The first Uncool As Fuck focused on the dreary, fallow years before punk when rock in its many forms ruled absolutely and I spent my hard earned cash on LP’s by a host of inconsequential dinosaurs that would become a source of huge embarrassment as soon as year zero’s scorched earth policy kicked in. But little did I know that punk itself would spark a different kind of uncool, throwing up a bunch of groups who point blank refused to follow the regulation, 100mph, three chord blueprint.
In the late seventies, it was those unknowingly following the trajectory from punk to post punk, electronica and the new pop and rock of the eighties who would ultimately prove to be the most interesting. Led by characters who were the epitome of punk’s manifesto of individuality yet were constantly ridiculed for ‘betraying’ the spirit of ‘77, in reality they were furthering the cause and being true to themselves rather than the musical legacy of The Pistols or The Clash. Whether you agreed with them or not John Foxx, David Sylvian, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, Gary Numan, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, even Bono and The Edge, were innovators looking to a future yet to be written.
The possibilities they offered were endless, not that I gave much thought to how experimental they really were. Intent on hearing as many albums as I could afford, but with nothing more to go on than an NME review, the occasional Peel play and the sleeve art, I continued to buy as many duds as forever favourites. But unlike before, with everything changing so often and so fast, I didn’t know and what’s more didn’t care if I’d still be listening in six months let alone forty years.
Nonetheless, upon release every album here was consigned to the critical (if not the commercial) dumper. Of course, four decades on the audio landscape has been mapped out anew by revisionist authors too young to have been there and the history of music culture has been rewritten, so much so that even the critically reviled Gary Numan has been welcomed into the cosy, middle-aged folds of rock’s rich tapestry and the uncool records of my past have finally become cool.
ULTRAVOX! / HA!-HA!-HA! (October 1977)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’
Pre punk before punk got going, post punk before it had finished, Ultravox! were not your typical bunch of misfits born of the movements seismic cultural energy. Influenced by Bowie, Roxy Music and German electronica, they preferred to look eastward to European classicism for inspiration as opposed to westward across the Atlantic to New York as had been punks traditional wont.
Ridiculed for everything from their exclamation mark to their use of a violin, John Foxx’s aural vision of decadence and dehumanisation sounded impossibly futuristic, romantic and thrilling. Arriving with almost obscene haste eight months after their snarling debut, if anything Ha!-Ha!-Ha! increased the ferociousness on songs like ‘Rockwrok’ while the pioneering electronic masterpiece 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' would soon become the crucial catalyst for Gary Numan’s entire career and eighties electro pop.
JAPAN / OBSCURE ALTERNATIVES (October 1978)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Love Is Infectious’
Like Ultravox!, Japan came out of the white hot heat of punk. Already beautiful to behold, musically Obscure Alternatives was unrecognisable to the mature aesthetic of their later albums, bouncing from punk to art rock to funk and back again seemingly at will, the bizarre ‘Rhodesia’ even featuring a disturbing variation on reggae. Of course I adored it precisely because it was such a jumble of ideas and because Japan were so clearly swimming against the tide during a period when the masses were happy to go with the flow.
SIMPLE MINDS / REEL TO REAL CACOPHONY (November 1979)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Premonition’
In 1979 Simple Minds were just one more gang of enterprising twenty year olds toiling away in the post punk maelstrom. Released seven months after their debut, Reel To Real Cacophony looked to Germany, in particular Dusseldorf and Berlin. Venturing beyond their ability to mimic their influences, their excursions into the soundscape weirdness of ‘Veldt’, the insistent motorik of ‘Changeling’, the disorientating ‘Carnival’ and the bristling ‘Premonition’ were hugely experimental with no sign of the bombast and bullshit to come.
GARY NUMAN / TELEKON (September 1980)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Telekon’
A natural introvert leading a solitary existence, Gary Numan stood apart from his peers with no friends but a multitude of enemies. Crucified by the critics for being nothing more than a novelty act, despite a fistful of number ones and untold riches at the start of the eighties his life must have felt fairly desperate so it was no surprise when his fourth LP ended up being the conduit for his misery. I can’t recall now whether I bought it or permanently borrowed it from a Numanoid girlfriend, but even then I knew for sure that while Gazza’s one finger synth tunes were a terrific noise, Telekon was destined to be terminally unhip in a way records like OMD’s self-titled debut or the Human League’s Travelogue never would.
DURAN DURAN / DURAN DURAN (June 1981)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Anyone Out There’
In the early eighties, ex Swell Map and indie troubadour Nikki Sudden liked to regale anyone who cared to listen with tales of Brums most famous sons Duran Duran and how they stole all their best tunes from local scenesters TV Eye and The Subterranean Hawks. I found his protestations baffling because surely a man who had stolen his whole persona (including a smack habit) from Keith Richards wasn’t trying to tell us that the Duranies were fraudster copyists was he?
Sure Nick Rhodes had an unhealthy obsession with David Sylvian and Japan, and sure their attempt to be equal parts Sex Pistols and Chic was delusional, but what Nikki Sudden and equally ‘worthy’ indie folk never seemed to understand was that in 1981 Duran Duran played pop rooted in the otherness that characterised its best moments, and no matter how much the self-appointed taste makers liked to sneer at Simon Le Bon & Co’s part in the downfall of British youth culture as rebellion, in the end they blew away all disquiet and accusations of Thatcherist greed with an energy their rivals never got close to.
U2 / OCTOBER (October 1981)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘I Fall Down’
It’s impossible to imagine a time when U2 weren’t the biggest band on the planet, a time when U2 were just a bunch of lads from Dublin making records with a passion that was confused rather than calculated, awkward rather than pretentious. Following a Reading University show and the whoop and whirl of their debut, I too pledged that I would follow until October’s naïve exploration of faith did its best to wreck their burgeoning reputation and proved particularly uneasy listening for a twenty year old boy still to resolve the painful memory of his own strict, Methodist upbringing.
FUN BOY THREE / FUN BOY THREE (March 1982)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Alone’
In the bland, sensible, risk free 21st century, leaving a pop group at the height of their success is simply not an option but in the early eighties such a move was considered a part of the natural order. So when Terry Hall, Neville Staples and Lynval Golding escaped Jerry Dammers Svengali like grip on The Specials no-one batted an eyelid, especially when ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum’ appeared five months later. With a message and seriousness matching anything their former comrade came up with, the parent LP was no less bleak. Driven by deadpan chants, tribal percussion and not much else as one might expect from a trio with just one musician amongst them, they sounded resolutely lo-fi, doomy and refreshingly different yet today are merely a hastily scribbled footnote in the margins of pop history.
ORCHESTRAL MANOUVRES IN THE DARK / DAZZLE SHIPS (March 1983)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘International’
Who would have thought that a couple of Wirral admin clerks known for their handful of top ten hits would sabotage their reputation with an LP soundtracking the cold war at its iciest? Born out of the naïve confidence of youth, Dazzle Ships was Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys stab at changing the world although they would soon discover to their cost that the pop kids weren’t quite ready for an album of disembodied voices, Eastern bloc radio, speak and spell machines or a song about someone’s hands being cut off by a totalitarian regime. Released after the Falklands War and prior to the emphatic re-election of the Tory Reich, as a heroic attempt to fuse hit singles to the avant-garde it made a lot of sense, but as a commercial album it was an unmitigated disaster.
THE WATERBOYS / THE WATERBOYS (July 1983)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘December’
As a concept ‘The Big Music’ was just another concept to define in an era packed with concepts. Influenced by Mike Scott’s love of Born To Run with Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks a close second, the thought of a leather jacketed, punk rocknrolla from Edinburgh being influenced by two such dinosaurs was depressing yet not at all obvious when he was still in Another Pretty Face and only too happy to offer me untold advice and friendship as I took my first tentative steps in the DIY underground. And yet The Waterboys was everything I expected it to be and more, the beautifully crafted songs vastly improved versions of the demo’s I’d been hearing for over a year. And as a debut it captured the seed of Mike Scott’s sweeping, romantic vision brilliantly, a vision that would culminate in ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ and This Is The Sea.
THOMAS DOLBY / THE FLAT EARTH (February 1984)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Dissidents’
A random purchase even by my own ambiguous standards, somehow Thomas Dolby found his way onto my turntable and made himself at home. A renowned techno boffin and consummate songwriter I’d heard some four years before on Les Disque Du Crepuscule’s arty From Brussels With Love cassette, The Flat Earth consisted of just seven songs, but what great songs they were. Flirting with funk, flamenco, world music, ambient soundscapes and the kitchen sink (the typewriters clacking away under ‘Dissidents’!), it’s certainly not what I expected from an artist best known for his wacky chart hits.