No longer is the new wave considered to be a Pandora's box; it's been plugged by ABC's "20/20," endorsed by rock's corporate heavies as the fresh alternative to stale disco, and promoted by the record companies' hype merchants as the music of the '80s. So, why are all those tragically pink Sex Pistols albums cramming the cut-out racks?
The answer is simple: the Americn rock audience, in general, prefers music that's safe anchored in a solid pop tradition, as the success of the new wave's tamer examples (Blondie, the Kanck, Talking Heads) can truly testify. As with rockabilly and American punk, the hostile and aggressively experimental factions of the new wave (British punk rock, in particular) have proven too threatening.
Consequently, tired titans like the Eagles, Jefferson Starship, and Led Zeppelin dominate the charts because of most rock fans reactionary consciousness -- a shameless aversion to the changes and chances of this mortal life. At present, the possibility that the more challenging new-wave bands from England (Essential Logic, Gang of Four, the Specials) or America (Pere Ubu, the B-52's) will be blessed with top-40 -- even top-100 -- status is rather slim.
Here, then, are some of the new wave's more radical releases which, before being dumped as cut-outs, at the very least deserve one's cordial attention.
Fashion's "Product Perfect" (I.R.S./A&M SP002), by the looks of its cover, seems to be just another example of voguish progressive rock designed for mannequins. But side one of the album features some of the most throbbing music that the new wave's synthetic-electronic branch (Flying Lizards, Tubeway Army) has yet produced.
By humanizing their simulated sound with a reggae beat and a political bent, Fashion has manufactured an extra-ordinary musical blend not unlike David Bowie being backed up by the Clash. They are masters of the balancing act, moving from the lighthearted "Fashion" (almost a surf song) to the zealous "Die in the West" ("whoever eats the dog eats what the dog has ate"), switching on and off from liveliness to genuine outrage like an electric switch gone haywire.
When Fashion mockingly sings "don't breathe your dinner in my face" on "Don't Touch Me, Touch Me," one immediately realizes that new wavers are some of the funniest clowns around. How can rock fans continue to feel threatened by a musical force in which the humor is so obviously up front?
A more serious example of the new-wave mode of thought is Wire, an Eno-influenced band that managed to jam 21 songs on its first album, "Pink Flag" (Harvest ST-11757). Still Wire's best work, it's a collection of transient messages dashed out hurriedly as if the sword of the apocalypse were hanging directly overhead (". . . this is your correspondent, running out of tape, gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape"). Like an odd sonata of scissors snipping, Wire's music transmits telegraphic signals, fragmentary fibrillations, ideas in Morse cede -- rock for structuralists.
However, "154" (Warner Bros. BSK 3398), Wire's latest, lacks the punk enthusiasm of the avant-garde "Pink Flag." The band now explores similar terrain but at a more leisurely pace. The album is practically an about-face; it's spacier than early Pink Floyd, more ponderously progressive than Tangerine Dream, and obsessed with mathematical precision.
Only on a couple of cuts ("2 People In a Room," "On Returning") does Wire create the economical tension of their marvelous debut.
Besides the Clash, England's peerless and prolific punks are the Buzz-cocks; unlike the Clash, though, they are not political being genuinely motivated by happy-go-lucky harmonies (often a la Kinks) and a pure-pop-for-now sensibility.
The Buzzcocks have released three albums in England; the first, "Another Music in a Different Kitchen," an essential artifact. In less than two years, the band has also released eight singles. Their first American album, "Singles Going Steady" (I.R.S./A&M SP001), conveniently assembles these 16 cuts in choronological order, A sides on side A, B sides on side B.
Although a respectable and most welcome repackaging (along with the Clash reissue, certainly '79's best "punk ablum), it doesn't include the band's most blistering achievements -- the "Spiral Scratch" EP (a crude crystallization of England's young new wave clamoring for attention) and "Shot By Both Sides" (actually, recorded by Magazine, but under the guidance of the Buzzcocks' ex-leader, Howard Devoto).
The Buzzcocks' current leader, Pete Shelley, with his lovelorn pose and phases jumping with hiccups, may be the contemporary equivalent of Buddy Holly. Like Elvis Costello (also Holly's second cousin), Shelley tries to be modern rock's angry romantic searching for beauty and truth through melodic ugliness. He is indeed a miracle man, and the absolute miracle of "Singles Going Steady" is that, out of 16 tracks, not one of them stands out -- they're all equally devastating.
Despite what the American charts portend, an untold number of bands like the Buzzcocks, Fashion and Wire continue to play exciting music rife with rhythm and revolt, even at this very moment. One only has to seek it out.