Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 194)

HEAVEN SENT The Rise Of New Pop 1979-1983

Unlike “New Romantic”, “New Pop” was a term that never truly stuck… it was coined by Paul Morley, then a polarising writer for NME. It was used to describe forward thinking music that, while rooted in post-punk, was accessible and looked to overthrow rockist conventions by unashamedly blending a variety of styles.


This was a broad church that many would not have granted a common association but that was the point. Even in what appeared to be traditional band formats, new technology meant synths emulated brass sections or funk basslines while drum machines took the place of conventional sticksmen and it could all be recorded in a DIY fashion with portastudios and the like.

New Pop was about the aspirations of those disenchanted with the Winter of Discontent and then the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher to pick up musical instruments without any formal training. The intention was to be heard, whether in the clubs, on the radio or in the charts. The ever dependable Cherry Red present ‘Heaven Sent – The Rise Of New Pop 1979-1983’, a 4CD collection compiled by the team who curated the ‘Musik Music Musique’ sets.

Of the artists that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would appreciate, there are fine choices that are off the beaten track away from obvious hits; THE HUMAN LEAGUE are represented by the excellent ‘Boys & Girls’ which was the first single after the departure of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh while the latter pair’s HEAVEN 17 contribute the locomotive snap of ‘I’m Your Money’. OMD have ‘Red Frame / White Light’, the lightweight ditty about the 632 3003 phonebox which served as their office in their formative years.

But synthpop was taken to the next level with the gritty social commentary of ‘Bedsitter’ proving that SOFT CELL were more than a one hit wonders and could chart with self-written material. A sign of how angst ridden youngsters were expressing their existential and political concerns to music came with fine debut offerings respectively from TEARS FOR FEARS and CHINA CRISIS but while ‘Suffer The Children’ and ‘African & White’ were not Top40 hits, they were hints of their mainstream success to come.

A year before they subverted the singles chart with ‘Party Fears Two’, ASSOCIATES were peddling the more challenging ‘Q Quarters’ while on THE CURE lightened up with ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ in the first of their fantasy singles trilogy that would later include ‘The Walk’ and ‘The Love Cats’. And prior to DEAD OR ALIVE becoming a HI-NRG disco act, they were a brooding goth band with ‘The Stranger’ in its original Black Eyes Records incarnation as wonderful evidence of that.

Maturer acts who made an impression during this period like M, THE BUGGLES and NEW MUSIK are all present and correct with their biggest hits while one song that deserved to be a hit was the bizarre but brilliant techno-swing of ‘An Englishman In New York’ from 10CC refugees Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

Capturing two acts in transition, fresh after departing THE TOURISTS, EURYTHMICS get served by their first German influenced single ‘Never Gonna Cry Again’ while the 7 inch single edit of ‘The Art Of Parties’ by JAPAN and its brass-fuelled exploration of more rhythmic territory makes a rare digital appearance.

The epitome of New Pop has often been seen to be ABC with ‘Poison Arrow’ and with the band plus assorted session musicians tracing the pre-programmed guide track helmed by Trevor Horn with live instrumentation, modern production was born where funk, soul and orchestrations could sit alongside the mechanised synthpop that had achieved a wider breakthrough in 1981.

With New Pop, funk was often a constituent and FAD GADGET’s ‘Make Room’ brought that in spades alongside the synth, while COLOURBOX had a cross of electronics, funk and reggae in ‘Shotgun’, although both were perhaps too idiosyncratic to crossover to wider audiences.

There’s also the inclusion of the first Thomas Dolby single ‘Urges’ co-produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge and the boxed set’s title song ‘Heaven Sent’, Paul Haig’s excellent take on SIMPLE MINDS ‘I Travel’ polished for the New York dancefloor by producer Alex Sadkin; to have the former JOSEF K frontman and his song originally written for the band in this position is fitting as Paul Morley had designated Paul Haig “the enigmatic fourth man” in a quartet of New Pop saviours which also included Billy Mackenzie, Jim Kerr and Martin Fry.

The delight in these boxed sets is to rediscover music that has been largely forgotten over time and one is ‘Dance Sucker’, an electro-funk stomper by SET THE TONE; a combo featuring one-time SIMPLE MINDS drummer Kenny Hyslop, it was he who taped the track ‘Too Through’ by BAD GIRLS off Kiss FM in New York that inspired the band to write ‘Promised You A Miracle’; SIMPLE MINDS themselves feature with the underrated ‘Sweat In Bullet’ from 1981.

One nice surprise is THE UNDERTONES’ synth flavoured ‘Beautiful Friend’ where they appear to have actually got THE HUMAN LEAGUE in to advise them while Pauline Murray with THE INVISIBLE GIRLS are delightfully rousing with the Martin Hannett produced ‘Dream Sequence 1’. Another fine inclusion is Edinburgh’s TV21 and their Mike Howlett produced single ‘All Join Hands’ with its combination of sequencers and strings.

By 1983, THE STRANGLERS had shed their more aggressive tendencies with the pretty ‘European Female’ but harking back to those days, Hazel O’Connor’s cover of their ‘Hanging Around’ begins as an enigmatic Casiobeat cover with the ‘Breaking Glass’ star trying to be Grace Jones before morphing into a more routine reinterpretation with synth and sax. And speaking of Grace Jones, her reggae cover of JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ has to be heard to be believed.

One hit wonders from THE FLYING LIZARDS, DEPARTMENT S and THE PASSIONS add to the fun but some of the inclusions have not aged well. ‘The House That Jack Built’ by Paul Weller protégée Tracie Young is frankly dreadful while the embarrassing ‘John Wayne Is Big Leggy’ by HAYSI FANTAYZEE only gets a free pass because Kate Garner and Jeremy Healy comically subverted Top Of The Pops by performing this song about anal sex with unambiguous actions to boot!

Not everything on ‘Heaven Sent – The Rise Of New Pop 1979-1983’ will satisfy the majority of listeners but what cannot be denied about most of the inclusions is that they are largely inventive and exciting. It is a period to savour because what then comes after is the bland sophisti-pop and cod soul meanderings of SADE, SIMPLY RED, GO WEST, SWING OUT SISTER, HUE & CRY, CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT, WET WET WET and LIVING IN A BOX with their far more musically conservative (with a small ‘c’) disposition.

‘Heaven Sent – The Rise Of New Pop 1979-1983’ is released by Cherry Red Records as a 4CD boxed set on 26 July 2024

Text by Chi Ming Lai
3 July 2024

PATRICIA WOLF The Secret Lives of Birds

Patricia Wolf is one of the emerging talents in electronic ambient music having begun her career in the acclaimed synth duo SOFT METALS.

Based in Portland, in early 2022 she released her debut album ‘I’ll Look For You In Others’, a bittersweet work documenting a period of bereavement, heartbreak and disconnect. The swift follow-up ‘See-Through’ was one of the best records in the genre that year and offered a more hopeful and joyous approach which led her to a place of life embracing lightness.

Combining modern and natural worlds, one key aspect in the music of Patricia Wolf is her use of field recordings and this shapes her new album ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ more than previously. Having recorded various bird songs and calls, curiosity led her to become a bird watcher and conservationist; this record reflects this passion. While the music is very beautiful at times, there are darker moments of angst and sadness driven by concern. The end result is like a soundtrack for an as-yet-unmade wildlife documentary,

Photo by Edward Pack Davee

Self-explanatory and with synthetic droplets simulating contact calls, ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ title piece sets the scene for the album. A range of gentle and sharper arpeggios represent ‘The American Dipper’ as windy sweeps glide into the backdrop while ‘Rufous Hummingbird Dive Display’ swoops and hovers as the influence of the late Ryuichi Sakamoto pays a visit.

Inspired by the wonder of its title, ‘Starling Murmuration’ captures these swirls and patterns in the sky through a cleverly constructed pattern of seemingly randomised textures and passages. Over a backdrop of delightful quacks, ‘Greylag Geese Through the Listening Sculpture at Tjörnin’ offers tonal reflection alongside metallic creaking in its aerial movement before ‘Bewick’s Wren’ presents a sound sculpture of minimal synth passages

Photo by Gina Roberti

‘Golden-Crowned Sparrow’ has something of a serene quality along with ‘The Ptarmigan and the Gyrfalcon’ although the latter is shaped by deeper ominous tones of loss in the web of life and the fable of these two birds in Icelandic folklore. ‘Mourning the Varied Thrush That Struck a Window and Died’ documents Patricia Wolf’s own personal experience of a bird hitting a window at her house and dying shortly after; embroiled in heartbreak, this is a haunting emotive piece.

‘Nocturnal Migration’ comes swathed in an airborne wash while reminiscent of CLUSTER & ENO’s ‘One’, Wolf utilises the Nuetone AI plugin tool on one of her field recordings to illustrate the depressing spectre of a future world where wildlife has gone extinct in its natural habit. Then rising high in the air, ‘Soaring’ has density as natural wave upon synthetic wave glistens and builds to conclude.

Patricia Wolf’s creative mission is to use music to “make people more sensitive to the world and maybe a little more careful with it”. An album to savour, ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ is a fabulous thought provoking work with a variety of emotions that has a sense of purpose.

‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ is released on cassette and digitally by Nite Hive, available from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
28 June 2024


After the resigned acceptance of the “post-truth world” that loomed over his second album ‘Memory Box’, Rodney Cromwell is back with a lighter humorous commentary on midlife with his new single ‘Exercise Class’.

A recent edition of the podcast ‘The Heritage Chart Show Show’ podcast presented by journalists Siân Pattenden and Peter Paphides referred to the music of Tony Hadley as “Peloton MOR”.

This amusing quip accurately described the current phenomenon of the nostalgia live circuit and its ‘Let’s Rock’ Festivals. Generally full of middle aged attendees lamenting the days of Thatcherism while wearing deeley boppers or mullet wigs, they are often fighting the flab guided by online Peloton home fitness classes while harbouring late aspirations of becoming a rock groupie or pop star…

All pumped up with this blast of disco indietronica influenced by NEW ORDER and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, Rodney Cromwell chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about ‘Exercise Class’, its accompanying video and more…

‘Exercise Class’, is this an example of “Peloton synthpop”?

Ha. I’ve never used a Peloton but perhaps that’s a good description. Even I’m not sure what sort of song this is; sometimes I think it’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to workout video music, but other times I see it as a straight send-up of the spoken-word alternative music you hear constantly on Radio 6 Music. I guess it is whatever you want it to be.

Are the lyrics to ‘Exercise Class’ a sardonic metaphor for life or autobiographical?

I can’t pretend there is any deep level of meaning or metaphor to it. It’s a knowingly stupid song. If it’s anything it is my comment on workout culture, or at least those cringe blokes you see at the gym coming onto women who are just minding their business trying to stay in shape. Rodney Cromwell could never sing from the perspective of a ripped gym-bro though, so obviously the narrator is a pathetic loser. And the story is pure fiction, I have other ways of channelling my mid-life crisis.

You said the video is a bit of a horror splatter fest, how does this relate to the song?

I just didn’t want to do a video with me in gym-gear so I gave my designer Martin, who also plays in the Rodney Cromwell band, carte-blanche to go crazy and do whatever he liked with it. I said of the video that if you’re a fan of Julian House, Terry Gilliam and / or Joe Wicks splatter movies, you’re going to love it. That description probably broke the trade description act, but it’s not a million miles off.

The B-side ‘Madeline Trip’ is a rather short instrumental, are you learning tricks from your label mate Roman Angelos?

Not at all. I’ve been putting out ‘micro-instrumentals’ as B-sides throughout the ‘Memory Box’ campaign. Most of them I don’t really think as songs, just moods. The first one ‘Memory Stop’ was just 51 seconds, so in comparison ‘Madeline Trip’ at 54 seconds is a prog-rock epic.

Is ‘Exercise Class’ a one-off or part of a new larger work in the offing?

It’s a one-off end of the ‘Memory Box’ era, I’ve entirely exhausted everything that I wrote in 2020-2021 which was probably the most fruitful period of my too long musical career. I needed one more uplifting song for side two so I wrote ‘Exercise Class’ and ‘Wristwatch Television’ back-to-back. ‘Wristwatch Television’ just fitted the mood of the album better, because it was a bit less stupid.

What else is on the horizon for you, musically or politically?

Politically, I’ll be out campaigning for Labour again over the next few weeks. I stick to doing that IRL rather than online though as it’s a lot more pleasant.

Musically, if you like folktronica and the sound of vintage Moogs, finally my very old band SALOON from the early noughties will have our Peel Sessions released on LP in October. Very excited about that. Also I’m writing again, this time with Martin and another friend so it’s a lot more collaborative. Despite the odd Moog moment, the new stuff is not all that synthy (I describe it as gothgaze) so this might well be my last ever appearance on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! Who knows! *laughs*

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Adam Cresswell

‘Exercise Class’ is released by Happy Robots Records and can be heard on the usual online content providers but can be downloaded at

‘Memory Box’ is still available as a yellow vinyl LP and download from

Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
15 June 2024


‘Directions Out Of Town’ is being touted as possibly the last album by Finlay Shakespeare.

The Bristolian synth builder and producer already has several long playing releases to his name, the best of which so far have been ‘Solemnities’ from 2020 and 2023’s ‘Illusion + Memory’. With his overwrought vocal delivery and fierce electronic backing like THROBBING GRISTLE and THE NORMAL meeting Warp Records, Finlay Shakespeare has an engaging post-punk energy to his DIY sensibilities.

Neil Arthur is a Finlay Shakespeare fan and has not only invited him to open for BLANCMANGE but be part of the live set-up and join in the collaborative project THE REMAINDER who released their debut album ‘Evensong’ last year. But this creative journey does appear to have taken its emotional toll and ‘Directions Out Of Town’ reflects turbulent times. Embroiled in anguish, it sees our hero dealing with personal, geographical, political and cultural loss.

At over 8 minutes, opener ‘Away’ sees the frantic rhythmic tension of past creations transferred into embittered vocals over a sparse anxious backdrop. But that archetypal Finlay Shakespeare template returns on ‘Get’; a boisterous barrage of blipping synths, snappy drum machine and fraught story telling that is “hoping for a future now!”, as it turns out, it’s something of an album outlier.

Returning to the minimalism set by ‘Away’, ‘Direction’ adopts reversed textures before a sequence drops in halfway through. Using industrialised rhythms and distortion at a funereal pace, ‘I Go For A Walk’ is full-on distress and not a comfortable listen. More abstract and drone-laden, ‘Face Value (Trio Mandala)’ sits over a cacophony of seemingly random bleeps.

The sharp ‘International’ picks up the pace but retains an intensity with ominous bass tones that continue on the elegiac ‘Go Back’; this though takes the minimalism to its zenith, capturing a solemn mood where a steady build towards a delightful music box ring adds contrast and makes proceedings even more haunting. With sirens calling, there’s a fatalistic aura about ‘Poli’ where “I’m ready to fall” and “tired of running in circles”. And as a sea of noise signals the end, Shakespeare declares he’s “lucky to be on my feet and still alive…”

A more challenging listen as “a deeply effective journey through machines of the human experience” than his two previous works, ‘Directions Out Of Town’ brings out the complex character of Finlay Shakespeare. “I essentially don’t know where I belong any more” he said, “This record is the precursor to that.”

With other domestic acts continually being overrated and testing the patience of the more discerning music enthusiast who wants intelligent musicality and not just a voice, it shows once again what a strange place the UK is and has been for quite a while. As he considers relocating personally, geographically, politically and culturally, it is a shame he is not a more widely acknowledged artist when he is one of the few younger British synthesists offering something musically, melodically and lyrically compelling in modern electronic pop.

‘Directions Out Of Town’ is released by Editions Mego in black vinyl LP and digital formats on 14 June 2024, pre-order direct from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
12 June 2024

PETER BAUMANN Phase By Phase – The Virgin Albums

Peter Baumann is best known for being a member of the classic line-up of TANGERINE DREAM.

Joining in 1971, together with Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke, the trio produced a run of imperial albums released on Virgin Records including ‘Phaedra’, ‘Rubycon’, ‘Ricochet’ and ‘Stratosfear’ which exemplified The Berlin School, a sub-genre of otherworldly electronic music whose other exponents also included Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching and Florian Fricke.

Baumann’s father was a composer and conductor, so it was almost a given that he would take an interest in music and he began playing organ in covers bands. A chance meeting with Christopher Franke at an EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER concert in Berlin led to an invitation to replace Steve Schroyder in TANGERINE DREAM.

With Edgar Froese having already released his first solo album ‘Aqua’ in 1974, it was suggested by Virgin Records that Baumann could follow suit. Already thinking ahead on his own terms, he had commissioned the Berlin-based electronics company Project Elektronik to build a customised modular synthesizer system which used toggle switches rather than cables to enable faster re-routing during live performance; its controller keyboard was designed by Wolfgang Palm, later to found PPG who would become known for their Wave series of synthesizers.

Photo by Jerome Froese

Written in the baking Summer of 1976, ‘Romance ‘76’ comprised of two contrasting suites. In the first half, ‘Bicentennial Present’ showcased strong synth lines and hypnotic rhythmic backbones in a move towards melody away from the cerebral soundscapes of ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’; Baumann can even be heard chuckling to himself while performing it. Sparse heartwarming sequencer passages provided a fitting backdrop to ‘Romance’ while ‘Phase By Phase’ continued with the minimal template albeit in a more bubbly fashion and adding church bells!

The second half was more experimental and organic featuring female vocals and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir conducted by Peter’s father Herbert in Munich. With cello, violins and choirs, ‘Meadow of Infinity (Part One)’ was eerie, dramatic and off the beaten track using electronics only for effects, before segueing into ‘The Glass Bridge’ which brought percussion and woodwinds into the equation before returning back for the ominous Part Two reprise of ‘Meadow of Infinity’ where electronics returned alongside the sombre orchestrations.

But all was not happy within the TANGERINE DREAM camp. Baumann’s confidence had increased to the point that his sharp contributions on the Project Elektronik system during live shows were now outshining Franke’s Moog. Creative and musical tensions were at a high during the trio’s two US tours in 1977. After completing work on the subsequent live double album ‘Encore’, Peter Baumann left TANGERINE DREAM.

Baumann began producing other artists such as Italian artist Leda on her album ‘Welcome To Joyland’ and applied his sequenced knowhow into a more song-based format. The record featured a combination of throbbing electronics and high pitched vocals in acknowledgement of ‘I Feel Love’ which had been signalling the future of pop. Although at the time he felt ‘Welcome To Joyland’ was “too commercial”, it had a profound effect on Baumann and the development of his aesthetic.

As a result, 1979’s ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ was something of an interim record, mostly comprising of shorter instrumental compositions using mysterious melodies and occasional vocoder textures pointing halfway towards conventional pop vocal phrasing. To open, ‘This Day’ brought in guitar and vocoder alongside drones and sequences. Wolfgang Thierfeldt provided drums on ‘White Bench & Black Beach’ in another sign of adopting less experimental considerations while its strident synthlines recalled Vangelis.

Using harpsichord, ‘Chasing The Dream’ offered mediaeval resonances before pacey pulses took hold on the climax while with vocodered vocals, ‘Biking Up the Strand’ sprang a surprise as a bouncy waltz. ‘Phaseday’ though was perhaps more of what was expected from Baumann as ‘Meridian Moorland’ piped along stridently in a more abstract manner. The fabulous ‘The Third Site’ presented pacey barrage of electronics with spikey overtones nut an even bigger surprise came with a real flugel horn from Bernhard Jobski to accompany the percussive mantra and folk-like overtures of ‘Dance at Dawn’.

Today, ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ remains something of an underrated electronic gem that clearly connected to TANGERINE DREAM before the start of Baumann’s adventure in pop with ‘Repeat Repeat’. Throwing in his lot with the-then burgeoning Neue Deutsche Welle movement, the album was recorded in New York and at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas.

Signalling a complete departure from TANGERINE DREAM, it was co-produced by Robert Palmer, fresh from the critical acclaim for his more synth and art funk driven 1980 album ‘Clues’. Using musicians such as keyboardist Carsten Bohn, guitarists Ritchie Fliegler and John Tropea, and drummer Mike Dawe, the ‘Repeat Repeat’ title song was a quirky commentary on popular culture that could have come straight off ‘Clues’.

Listening closely to his then-Virgin Records label mates, ‘Home Sweet Home’ offered a detached cross between SPARKS and MAGAZINE while ‘Deccadance’ sounded as if aliens had landed in a Weimar Cabaret. More guitar driven, ‘Real Times’ continued Baumann’s Russell Mael impression but also recalled Eno’s ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ era.

As its title suggested, ‘Brain Damage’ was mad and fun while with its reggae inflections, ‘Kinky Dinky’ was a homage to CAN. Declaring “I love money, I love cars, I love TV too”, the detached ‘Daytime Logic’ was an absorbing rhythmic excursion that almost funked! Meanwhile, ‘Playland Pleasure’ was totally SPARKS and what the Mael Brothers might have sounded like had they adopted the synths but not gone disco with Giorgio Moroder. With some neo-flamenco drama but without the acoustic guitars, ‘What is Your Use’ made its presence felt both percussively and synthetically to close.

Enjoyable but very much of its time, the conclusive overview of ‘Repeat Repeat’ is that Robert Palmer was able to realise some of his more synthesized ambitions that were not able to be put in place for ‘Clues’. For Baumann, he got to play the pop star although ultimately he was not able to come up with anything quite as memorable and anthemic as say Peter Schilling with ‘Major Tom’ or Nena with ’99 Luftballons’. Whatever, this album was a shock to TANGERINE DREAM fans and an even bigger surprise was to come.

Ending his tenure with Virgin Records, Peter Baumann caught the attention of Arista Records whose founder Clive Davis had signed Barry Manilow and would later give Whitney Houston her first record contract. The resultant Italo and Europop flavoured album ‘Strangers In The Night’ included an electronic disco cover of the title song made famous by Frank Sinatra and confused TANGERINE DREAM fans even more!

Baumann retried from composing but remained in music, founding his successful Private Music label in 1984 which was later bought by BMG in 1994. Among the roster were notable names including Andy Summers, Ravi Shankar, Carlos Alomar, Suzanne Ciani, Yanni and TANGERINE DREAM.

Although Peter Baumann briefly rejoined TANGERINE DREAM in 2015 and released The Berlin School inspired ‘Machines Of Desire’ in 2016 on Bureau B, in 2019 he launched his new project NEULAND with another former member of TANGERINE DREAM, Paul Haslinger; with seemingly no further activity on the NEULAND front, Baumann continues his work for The Baumann Institute which he founded in 2009 “dedicated to exploring the nature of awareness and its relationship to human health and well-being.”

What ‘Phase By Phase’ captures is a fascinating period in which Peter Baumann never rested on his laurels and took creative risks. Because of the gaps running decades in his back catalogue, his contribution to electronic music is perhaps underrated, especially within the family tree of the band with whom he made his name. This new boxed set should help put things right.

‘Phase By Phase – The Virgin Albums’ is released as a 3CD box set on 7 June 2024, available from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
29 May 2024

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