Sad Synth Sundays

I present to you 3 of my favourite synth-pop pickings for your emotional indulgence. 

 

Depeche Mode – Blasphemous Rumours

The Kings of synth are the Essex boys who England forgot.

Back in 2011, an old friend studied Art at St Martins. She despised it for reasons that made me smile on the sly…such as the fact a budding artist displayed a painting of her own vagina for no reason other than ‘artistic licence’. Amazing.

In her defence, the only point of pretention my friend had to her name was a fondness for Depeche Mode.

One afternoon, the St Martins undergrads’ were tasked with commemorating the victims of the recent Japanese tsunami. Most people chose to draw the monster that claimed the lives of the innocent, but in my friend’s eyes there was no more fitting tribute than a blank piece of card containing these lyrics, hand-written. Its’ simplicity made it the most poignant response of them all… and arguably just as pretentious. We all have a shadow side, I suppose.

Professional optimist Martin Gore’s chorus is compromised of cheery refrains almost certainly lifted from a 14 year old’s diary:

“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour, and when I die, I expect to find him laughing.” 

But it’s the synth that really wraps it all together. Depeche Mode are all shadow and no sunshine in their lyrics but that mid-80s synth sound could strike a chord of pure euphoria in even the most disaffected of souls.

It’s magical what a few misfit musos can do with the right technology.

Robert Palmer – Johnny and Mary

Formulated to give your goosebumps, released in 1980 and just shy of 4 minutes long, everything about Johnny And Mary is lovable.

If and when I hear the intro’ on the radio, my ears prick up: tune into the right station and yours will too. It’s haunting tune grabs you and holds you – there – in the present moment. Who needs meditation, anyway?

If the melody wasn’t enough, its’ third person story-telling grants you a few minutes of escapism into a 20th century reality where very few people felt liberated enough to explore their emotions, and even fewer were able to leave unhappy domestic situations. Like your parents, perhaps? (I’m just giving out ideas to connect with).

On the other hand, its’ narrative of feeling disenfranchised from the very things you are supposed to glean enjoyment from is universal. And the music will make you feel it.

Very little pleases me more than gratuitous music videos, and the interpretative dance on display is the perfect accompaniment to the big theme of despondency.

INXS – Don’t Change

 

I can’t help but feel this cloying tune played while John Hughes sat down to construct another coming-of-age classic.

Feast your peepers on a (very) young Michael Hutchence with all the swagger of Mick Jagger. He quite literally affects his movements to match Mick’s posturing in what must be the go-to experimentation of all new frontmen.

New to the airwaves at this time, its’ keyboard-led intro’ is reminiscent of the success New Wave bands were enjoying between ’79 to ’83 as mainstream music grew a lot more poppy past this point. And Hutchence grew a lot more hair.

The ethereal, introspective vibes must’ve clashed with the ‘rock’n’roll Aussies’ image too much for their A & R man’s liking, unfortunately. We know this because INXS veered away from this sound for the remainder of their career.

Profound synth sounds were the reserve of the New Romantics at this time in musical history so I feel privileged to be privy to this random rocky gem.

*slow fade in the minor key* 

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Netflix Recommendation: Jen Kirkman – I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)

As the flippant title of her stand-up show suggests, Jen Kirkman isn’t afraid to get real with you. She speaks candidly about topics such as sexuality, married life, divorce, age, masturbation etc. with a clear foundation of autobiography. Anecdotes in comedy can border on boring when a comedian doesn’t know which bits to cut, but Kirkman’s delivery is concise and acerbic with frequent pay-offs. Plus, there’s nothing affected about her persona.

I confess to becoming aware of her through this special, possibly because she isn’t as famous in the UK yet. Only some sections of the hour-long set are observational, allowing her cynicism to sidestep any sense of superiority.  While watching, I kept imagining her as a sarcastic work friend whose dry wit spares you from small talk. It’s frequently said of performers that ‘you want to be friends with them’ and this was the likely capacity in which I pictured our interaction. This may be due to her insightful perception of the everyday and her sharp analysis – she’s matter-of-fact without being crass and her viewpoint is especially accessible to deep-thinkers and realists.

An inexplicably flattering shot from this angle, kudos to her cheekbones.

Before we see the main show, there’s a naturalistic short depicting show preparation whereby she sits with a friend. The comedic tone is subtle and the audience experiences the first slice of her ‘show, don’t tell’ style. The same goes for the final 3 minutes of faux ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage, verifying our impression of her comedy as exploratory and nuanced. I also recently discovered her Twitter and Instagram pages are worth following if you want more truth-telling interspersed with silly jokes.