11 March 2009
Many New Wave bands struggled to make the transition from twitchy pop eccentrics to serious recording artists in the early eighties. The skinny ties, scratchy guitars, loopy organs, and amphetamine-driven vocals seemed increasingly irrelevant compared to the seriousness of purpose evinced by the Post-Punks. Next to the unflinching emotional honesty of a band like Joy Division, The Cars or The Go-Gos seemed to belong to some Saturday morning cartoon on television.
Lene Lovich's first album, Stateless (1978), was virtually a template for the New Wave sound. Its stripped down, sixties garage band vibe served as the perfect backdrop for Lovich's strikingly dramatic vocals. "Lucky Number" and her cover version of "I Think We're Alone Now" were break out hits, just edgy enough to appear fresh and new, but not so edgy as to put off radio programmers. The album's follow up, Flex (1979), attempted to repeat the formula, but with less commercial success, leaving Lovich in artistic limbo as the eighties opened.
Enter Thomas Dolby, who shared Lovich's taste for all things off beat, and admired her distinctive vocal style. For 1981's "New Toy," he crafted an expansive, almost cinematic soundscape to showcase Lovich's voice, the twangy guitars of her earlier efforts giving way to a heady mix of synthesizers, chiming pianos, and taunting male backing vocals. The lyrics alternately celebrated the pleasures of conspicuous consumption ("I got to have your car / I got to have your stereo / I got to have it all"), and painted them as a kind of nightmare, a cycle of need that seems as inescapable and relentless as the song's chorus. It was not only Lovich's finest moment, but one that perfectly caught the contradictions of life in the market economy, where everyone and everything is something to be bought and sold, and a new toy is the best we can hope for.
The ep was filled out with five other tracks, all fine displays of Lovich's eccentric talents, but none quite capturing the spirit of the age as does this one collaboration with the mad scientist himself.
-- Crash The Driver