Monday, March 28, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #117

So, how far would say the stylistic leap is from straightforward lounge jazz to geeky experimental electronic synthpop?  For Richard James Burgess, Andy Pask, Christopher Heaton, Peter Thomas and John Walters, it was easy.

Those five gentlemen came together in the mid-1970s to form Landscape, originally a typical jazz combo who worked rooms throughout the UK and, in 1977, scraped together enough funds to release two 7-inch EPs of their instrumental jazz sound on their own Event Horizon label.  By the end of the decade, they developed a strong interest in the emerging technology of pre-programmed electronic instruments and computerized rhythms, and had begun involving these futuristic sounds in their compositions.  With the growing popularity of synthesizer-based New Wave, and a noticeably different crowd coming to hear their sets, the transition made perfect sense.  By the time of their debut album in 1979, Landscape was no longer playing smooth jazz.

Their self-titled debut caused minor ripples, but went largely unnoticed despite a minor push behind it's lead single, "Japan."  Where the quintet made its mark was with their second album, 1981's From The Tea Rooms Of Mars...To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus.  Chockablock with clever lyrics, danceable hooks, unexpected cheeps and chirps, and universal cultural references, the songs here are almost too smart for their own good.  The driving "European Man" bemoans the loss of the worker in favor of the machine; "Einstein A-Go-Go" underscores the then-current global fear of nuclear war; "Norman Bates" retells the tales of horror from the Bates Motel with sinister psychological undertones that would make Hitchcock himself proud.  None of it typical dancefloor material, yet this is undeniably a very danceable album - a juxtaposition that itself remains a knowing commentary on the times.

A third album, Manhattan Boogie-Woogie, appeared in 1982, but lacked the punch of its predecessor.  The clever ideas were lacking (save for "It's Not My Real Name") and, aside from the title track, the music was overly produced and heavily slicked down.  Interesting, but not essential.

Shortly thereafter, Heaton and Thomas left the band, leaving Burgess, Pask and Walters to continue on under the revised name Landscape III.  As a trio, they recorded a couple of innocuous dance singles, none of which sold well.  By 1984, Landscape had broken up.  Burgess and Walters each went on to successful careers in music production: Burgess helmed records for Kim Wilde, Adam Ant and King, among others; Walters credits include albums by Kissing The Pink and Twelfth Night.

All three albums can be had on CD in different permutations:  Landscape has been released on two different 2-for-1 CDs, one pairing it with Tea-Rooms of Mars and the other pairing it with Manahttan Boogie-Woogie. Tea Rooms is also available as a stand-alone CD with bonus tracks, including some of the Landscape III material.

For this week's clips, let's enjoy Landscape at their peak.  First up, the clip for their most successful single, "Einstein A-Go-Go," and second, the wonderfully satirical clip for "European Man."  Enjoy!

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