Blog 528: Crimbo Music

No, not festive tunes, but tunes I got from Santa. Ha! Fooled you!

This time we tackle both ends of the synth spectrum, with albums from 1982 and 2010. Yeah, I got a post-millenial album for crimbo. Imagine that!

The Twins — Passion Factory

I don’t know what else I can say about The Twins, because I’ve no doubt said it all before. However, their consistent (well, their consistency thirty-odd years ago) brilliance demands that I continue to say it. Truly, The Twins are lost heroes of the age of synth (at least in the UK) — and I am determined to do what I can to bring them to a wider audience.

The Twins -- Passion Factory

Passion Factory was their debut album (gosh, they do look rather young in the album artwork) and it is as “raw” as one might expect of that. Here there is only an elegant combination of Numan-esque synths and Ultravox-esque drumming; there are no guitars or saxophones or other distractions to muddy the waters. Everything swirls gently together to create a perfect “pop” album that nevertheless contains numerous elements of Kraftwerkian oddness, though never enough that it might scare off the unwary who just want to dance. From the catchy lead single Runaway to the dark-edged other single The Desert Place to the sci-fi lyrics of Satellite City and X-Ray Eyes to the fleeting oddness of synthstrumental break Wet Season, Passion Factory does everything one could ever ask for in a synth album.

And, well, we all know The Twins went on to make a slew of brilliant albums. This was only the beginning.

Freezepop — Imaginary Friends

A mixture of Marsheaux and 90s Erasure, Freezepop’s Imaginary Friends is an ultramodern synth album that nevertheless retains the unstoppable melodies and strong waveforms of classic synthpop. Yes, there is no risk of reedy 90s techno synths here — there are sounds in here that can easily give the hoary old analogue pioneers of the 80s a run for their money.

Freezepop -- Imaginary Friends

That’s what annoys me about celebs that claim the old way is better — no, it’s not better, it’s just different, and what matters is how you use it. There are as many bands that used shite analogue synths “back in the day” as bands that now use good digital synths or softsynths now, and don’t get me started on that whole vinyl/CD debate. The important thing is not how the music is created, but how the final product sounds. That’s what music is all about, isn’t it? Listening to it? At least, as long as it doesn’t require murdering children or anything.

Enough digression — this is some good stuff right here. It was a fairly expensive import from across the pond on Amazon, so I wasn’t sure about getting this one until I decided to just go for it and put it on my crimbo list for Santa (because I didn’t exactly have much else to wish for except things that Santa can never provide). As with all such devices, it comes in a recycled semi-plastic-cardboard case instead of a proper jewel case (I know lots of people throw their music away, but I want mine to last; can’t we make jewel cases out of recycled plastic too?), but that’s the only downside (and at least it has an actual tray and not the most awkward cardboard sleeve contrivance ever invented like The Sounds’ Crossing the Rubicon (stupid, stupid name for a band, excellent album)).

The real contrast to The Twins’ Passion Factory is perhaps in the production. Imaginary Friends is nothing short of immaculate — it’s sleek, finely honed, perfectly crafted. Every song could stand as well alone as it does nestled among the others. Perhaps we lose some of the compelling experiments in favour of sure-fire hits, but when each of those hits is a perfect distillation of dance beats, classy melodies and loveable lyrics you can’t really complain.

Chris de Burgh — A Spaceman Came Travelling

Okay, one actual crimbo song to round us off. I bought this as an MP3 in the run-up to crimbo because it is the undisputed king of festive tunes (well, it’s definitely up there with Last Chrismas, A Winter’s Tale and the-crimbo-tune-Ultravox-never-did Do They Know It’s Christmas? at least). It is the strangest of all songs; I never knew it existed until I heard it on the radio a few years back, when its whispered words caught my ear and then soared into that rousing la-la-la chorus.

Listen to it — sure, it’s a crazy sci-fi retelling of the nativity and that should be easily dismissable as embarrassing cheese, but the strength of the music raises it up to something incredible. Say what you like about Chris de Burgh, but the man knew what he was doing with this one. (Remember to get the original album version from Spanish Train and Other Stories — there’s a recent re-recording that isn’t as good and the radio edit chops the end off for a saving of barely 10 seconds, and those few seconds make a big difference).

I think I might need to co-opt this story into the RDZ Industries mythos somehow…

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