Friday, June 6, 2008

New Musik -- "Straight Lines" (1979)

Talk about your obscure yet amazing synthpop records of the New Wave era. I burned this song on a New Wave compilation CD for my daughter not long ago. Today, I put on the CD without looking at what it was just before her birthday sleepover was about to begin. A loud doorbell of the "ding-dong" kind came blasting through the basement and my wife ran to see if the first guest had arrived. Of course, it was the opening sound effect of "Straight Lines."

There's no question in my mind that New Musik were the true pioneers of the synthpop genre, preceding acts like Depeche Mode and Yazoo by a couple of years. Why they fizzled out after a few years, just as those other acts were starting to pick up steam, is not much of a mystery -- their American label, CBS, didn't know what to do with them never releasing their original albums and who knows if they were even promoted properly. It's a miracle they even made American radio at all, while scorching the UK charts.

I remember distinctly hearing "Straight Lines" for the first time on WPIX-FM when the station was pushing its primarily new wave format. The song was extremely catchy, danceable and quirky, but somewhat off balance from its dizzying piano notes. It's got a very fast and straight straight 4/4 beat, perfect for either pogo-ing or wild freak-ish jumping all over the place. Although it feels like a synthpop song, there are a lot of organic elements in it -- I think the drum is live, electric bass, acoustic guitar, typical "round sound" guitar notes.

CBS released on the song on a 10" NuDisk EP, which I ran out and bought. It re-appeared several months later on a US album called Sanctuary, which contained many of the great pop songs from the group's first two UK albums. Thematically, the group was all about emotional distance, things being out of our control.

You're running in circles
Yet traveling in straight lines.
You're racing around
You move at the speed of time.
We're running together
We're moving along the way.
Whatever the weather
You'll find there'll be no delay.

Sure you can hit the beaten track
But you can never turn it back.
One way.
Straight lines (moving on a straight line)
Straight lines (moving on a straight line).

You're making decisions
You wonder which way to choose.
There's this way and that way
How could you ever lose.
We're shifting together
We're on a production line.
All drifting together
As a patent unique design.

Yes you can hit the beaten track
But you can never turn it back.

Tony Manfield was pretty much the band, writing the songs and singing lead with a very "English-sounding voice." When he sings about "being on a production line," well, it really sounds it, pumping away on rhythm and beat. When New Musik broke up, Mansfield went on to produce a number of New Wave acts like the similar-sounding Naked Eyes ("Promises, Promises"), a-ha, The B-52's and After The Fire ("Der Kommisar").

In 1980, New Musik appeared on the UK TV show "Top Of The Pops" performing "Living By Numbers." The announcer introduced the band as follows: "Now this is one of those massive Eurohits sung by a bloke who doesn't seem like he wants to be here. He's either nervous or he knows the song is kack." Kack?

Below are two rare New Musik videos -- a shortened silly version of "Straight Lines" from "Top of The Pops" (the full song is about five minutes long, this one is slightly longer than half that) (gotta love the suits and ties), and the official video of another great tune "This World Of Water," with an early use of the vocoder effect.


The Ripple Effect said...

Now you got me. I thought I was the only one who ever played these guys, much less remembered them. I used to play them my radio show at KSPC back in the early '80's. They had some great melodies, not the best band, but lots of fun. I actually just repurchased one of their albums from a discount bin for $1. Money well spent. Keep up the good work. I'd love to trade links with you and us over at the Ripple since we both love to bring back to light old and lost classics.

let me know

Todd (Racer)
The Ripple Effect

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Chris JC said...

Hello there. Cack is "poo" (probably from the same route as ca-ca).

The actual TOTP presenter didn't announce them as such - that clip is from Top of the Pops 2, a long defunct programme of repackaged TOTP appearances with on screen facts and an "irreverent" commentary by DJ Steve Wright (not that Steve Wright).

Hope this helps :)