Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review of A Flock of Seagulls' "A Flock of Seagulls"

I posted this review a little while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: One of the seminal albums of the '80s.

A Flock of Seagulls is one of those bands that people don't seem to take that seriously today, except on '80s new wave radio stations. I'm pretty sure it's because of lead singer Mike Score's hair. Forget the fact that today he looks like Michael Chiklis, all of the photos of the band back in their heyday were dominated by his puffy blonde locks, much in the same way Aimee Mann's feathered 'do made 'Til Tuesday seem way more ludicrous than their music deserved. Oh, those silly, frivolous '80s bands! Except that like 'Til Tuesday, Flock is band that was far better than people give them credit for. 

One listen to A Flock of Seagulls, the band's eponymous 1982 debut, will quickly dispel two myths. First, this band was way more than a one-hit wonder. AFoS contains no less than three songs that were reasonably successful singles, and all three still get airplay on '80s-oriented stations today. And while we're at it, all seven of the other tracks on the album's original release were respectable songs themselves.

The second myth is that this is one of those soppy synthpop bands like Spandau Ballet or OMD that was mostly known for their slow dance tracks. (Disclaimer: I actually don't have a problem with those two bands, so please send all hate comments elsewhere). While the synths are definitely important to the Flock, the truth is, A Flock of Seagulls was more of a guitar-driven band than a synth-pop dominated one, thanks mostly to their young lead guitarist Paul Reynolds.

The singles on AFoS are all memorable. My personal favorite is "Space Age Love Song". This is a deceptively simple song dominated by a chillingly beautiful, all-instrumental chorus that features a great example of some driving guitar by Reynolds. The other highlight of the song is the last verse, when the plainspoken lyrics are sung three times over, in-the-round style. I still get a rush when I hear this part of the song today, although it's now 35 years old.

"I Ran (So Far Away)" is another instantly recognizable track, known for its pulsing guitar and its famous chorus of "And I ran/I ran so far away...." This one was the biggest hit from the album in the U.S., although "Space Age Love Song" was more popular in Britain. The third single, "Telecommunication", didn't chart in the UK, although it did reach #19 on the Billboard Dance Club Charts on my side of the Atlantic. This one is more focused on the synthesizer, but is still driven along by a stylish choppy guitar riff. A fourth single, "Modern Love Is Automatic", didn't chart, although it also became popular within the dance club scene.

One thing of note is that this is a band that wasn't afraid to include all-instrumental tracks on their albums. "DNA" is a pretty nifty little number that some radio stations have used as bumper music over the years. There are also a couple of other instrumental songs included on the 2011 remastered CD as bonus tracks.

This leads me to mention that this is another of those older albums for which there are multiple versions. The original U.S. release featured 10 songs, with "I Ran (So Far Away)" serving as the opening song on the album, while the British version added a song called "Tokyo" that wasn't on the U.S. release and reordered the tracks so that "Modern Love Is Automatic" is the first song. I prefer the flow of the American version, but that's probably because it's what I grew up with. (And Flock being a British band from Liverpool, I'm being very America-centric here, as I'm sure the British version must actually be the original, while the U.S. version is the reordered one. Whatever.) Meanwhile, as I previously mentioned, there's also a 2011 remastered version that includes four bonus tracks.

If you're not really familiar with this band's music, but you have a perception of them from things you think you've heard, I promise you these guys are much better than you think. Their first three albums were all good, and this one and Listen (1983) are actually excellent. It's something of a coin toss as to whether A Flock of Seagulls or Listen is the better album, but clearly, AFoS has the greater number of Flock songs you're likely to recognize. And really, you don't have to choose. Why not listen to both of them? That would be my recommendation, anyway.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars