We can be pardoned if we hadn’t covered a new release by Wang Chung before, because the last time that happened, our site didn’t exist. Shit, man, the whole freakin’ world wide web didn’t exist. The Warmer Side of Cool came out in ’89 and after that, Jack Hues and Nick Feldman shut it down, perhaps thinking that the 80s were their decade and that time is over. I was still in college when their high water mark, commercially speaking, Mosaic was live on the charts and I foolishly picked it up when I briefly liked “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” but found the rest of the album just not measuring up. And once I had my fill of the dance single, I had no use at all for the album anymore.
Thus, I paid no mind when Hues and Feldman reunited in 2007 and didn’t even notice when then issued a double-EP Abducted By The 80s a couple of years ago. But earlier this week, the British dance-pop music duo issued their first full length album since getting back together albeit only in digital form for now, and Tazer Up!, as it’s called, showed me a lot of things I wasn’t hearing a quarter century ago: crisp songwriting and songs that are actually distinguishable from each other.
Mostly recorded in the aughts with three songs pilfered from the EP’s, Tazer Up! is the product of some relatively recent spurts of creative activity. Saving up and holding back for so long gave them the luxury to pick and choose the best fits for the album, tinker with the songs that did make the cut, and make the end result relatively free of throwaway songs.
The album doesn’t sound at first that it’s going to be any different from the stuff they’re known for: Wang Chung’s first hit from 1984 “Dance Hall Days” is on here in re-recorded, re-mixed form and though almost no one will mistake it for the 1984 version, it’s close enough to be redundant unless you weren’t around the first time (and the band is clearly aiming the song at that crowd). Even where the new material begins with “City Of Light,” the second track, the new wave, dance-pop markers from their salad days are all there, and to be honest, none of other tracks are a huge departure from the classic Wang Chung, but everything is better in discreet ways.
The songs are better varied, written smarter and the production is sharper…or at the least, it’s not the cold, huge 80s production that quickly dated itself.
The boys look a lot older, but the quiet confidence that come with age is present, too: whereby in ’86 they were shouting “Let’s go baby, let’s go baby, come on” over big, booming sonics, now they’re slyly cooing “let’s get along, baby get it on” over an acoustic guitar and a persistent, stripped down percussion. Even on a synth-laden track like “London Orbital,” there are more than three chords and a hackneyed riff going on. The catchiest tune evokes “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” the most, but “Rent Free” (video above) is just more canny, and you’ll be singing along to “you’ve been living rent free in head for far too long” after just a couple of listens.
“Justify Your Tone” isn’t even that far off from Steven Wilson territory. “Driving You” might be a little lengthy for a pop song, but its traverse back and forth between rock and ballad moods held together by adult lyrics and judicious use of synth backdrops captures interest from beginning to end. “Why?” is old-school funk in the style of vintage Prince and Zapp, two of their former contemporaries (even singing through voice box “why don’t you Wang Chung with me?” that you can catch if you listen closely enough. Hilarious). They even reference their old era directly on the clever send-up “Abducted By The 80’s,” an ironically 70’s-styled, acoustic guitar-based tune where over a Fleetwood Mac “Hypnotized” beat, Hues croons, “we were abducted by 80’s, I never saw ’em coming, the Reaganomic tentacles were clutching at my feet.” The balladry is sharp, too: “Overwhelming Feeling” is a piano sonnet that finds a middle ground between John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Joe Jackson.
Situated at the end of the sequencing, “Stargazing” approaches seven and a half minutes and in doing so with its sparkly and dreamy sonic features even approaches prog rock. For Wang Chung, that seems ambitious, but they’re smart enough to never stretch too far from their strengths. Who knows if it’s maturity, adapting to changing times and simply no longer being burdened with the pressure to produce hits, Hues and Feldman delivered.
Wang Chung doesn’t plan to wait another twenty-three years before issuing another album of new material; a follow-up is contemplated just months later in Spring, 2013, this one to contain more of the dance floor come-ons that the group is better known for. That might suit the old fans better than this one. But for those like me who was looking for something more eclectic and sophisticated than that, the search is over.
Tazer Up! went on sale December 11.
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