Rainy Day Music: Art Pop and the Scouse Romantic
Paul Skillen [+]
University of Chester
A major reason, if not THE reason, why bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen became commercially successful, was down to the appeal of the music itself. Many of the bands were regularly in the charts, not just in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe, the US and other countries such as Japan, Philippines and Australia. They had broad-based appeal, the combination of voice and musicianship finding favour among vast swathes of teenagers and young adults. Given many of the bands’ cult-like and obscure beginnings, this level of success could be viewed as surprising. But when looked at more closely, one could see that the bands shared certain musical characteristics that may have meant their chances of commercial success were increased. These shared characteristics included, for example: • The dominance of minor-key chords • Their commitment to song-driven musicianship, art and sound • An emphasis on melody • The distinctive role of the lead vocal In particular, they shared a romantic and artistic vision of what music and musicianship should be. Even at their most outré and cult-like (Half Man Half Biscuit, Frankie), cynicism ever only managed to briefly cloak the latent romanticism at the heart of their music. The bands’ songs were intended to strike emotional chords in the heart of their listeners, and appeal to everyday feelings such as longing and hope that meant their songs were destined for popularity. At the same time, it was never the case that the bands set out with visions of crass commercialism in mind. In many cases, this was never envisioned, bands such as OMD hoping to play to their friends at best and yet Tony Wilson describing them as ‘The future of pop music’ It was also the case that the bands, while sharing these vital characteristics, in many cases went out of their way to be as distinct as possible from other local and national bands. This combination of sameness and difference lies at the heart of their appeal – strange but familiar. The chapter details the accounts of the bands and their efforts to come up with these strange but familiar sounds, and their efforts to write music that appealed to both the head and the heart. The chapter also details the musical origins, and how groups such as China Crisis built on the music of their idols such as Bowie and Roxy music to construct (sometimes inadvertently), to construct their own unique set of sounds.