Disco didn't die; it was simply transported to Europe, bleached and recycled as Futurism or the New Romanticism. Although it has yet to catch on in America in any big way, Futurism -- or White Disco -- is the ungainly consequence of the technocrat invasion in contemporary music.
It's also an extreme example of fashion preceding style: European youth (particularly in German and England) found themselves all dressed up with no place to go. Now the cabarets and dance clubs abound with the bleak, leaden beats of Spandau Ballet, Gary Numan, John Foxx, Visge, The Human League, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Landscape and company. The music is burdened by the use of computers, artificial rhythm machines, electronic montages and mathematical arrngements.
German's Kraftwerk was a precursor of the genre, but the group's first album in three years, "Computerworld" (Warner Bros. HS3549) is a dismal compendium of technopop. It's all art and no heart, and if there's an irony in Kraftwerk's celebration of the dangers of technology, it has been completely obscured.
Mathematical melodies, metronomic pulse beats and dank and drab vocals do little to elevate witless ditties like "Pocket Calculator," "Computer Love" and the group's unintended anthem, "It's More Fun to Compute." Like much Futurist posing, Kraftwerk is not only humorless but also aloof; someone once referred to the performance as "mechanical men making automatic music."
It's music for a modern dance in which there's no emotional or physical contact; "change partners" has been replaced with "change patterns," and don't let anybody catch you smiling. There have been persistent stories that when Kraftwerk tours again its music will be performed by robots. It takes some hard listening to feel that's not the case already.
Like Kraftwerk, England's Spandau Ballet builds upon synthesized syncopations, occasionally sneaking in a funk rhythm, but for the most part pressing out a pneumatic brand of rock so transparently contrived that one feels like spiriting poets and dreamers into the lab to save the word. Spandau's vision on "Journeys to Glory" (Chrysalis CHR1331) is typically Futurist clumsy themes passed off as abstract intellectualism. The result, particularly on their hit single "To Cut a Long Story Short," is ponderously serious, a calculated waterfall of electronic sequences that miniaturize the warmth and emotion we have come to expect in music and art.
Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra, like Kraftwerk, concentrates on synthesizerladen melodies evoked within rigid time signatures. As technopop analysts, they have taken away all the trimmings and left a skeleton of hooks and swells, oscillator sweeps and clipped vocals. Unlike their previous work, "BGM" (A&M 4853) is humorless and not even suited for what its title suggests: background music.
Landscape's "From the Tea Rooms of Mars . . . to the Hell Hole of Uranus" (RCA AFL1-4056) contains a similarly sterile clinical atmosphere, despite more familiar textures from the jazz-rock fusion school. Like almost all of the records mentioned, it has one snappy single, "European Man," that validates its existence. But, like all of the other albums, it is consistently dry and uneventful.
Plugging into an electric cocoon, the Futurists hve created a rigid frame without providing a meaningful picture; it's a passionless dance music that neither the dancers nor the players need to participate in. It's a music of extreme pretension, pushed by a most artificial pacemaker. Bring back the old mama heartbeat.