By Gregg Shapiro
New-wave music and the acts associated with the genre have managed to hang tough over the years since the musical style reached its peak in the mid-1980s and was then revived beginning in the late 1990s. Gary Numan, one of the forebears, especially in terms of synthesizer use, even experienced a bit of a career resurgence when he toured with Nine Inch Nails a couple of years ago. More recently, Numan’s recordings have become the subject of a vinyl reissue campaign via Beggars Banquet’s catalog and archive department known as The Arkive. The Pleasure Principle (Beggars Banquet) from 1979, for example, “mastered from HD digital 96/24 transfers of analogue tape,” contains Numan’s massive hit single “Cars,” as well as classic tunes including “Observer,” “Conversation,” and “Engineers.”
The late David Bowie (it’s still strange to write that) was the ultimate musical chameleon who enjoyed artistic and commercial success in a multitude of musical styles including glam rock, dance music, punk, soul, pop, and of course, new wave—to name a few. Released in early 2016, a mere two days before his death at 69, Blackstar (Columbia/ISO) might be the all-time greatest farewell gift a musician has ever given his fans. Not nearly as accessible as its exceptional 2013 predecessor The Next Day, Blackstar is nevertheless essential Bowie, finding him continuing on his path of innovation and experimentation. Almost everything Bowie sings on this seven-track disc, the shortest number of songs on a Bowie album since Station to Station from 40 years before, is weighted with what we now know—that Bowie was dying of liver cancer. As with Station to Station, Blackstar opens with an epic title tune which, at almost 10 minutes in length, is one of Bowie’s most daring and theatrical compositions. Clocking in at nearly six and a half minutes, “Lazarus,” which begins with the lines “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scar that can’t be seen,” as well as its accompanying music video, subtly sends listeners a message from beyond. Also remarkable is album closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the most accessible song on the disc, which deserves to be Mr. Bowie’s final hit single.
How far does Bowie’s new-wave influence extend? Well, you can certainly hear it on Art Angels (4AD), the latest acclaimed album by Grimes (aka Claire Boucher). Considered by some to be Bowie’s “true spiritual successor,” Grimes, like Bowie, definitely has a way of putting art into her art rock. From the stringy and theatrical opener “Laughing and Not Being Normal” to straightforward new-wave-revival dance numbers such as “Flesh without Blood,” “California,” “Venus Fly,” “World Princess Part II,” and the title cut, Grimes takes being weird seriously. Even more impressive is the way she isn’t afraid to merge the mood of the past with the mind of the present on standouts such as “Kill V. Maim,” “Realiti,” “Scream,” and “Butterfly,” staking her claim on the dance floor. [Editor’s note: Grimes performs on May 17 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.]
St. Lucia (aka Jean-Philip Grobler) bypasses Bowie and goes straight for Tears For Fears and Thompson Twins on its second album, Matter (Columbia/Neon Gold). Backed by a synth and beats-driven band, including his wife, Patricia Beranek (who also serves as exec producer of the disc), St. Lucia focuses on the nostalgic dance floor on almost every one of the 11 tracks. Of particular interest are clubby tracks such as “Rescue Me,” “Stay,” “Home,” “Physical,” “Help Me Run Away,” and “Dancing on Glass.”
Ten years after releasing its acclaimed debut album, Editors returns with the strongest album of its existence, the stunning In Dream (PIAS). Editors have mastered the art of sounding of the moment while respectfully honoring the new wave of the past. Whether aiming for the dance floor, as on “Our Love,” “Life Is a Fear,” and “All the Kings,” or artfully sculpting a mood on “The Law,” “Ocean of Night,” and “Marching Orders,” Editors is a “dream” come true. The double-CD edition features eight bonus tracks.
Like some other first-wave new-wave bands, Givers generously incorporates a number of musical influences, including Afro and world beat, zydeco (Givers hails from Louisiana, after all), glitch, and fuzz (to mention a few) on its second album, New Kingdom (Glassnote). The disc also showcases some great mixed-gender vocal give-and-take (check out “Sure Thang,” “Blinking,” “Sleeper Hold,” “Wishing Well,” and “Lightning”), while also giving Tiffany Lamson plenty of room to strut her own stuff.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.