Rock music is awakening from the sleepy '70s like a sleepwalker with one eye open-many of the musicians are still stumbling in the dark, but they are starting to focus on ideas that might give them a new sense of direction. The following records are not earthshaking in their innovation; rather, they are minor tremors that foreshadow a new upheaval in the music.
The Police, "Outlandos d'Amour" (A&M SP-4753): Out of the convulsions of English Punk has emerged a style of rock that is nervy and brash, but also refined and melodically inviting. The Police have all the energy of the Sex Pistols and a musical sensibility that the Pistols group always lacked. Their power chording and high-pitched harmonies recall the Who of the "Sell Out" period and they have added a touch of reggae to spice their sound.
"Outlandos d'Amour" is a bright expression of teen-age life and love, with ample flourishes of eccentric wit that are guided by a pimply savoirfaire. "Can't Stand Losing You" is a defiant response to an ex-girlfriend, while "Born in the '50s" could be the new anthem of rebellion against the Pepsi generation. "Be My Girl Sally" is one of the funniest bits of rock humor since the heydays of Pete Townshend and Ray Davies. A disjointed piano tinkles in the background while a thickly accented British voice tells the tale of a lonely boy who finds the girl of his dreams-an inflatable lover who brings a new twist to the words, "love, honor and obey."
To the blandness of current rock the Police offer musical and lyrical playfulness and a swift kick at everything from contrived California coolness to plastic, disco chic.
Blondie, "Parallel Lines" (Chrysalis chr 1192): Of all the groups who are reaching into the grab bag of '50s and '60s styles to reinvigorate their music, Blondie is one of the first to create a sound that is not dependent on the old devices for its power and substance. After two records that were products of their native New York New Wave scene, Blondie is now a first-rate pop group and "Parallel Lines" reflects this new approach.
The record has a disquieting freshness that results from the placing of melodic and harmonic cliches in new and vital settings. Chris Stein's trebly guitar and Clem Burke's crisp drumming provide the rock basics, while Jimmy Destri's electronic keyboards add a mechanistic pulse that sounds like a cross between the Everly Brothers and Kraftwerk.
Lead singer Deborah Harry pounces on this coldly energetic musical background with a force that is romantic yet domineering. She takes the silliness of early '60s pop and turns it into a hard-edged, street-wise statement that is naively suggestive. On "Picture This" she pleads, "All I want is a photo in my wallet/a small remembrance/of something more solid." The shrillness of her voice gives it a teasing quality, like that of a cuddly sex kitten, while her commanding presence has more the air of a brooding lioness.
This record is a transitional effort in which Blondie is staking out new territory, both musically and commercially. If the group continues to move toward the mainstream, it should bring a refreshing tartness and punch to the humdrum pop market.
Tin Huey, "Contents Dislodged During Shipment" (Warner Bros. BSK-3297): When the charged particles of New Wave collided with the heavy, industrial atmosphere of Akron, Ohio, a mutant strain of music was produced that is leaking out into the rock world. Last year, Devo stuttered its way to prominence with its sharp attacks on the work ethic and assembly line esthetics. Now, there is Tin Huey.
While Devo has worked out its aggressions with scientific strictness (from its disposable yellow chemical suits to the theory of de-evolution), Tin Huey is reacting with a more illogial, human approach. "Contents" is a madcap dash through industrial society, which the musicians have decided to accept as their environment. They wallow in its insanity.
This self-conscious resignation is expressed by circus themes and cartoon-like images, propelled by witty exchanges of keyboards and saxes, that clown around above a solid accompaniment of rock 'n' roll rythms. In contrast to the monolithic outburst of Devo, Tin Huey features a wide range of tonal colors and machine-like clanks that provide an exaggerated view of 9-to-5 life that transforms mundane habits and routines into eccentric dreams and fantasies. "I Could Rule the World, If I Could Only Get the Parts" is a mocking chronicle of a crazed tinkerer who founders on the nuts and bolts of supply and demand.
Factory Rock isn't likely to become the next trend, but Tin Huey is offering an alternative for those specialized tastes that require sustained doses of inspired inanity.