Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review of The Buggles' "Adventures in Modern Recording"

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

Review Summary: Although it's the lesser of The Buggles' two albums, this LP is still something of a treasure.

A while back, I reviewed the Buggles 1980 debut album The Age of Plastic, which featured their one big single, "Video Killed the Radio Star." Shortly after that LP's release, in as improbable a turn of events as one could imagine, the new wave duo of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes suspended The Buggles in order to join the progressive rock giants Yes. They took part in the creation of the Drama album, then toured as part of Yes through the rest of 1980. When Yes dissolved (temporarily, as it turned out), Horn and Downes began to record a new Buggles album together. However, a month or so into the recording, Downes left the band in order to form a new supergroup, Asia, with former Yes bandmate Steve Howe. Horn then pulled together a group of studio musicians, and continued to record what turned out to be The Buggles' final effort, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Unsurprisingly, given Adventures' hectic origins, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. It does contain some of Horn's best-ever vocal work. It also features a number of very strong tracks. The highlight would definitely be a leaner electropop version of the song known on the Drama album as "Into the Lens", retitled here as "I Am A Camera". While the Yes version is magnificent, it's also maybe a little overblown. Here, the track is sparser, allowing the words (and the song's theme of trying to capture a moment of reality and hold onto it forever in photographic form) to come through more clearly. Which adaptation of the song is the superior one is really a matter of personal taste. Personally, I'm glad that we have both of them.

The album's title track is also a winner. "Adventures in Modern Recording" is a bit autobiographical, as it has fun with the fact that The Buggles were solely a studio act that never played a live show until they performed some reunion shows several decades later. The track features a canned audience cheering wildly throughout, even as Horn sings of his fictional rock star wannabes "They're not playing/They're not playing/They're just having/Adventures in modern recording." The synth line on this one is quite fetching, and creates a sense of excitement, even as the multiply overdubbed vocals demonstrate that we're obviously not listening to a live track.

"Lenny" is another strong number. I've never quite been able to figure out who it's about, but it seems to be a British political or religious figure. In any event, it's a quirky, but quite dramatic, track, about a leader who is decidedly anti-science. ("When you say that the sun does not move/Did it show you the answer?/When the ships do not fall off the world/Does it mean there's a wall there?"). And "Beatnik", the second of the LP's nine songs, is silly, but kind of fun.

On the other hand, unlike Age of Plastic, there are a few entries here that fall fairly flat. "Vermillion Sands" isn't bad in the main body of the song -- it's quiet and a little foreboding -- but then it shifts into a synthesized simulation of swing-band music that is nothing but annoying. And "On TV" is kind of goofy -- it sounds like a caricature of Joe Jackson's "Sunday Papers".

It should be noted that in 2010, the album was re-released with ten bonus tracks, two of which are of particular interest to Yes fans. They're the original demos of the first and second parts of what was eventually reworked into the title track of Yes's 2011 Fly From Here album.

Adventures in Modern Recording was mostly favorably received by the critics at the time of its original release. The album, however, was a commercial failure, which led Horn into terminating The Buggles, and walking away from his career as a performer to concentrate on his new passion, musical production. Nevertheless, the album can be considered something of a flawed treasure, cherished all the more because it was one of the only two albums this underrated eighties band ever released.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars