Monday, August 16, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #79

As we all do so often, I found myself the other day in a situation where, not long after a particularly frustrating interaction with another person - but certainly after the moment had actually passed - I thought of the perfect thing I should have said. I hate that.  Here I stood with this wonderfully clever and bitingly witty, searingly sarcastic retort, about five minutes too late.  The French call it esprit d'escalier, which translates to "the wit of the staircase." Literally, the thing you think to say as you are leaving down the stairs from the situation where you should have said it.  The only thing more infuriating is that friend we all have who seems always to have that perfect thing to say at the tip of his or her tongue right at the exact moment to say it.  They have the wit, they have the sarcasm, they have the timing, and they know it.  If that friend were a band, he'd be The Monochrome Set.

Well before Adam Ant brought Antmusic to unsuspecting world, he had been in an art-school band called The B-Sides with Hornsey School of Art classmates Ganesh "Bid" Seshadri, Lester Square and Andy Warren.  Much as Adam's first set of Ants would do years later to form Bow Wow Wow, so too did Bid, Square and Warren abandon The B-Sides in the late '70s to form The Monochrome Set. (Though he made some excellent music in those days, it seems Adam Ant did not play well with others!)

The Monochrome Set's sound is the sound of cool.  Their ridiculously hummable tunes flow as smoothly and sweetly as honey, reminiscent of Bacharach and David's catchiest '60s lounge-pop.  Bid's foggy velvet vocals slide perfectly over top this musical bedding, projecting images of high-class yet smokey nightclubs filled with bored-looking patrons scarcely deigning to converse with one another.

And oh! that wit: From clever song titles ("I'll Scry Instead") to incredibly erudite lyrics ("Don't dance the polka in a dhoti/And whistle the Rite of Spring/Don't recite Hamlet's soliloquy/While munching onion rings" from "Ten Don'ts For Honeymooners"), all of which are delivered in the same laconic, off-handed style, The Monochrome Set affected the perfect too-cool-to-care stance that would normally piss people off, if only they weren't so damned funny.

From 1979 through 1985, The Monochrome Set issued five albums and several singles worth of material, with 1982's Eligible Bachelors being the best of the bunch and a fine jumping-in point for those unfamiliar with the band (although you can't go wrong with any record with their name on it).  There are also a few best-ofs and singles collections which serve as both introduction to and history of the band.

After a five-year hiatus, they returned to the record racks in 1990 with Dante's Casino, released at first only in Japan, where the band had always been hugely popular. When that album's import sales proved the audience was still there, several more albums followed.  The band finally called it quits in 1998, although their website indicates plans for reunion gigs in February of 2011.

This week's NW4NW entry comes from The Monochrome Set's 1982 masterpiece Eligible Bachelors. Here is the clip for "The Jet Set Junta" - enjoy!

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