Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thirty Thousand Feet Of Excellence

A few weeks ago I wrote about a UK new wave single from 1981 called “I’m In Love With A German Film Star.” The band that recorded the song is called The Passions and as luck would have it, on July 21st perennial British indie rock label Cherry Red re-released the album from which this track was taken, The Passions’ sophomore effort, Thirty Thousand Feet Over China. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy so I can sample the five bonus tracks but I do have the original 1981 UK vinyl version of the album on Polydor Records.

The album has a similar mood to The Cure’s Faith or Seventeen Seconds, though not as claustrophobic, in fact, it sounds almost like a cross between one of those albums and New Order’s 1981 album, Movement, minus the synths. It’s no surprise that The Passions’ first album, Michael and Miranda, and some of their early singles, were released on the Fiction Records label, an imprint which was home to The Cure for over twenty years.

There must have been something in the air — or in the water, perhaps — in the British isles in those heady days of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Passions fit right in with the Cure, Joy Division, early New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. All these bands were channeling the spirits of The Velvet Underground, and choice sixties psychedelia like Buffalo Springfield, Love, and The Doors, of course. But this penchant for sixties rock was augmented with the starkness and minimalism of early ‘80s new wave. It wasn’t a particularly great time on the isles; Thatcher was two years into her reign, the economy was bad, and the troubles in Northern Ireland were reaching new lows.

But amid this bleakness, records like Thirty Thousand Feet Over China shone through, showing that there was some hope embodied in the vibrant, creative spirit that gripped Britain and Ireland (this was the era that U2 were throwing bricks through windows and intoning “Gloria”). It was a magical time, the late seventies had seen a revolution in rock music with the appearance of punk and that decade ended by being dragged out kicking and screaming into the new wave inflected ‘80s. Perhaps we’ll see a simiar transition from this decade and what comes next. The present decade has deified the ‘80s and in some ways tried to recreate the vitality of punk with the edgy electro sound that has gripped the clubs for several years.

But edginess can only last so long, before the cultural Sturm Und Drang takes it toll and things have to naturally move down a gear. This classic album, available again after many years in deletion, shows how pent up, and openly expressed, rage moves into a more controlled mode, and innovation and imagination temper the heat of anger. When you get a moment do check it out, you’ll see that it’s a top notch, highly entertaining, and musically varied record, as well as an enduring testament to a turbulent, yet more innocent, time.


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