'And She Was', 'The Lady Don't Mind', and 'Road To Nowhere' (as well as their MTV-friendly promotional videos) it isn't hard to see why. David Byrne had perfected his blend of art rock meets new wave meets pop formula and had well and truly hit his stride as a producer by this point. The end result of which is a sublime journey into the idea of Americana at the end of the 20th century. 'Little Creatures' remains a classic album and a testament to the enduring legacy of the band.

Megadeth – 'Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!'

Fuelled by a desire for revenge on his former bandmates, ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine set about trying to outdo them in every way possible, but especially in terms of speed and heaviness, the result of which was the 1985 début 'Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!'. Despite the aggressive thrash metal content of the album, it received positive review even from non-metal/rock publications and established Mustaine as a song writer in his own right. The album may not be as well rounded as the band's follow up offering 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?', but the anger and passion with which the tracks are performed has contributed greatly to it's longevity and ensured that fan favourites such as 'Killing Is My Business...', 'Rattlehead', and 'Skull Beneath My Skin' still get a regular airing on tour, and why this album still features among the greats of the genre.

Clan Of Xymox – 'Clan Of Xymox'

Dutch gothic/darkwave act Clan Of Xymox had their finger on the pulse of the emerging gothic rock scene when they released their self-titled début on the influential 4AD label. The album is full of icy guitars, throbbing synthesizers, and ethereal atmospherics that blends the melancholic aura of Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' with the accessibility of The Cure's 'The Top'. It sweeps between eloquent guitar driven tracks that beg for live performances to electronic dance anthems to hook the club scene. The production may sound dated by today's standards, but the likes of 'Cry In The Wind', 'Stumble And Fall', '7th Time', 'Stranger', and 'A Day' are still strong gothic rock tracks that can be heard in clubs around the world and whose influences can still be felt in bands such as The Last Dance and London After Midnight.

The Damned – 'Phantasmagoria'

The Damned had already been a firm favourite of the punk, and post-punk scenes in the UK from 1976. But 1985's 'Phantasmagoria' took a much gloomier turn building on the themes of their previous two albums while focussing heavily on vocalist David Vanian's deep voice. The end result is a heavily gothic infused pop-rock sound that provided the band with their highest charting release. Songs such as 'Shadow Of Love', 'Sanctum Sanctorum', 'Grimly Fiendish', and 'Is It A Dream?' are stand-outs in an already influential discography and remain firm fan favourites to this day. Sadly the follow-up album 'Anything' was the beginning of the end of their run at the top, but 30 years later the band still tour and air tracks from 'Phantasmagoria' in their set lists. The album shows the band at their peak and their most well-rounded writing effort.

The Cure – 'The Head On The Door'

In the early 80s The Cure had steadily grown from morbid post-punks to having some hit singles with the likes of 'Let's Go To Bed', 'The Walk', and 'The Love Cats' all doing pretty well in the charts. But it wasn't until the band released their 1985 album 'The Head On The Door' that international success became attainable. Walking a fine line between the band's most gothic inclined album 'Pornography', and their optimistic psychedelic pop of 'The Top', the album balances everything the band had been up until that point. The album produced two hit singles in the forms of 'In Between Days' and 'Close To Me', but also contained such gems as 'Kyoto Song', 'Six Different Ways', 'A Night Likes This', which are fine examples of the band's writing during this transitional period and paved the way for their superstar status that followed.

Christian Death – 'Ashes'

Christian Death were a band that have always courted controversy, no less amongst their own fan base. The debate still rages on as to whether it is Rozz William's Christian Death or Valor Kand's that is the true band. But no matter which side of the fence you fall on it is clear that together they created two classic albums in the form of 'Catastrophe Ballet' and 1985's 'Ashes'. This album was the last to feature founding vocalist Rozz Williams (before he resurrected his own incarnation of the band in the 90s). The album builds on the romantic and dada influenced themes of it's predecessor, honing them into a flurry of sensual and dramatic gothic anthems such as 'Ashes', 'When I Was Bed', 'Lament – Over Shadows', and 'The Luxury Of Tears'. All of the latter fallout aside both 'Catastrophe Ballet' and 'Ashes' are stunning albums that hint at a partnership that could have yielded so much more.

Kate Bush – 'Hounds Of Love'

Prior to the release of 'Hounds Of Love' in 1985 Kate Bush's previous offering 'The Dreaming' had received a lukewarm response and it was evident her fifth album would need to be something special. The result was an album of two halves – the first featuring five stunning pop songs, four of which found instant chart success – while the second half of the album sees Bush in all of her conceptual glory weaving seven beautiful romantic prog-pop songs into a continuous whole called 'The Ninth Wave'. Some of the synthesized elements, may have dated over the years but the relentless moods and atmospheres they evoke are just as powerful as ever after three decades. 'Hounds Of Love' is a masterful exercise of both commercial and conceptual song writing by an artist at the top of her game and saw her secure her place as one of the most influential women in pop music.

Gary Numan – 'The Fury'

 Having long since moved away from his synthpop roots, Gary Numan had become artistically more eclectic and gradually more maligned by the media. 'The Fury' sees Numan combine elements of synthpop, funk rock, new wave,industrial rock, and darkwave into a morbid pop record that utilises heavy amounts of sampling. It continues the harder edge from the previous 'Berzerker' album and as a whole album it did quite well in the charts (and remained his last top 30 charting album until 2013's 'Splinter'). However it's supporting singles didn't fair so well due to lack of radio airplay. Yet it is a fundamentally great pop album with a much more industrial edge. Songs such as 'Call Out The Dogs', 'Miracles', 'Creatures' and 'I Still Remember' are worth the price of admission alone, and thirty years later it is long overdue a re-evaluation from the media.

The Chameleons – 'What Does Anything Mean? Basically'

Mancunian post-punks The Chameleons were one of the great "what if?" stories of the 1980s. With four albums under their belts they were just on the brink of international success, when it all unfolded after the death of their manager. But that doesn't mean that their music didn't find a loyal audience (one that counts the Gallagher brothers and The Verve among its members). Introspective, anthemic, aggressive and haunting, the band ticked all of the right boxes, and their sophomore album sees them come together in stunning style. It may have only launched one single in the form of 'Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In)', but 'What Does Anything Mean? Basically' is an archetype of 80s indie perfection. It may have lost the raw impact of their début, but with tracks such as 'Perfumed Garden', 'Return Of The Roughnecks', 'Looking Inwardly', 'One Flesh', and 'P.S Goodbye' it provides a treasure trove of delay drenched gems and a real career highlight.

Love And Rockets – 'Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven'

The 1985 début album of Love And Rockets saw three-quarters of the legendary gothic pioneers Bauhaus reunite for a decidedly more upbeat direction that saw them fuse psychedelic pop and alternative rock with great effect. 'Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven' is a tentative first step in a newer, brighter future. It is on the one hand hopeful, but on the other still somewhat unsure of itself. But with songs such as 'If There's A Heaven Above', 'The Dog-End Of A Day Gone By', 'The Game', and 'Haunted When Minutes Drag' are genuinely profound moments of song writing that are different to what came before, but no less powerful. Along with the single 'Ball Of Confusion' the band's first release provides a solid base that kicked off a decade run of great releases.

The Cult – 'Love'

In their time, the once darlings of the post-punk underground known as Southern Death Cult, then as Death Cult, and finally The Cult, quickly evolved into internationally successful hard rockers thanks to their Sophomore release 'Love'. Complete with the singles 'She Sells Sanctuary', 'Rain', and 'Revolution', the band became an international name thanks to their combination of post-punk grit, psychedelia, and guitar hero riffs. Their sound found favour with fans of hard rock, indie, goth and post-punk. The band would build on the success of this album until their brief split in the mid-90s derailed their momentum. But 'Love' remains a firm favourite among fans with its singles still getting regular club play and ultimately providing the purest snapshot of the band's song writing talents.

Celtic Frost – 'To Mega Therion'

Celtic Frost is a name that is both infamous and influential in the black metal and doom metal scenes. Injecting a heavy dose of gothic atmosphere into their extreme metal anthems, the band have never been afraid to experiment with their sound, which has over the years made them very difficult to classify. 1985's 'To Mega Therion' however is a mighty mix of primordial thrash, death and black metal heavy on atmosphere and menace. The album is focussed in its direction and executed with Wargnerian power and determination on tracks such as 'Innocence And Wrath', 'Circle Of Tyrants', 'The Usurper', and 'Eternal Summer' showing how far the band had come on not only in terms of song writing, but also in performance and production since their début 'Morbid Tales'. It's easy to hear why 30 years down the line 'To Mega Therion' is a classic extreme metal album.

The Jesus And Mary Chain – 'Psychocandy'

Riding the success of their first single 'Upside Down' Scottish alternative rockers unleashed their début full-length outing 'Psychocandy' and immediately struck a nerve. Raw walls of noise, post-punk attitude, and pop melody culminate in a uniquely visceral but accessible sound that serves as a precursor to shoegaze. The album received rave reviews upon release in the music press and placed highly on end of year top picks. In the decades since it has continually been lauded as one of the best albums of all time by many publications. Spawning the three singles 'Never Understand', 'You Trip Me Up', and 'Just Like Honey' that each made a decent impact on the charts, the band quickly developed a strong following that would last throughout their career. 'Psychocandy' is a raw and intuitive album, but it has aged surprisingly well and is still influencing bands to this day.

Right, that's our countdown of 1985 in 20 albums. We hope you enjoyed it and we're sure you have your own picks to add to the list. If you want to make your voice heard leave a comment on this post on out Facebook page. We'll be back with another countdown soon, next time fast-forwarding to 1995 when alternative rock had the MTV generation by the balls.

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