Top 10 Gloomy 80′s Bands
The eighties were filled with two things: hairspray and hearts on sleeves. There had been other, less pleasant things (Reagan, a Cold War, inappropriately bulky technology), but what else stands out so dramatically when revisiting some of the most topical pop culture from the decade? The hairstyles alone reached unprecedented heights, it seemed like blow dryers were in fact just growth rays in disguise (thankfully drying technology has since been revised to where hair size can be optionally non-cosmic). And, whilst superficiality was at an all time high, so had been the flaring emotions toiling beneath all the polka dots and neon-colored fabrics. In film, John Hughes presented the quintessential glimpse into the psyche of a typical teenager, awkwardness and hopeless romanticism and all. In music, there had been countless outlets for all that suppressed angst and despair. Many acts generously shared their own personal misery with their gloomy followers in want of some thing to relate to.
These are the top 10 gloomy acts from the eighties:
10. Depeche Mode
Whilst this band fits the description of “forlorn post-punk band,” it does so with a little too a lot studio gimmickry over instrumental prowess. There is small separating the frequent robotic sound of this band from the most discardable New Order tracks. Not sufficient humanity rises to the surface of these personal computer-beat-and-synthesizer-enthusiasts’ songs in spite of frequent tortured lyrical content. Far more than any other member, the bassist actually gets his hands dirty, guiding the computer to the dance floor with some fat slapping, but elsewhere it’s just robots performing most of the work.
9. Soft Cell
Consisting of only two members, singer Marc Almond and multi-instrumentalist David Ball, the material Soft Cell created is fairly impressive, and at the same time a small cheesy. The unsettling harmonies of bass, synth (making for a spooky church organ on “Tainted Love”), and all sorts of conventional jazz instruments were an oddly excellent compliment to the lyrical content (STD’s, isolation, sexual confrontation)- Almond’s sexuality presented another audible dimension to the idea of non-acceptance. With Soft Cell, post-punk managed to find widespread ground with Broadway.
This iconic post-punk band was gothic in every sense of the term: sonically, lyrically, and ideologically. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” sums up the band’s concept, performed in a scene from the eighties vampire film The Hunger (Bauhaus appears in the credits as “Disco Band”); Peter Murphy has habit of performing vocal duties for this song upside down at live shows, no heed paid to the blood rushing to his head. Chord progressions are frequently nefariously arranged in the far more conventional songs, whilst every now and again some avante-garde guitar playing might come to purposefully imitate hospital equipment. Perched above these disconcerting sounds like a gargoyle in lieu of a front man, Murphy howls evocative phrases like “hypodermic” and “undead” in a deadpan vocal style straight out of an old late night monster movie.
7. Joy Division
This band makes the list in lieu of New Order (which is actually just the exact same band with a fairly far more cheerful singer) for its exceptional gloominess: it doesn’t get much gloomier than having the lead singer’s suicide present the reason for disbanding. Ian Curtis had a signature moan that just reeked of untreated clinical depression. The band was quite minimalistic and raw-sounding, a lot in the way of the earliest type of post-punk, typically pairing a snare drum and chugging bassline beneath a easy guitar riff and calling it danceable. When New Order was born, a lot of that rudimentary instrumentation was replaced by programmed personal computer beats and overriding synth, to the point where the music lacked any ostensible human touch. This was not for the much better. The magic in the former was that Ian Curtis left his wounds open for public amusement, like he was performing for the benefit of medical students– providing an authenticity that can’t be artificially replicated to the same effect.
6. Oingo Boingo
There was a lot of tongue-and-cheek material in the eighties. This band, led by Danny Elfman of Tim Burton soundtrack fame, made a wild contribution whilst pushing boundaries. “Little Girls,” one of the cheekiest songs from the band’s quasi-significant catalogue, attempts to hide lyrical content about pedophilia behind a tone of great levity. Elfman’s lyrics are really disturbingly dark in several instances, involving animal slaughter and subhuman desires, but seem only less so with the carnival funhouse sound effects and melodramatic melodic structures. The darkest melodic parts appear in the tone-shifting bridges, but genuinely can’t seem to shake that cartooniness that would later infect the score of Nightmare before Christmas.
5. Tears for Fears
This band was a sort of hit machine, mixing a penchant for swollen love-sick-themed songs like “Head over Heels,” which suggest a new-wavy Beatles in the attention to melodic craft with darker hemispheres of sound and subject matter. “Shout” presents an ominous grey cloud of synth and percussion while desperate chants cry out in agony, and “Mad World” discusses alienation and the sweet release of death over a deep-cutting melody that enhances the morbid atmosphere of dark contemplations and self-loathing. Although this band may revel in pretentious studio tricks, it definitely doesn’t hide behind them- just listen to their live album or arguable most popular album Songs from the Huge Chair which unashamedly fuses a live segment to the end of “Head over Heels.”
4. The Church
Really the darkest thing about this band is the post-punk imagery and superficial motifs it adorns itself with: the apathetic vocals, the spiritual paraphernalia, album titles like “Séance,” etc. Instrumentally, for the most component, this band is quite buoyant in a psychedelic kind of way, much akin to R.E.M. and the Smiths and their heavy Byrds influence. Jangly guitars and cloistering choruses spell the period’s poppiest material, but the disaffected vocalist and occasional discordant flourishes do a great job of keeping the sunshine on a leash.
3. Echo and the Bunnymen
This band has such a full sound and is truly the sum of its parts, the result of excellent musicianship. Although acts like Depeche Mode employed computers and samples as cloaking devices, this band crafted rich post-punk that was less stripped down than its contemporaries and not lacking in the way of emotional release. Listen to the song “Cutter,” which is propelled by an entirely manmade backbeat and bass stomp that prods the momentum forth- bones overstretched by grandiose orchestral arrangements and delinquent guitar jabs. “Killing Moon” is yet another example of great instrumentation and precise, yet slightly melted song structure, odd twists, and melodic skewing provided by cleverly manipulated strings. The vocals, detached and sullen as they are, aren’t so much so that they are devoid of tonality.
2. The Smiths
(Song starts at 2:20 in video above.)
Although Morrissey’s lyrics frequently reveal dissent, and frequent narcissism, this band really was pit against several of the concurrent synth-heavy UK New Wavers that seemed to be birthed more typically than Mormon kids in Utah. In fact, each aspect of what they did defied common conventions to the point where their virtuosity was practically antagonistic. The head songwriting team for this very dynamic group was Morrissey and jangle-heavy guitarist Johnny Marr. Bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce helped to ensure the momentum of each song allowed not a single moments’ rest. Marr’s busy, nuanced guitar arrangements fit so significantly material and fervor into every song, providing a level of emotional tension Morrissey seemed incapable of matching. Morrissey’s voice often sounded bored or at least quite complacent, the attitude of a privileged, educated class able to afford the luxury of petty dissatisfaction as well as the freedom to be conscious of his surroundings. His neurosis, as such, stemmed as much from laziness (“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable”) as cruel world practices like animal cruelty (“Meat is Murder”) and crimes against humanity (“Suffer Small Children”). That said, Morrissey’s enjoyability is strictly limited to his involvement with the Smiths; his solo material lacks everything that made his self-involvement forgivable.
1. The Cure
You can’t pout correctly without the aid of Robert Smith, the so-called “poster child of gloom and doom.” Any Goth traditionalist will point to Pornography or Seventeen Seconds, with signature tracks like “A Hundred Years” (opening line: “it doesn’t matter if we all die”) or “Hanging Garden” for a great fix of bleakness. Those tribal drums and guitar atmospherics carry the mood perfectly, although Smith’s echoing, hopeless lyrics make the ideal icing. The distinction between the Cure and a lot of transient post-punk bands of the day was that the Cure, which consisted virtually entirely of Robert Smith’s musical brilliance and countless short-lived “spotters”, wasn’t afraid to explore new territory while in the search for its own voice. The Cure as a result has crafted a special and timeless sound. Such a sound- notably the lush, warbling strings- has transcended and resisted genre-pigeonholing, surviving the eighties well and consistently up to 2008 when they released their newest album 4:13 Dream.