Monday, May 2, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #121

Many moons ago, I picked up a goofy record while picking through the quarter bin at a random thrift shop somewhere.  It was a 7-inch that contained six different variations of the old Rice Krispies jingle ("It's fun to put snap, crackle, pop into your morning!"), each done in a different genre: rock, country, pop, etc.  The one that my friends and I laughed at most, however, was the one labelled "New Wave," which was nothing more than a generically slick MOR-style take liberally sprinkled with staccato stuttering: "Sna-sna-sna-snap! Cra-cra-cra-crackle! Pa-pa-pa-pop!" THAT was what they thought New Wave was? Why they must have only ever listened one New Wave song, "Computer Games" by the band Mi-Sex.

Mi-Sex formed in New Zealand in the late 70s, and amalgamation of cabaret singer Steve Gilpin and assorted refugees from a hippie-ish prog-rock outfit called Father Thyme.  Adding the rhythm section from local hard rockers Think, they called themselves Fragments of Time (a nod to the band that Fathered them) and stuck to trying their best to sound like every other long-hair-and-mustache hippie band of the era.  Quickly realizing that was getting them nowhere but lost in a crowd of like-minded groups, they cut their hair, shaved the 'staches, put on leather pants and black tank tops, nicked a name from an Ultravox song ("My Sex"), and jumped on the New Wave bandwagon.

Their first album, Grafitti Crimes, was released as the 70s came to a close. Despite their best efforts to be cutting-edge, the aura of decade-old hippiedom was hard to shed.  The album veers from bland pop to mildly interesting pub-rock, but also contains Mi-Sex's one fantastic contribution to the New Wave genre, the aforementioned "Computer Games."  Somewhat affected and certainly self-aware, the track sounds a bit forced today, although it remains undeniably catchy.  With its precisely placed vocal hiccups, typical computer bleeps and whirrs, nagging synth line and that staccato-stutter chorus, this is paint-by-numbers stuff.  But, in this case, it works - so well that the single went to number one in New Zealand and Australia, and got the album released in the States, with new cover art and and renamed Computer Games.

The follow-up album, Space Race, appeared a year later.  The same sort of sounds pervaded this record, again with one stand-out single, "People," which did chart in their homeland but certainly was nowhere near as successful or enjoyable as "Computer Games."  Two more albums would follow - Shanghaied in 1981 and Where Do They Go? in 1984.  To call those two records underwhelming would be kind.  With that, Mi-Sex was no more.

Their vinyl is all out of print these days, although you can pick up a two-fer-one CD pairing Computer Games and Space Race. There is also a best-of, The Essential Mi-Sex, for those who find them appropriately appealing.

Our entry this week, naturally, is Mi-Sex's nifty "Computer Games."  Turn up the volume and party like it's 1979...

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