No other decade since the 50’s had been so steeped in Futurism.
In the 50’s, that nod toward futurism was all about flying cars and robots. Things that would make life easier. In the fifties, too, this futurism was all about cleanliness. The future portrayed in the fifties generally had a lot of clean, sleek lines. From the Hanna-Barbera domes the Jetsons lived in to the vast robots that occupied more space than a mere human, the future seemed to be bright and generally on the side of the people.
Then, the American Dream was shattered and the nightmare we woke up in was a little bit different. A little bit darker.
But not everything about 80’s futurism was entirely dark. Sure, there were much harsher lines, now. And a much darker tone in terms of corporations ruling everything and yes, there was a lot of fear that the arms race between America and Russia would turn game-ending for everyone, but where the 80’s were grittier, they still had a lot of colour and spark.
And this is about where I introduce Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
The problem with the 80’s was that it had to do something to make a clean break from the 70’s. For most, the 70’s were about sex and drugs and rock and roll, with a couple of offshoots into anarchy backed up by the ponderous weight of progressive rock.
That clean break was New Wave music and New Wave was all about synthesizers and electronic drum machines with a new instrument added to the mix for good measure: the sampler.
Samples weren’t a big part of music yet. Oh, they’d made inroads, but they were so new that the idea of “a sample” was foreign enough that it was quite possible to just steal your way to greatness, because the courts hadn’t quite caught up with the times [as usual] – so grabbing a vocal from a movie or a beat you heard in a song or a bassline that you liked was all fair game.
And Sigue Sigue Sputnik were going to ride that train until it bought them money. In the case of their initial album, Flaunt it [the album we’re talking about here] that money train was going to deliver an unprecedented one million pounds. [!] [this, it would turn out was a lie, but that’s essentially the gist of Sigue Sigue Sputnik right there: fake it until you make it.]
The money train got SO weird that people lined up to buy advertising spots on the ensuing album.
So we have the look: colourful, post-wasteland, leather jackets, spiky, colourful hair and guitars. We have the hype: a crazy amount of money for a record deal, but the question is: is all this backed up by excellent music?
The answer is kind of. The puzzle of Sigue Sigue Sputnik is complicated by the fact that the strand of New Wave these intrepid Space Cowboys went down was very punk. So, the songs are simple, the lyrics are bombastic and the sampled clips are inherently part of the sound. You literally cannot divorce one part of the sound from any other. Do that and suddenly nothing works. This isn’t, say, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran or The Human League. In all those cases, you could take signature songs by the band, strip them down to just a guitar [or piano] and still have lighters going up in a sea of people as the front person for the band belted out the lyrics for the song. Try this with Sigue Sigue Sputnik and you’re left with a promising shell of a song trapped inside a coda that doesn’t stop for about five or so minutes per song.
This really means that the only way the music works is if it’s electronic, at a club and played pretty loud so that you’re not thinking too hard about what you’re hearing. Again, this is all part-and-parcel of the ambiance Sigue Sigue Sputnik is aiming for, anyway.
Is it bad? Objectively, sure. The only time the music stops pulsing and throbbing is when it slows down for the exquisite Atari Baby [the standout song on the album] – but if you’re looking for a good, somewhat rocking, somewhat club-centric album, or, perhaps, something to listen to while you’re cruising down the street at night to get TO a club, you could probably do worse.
Subjectively? That’s a different matter. Sigue Sigue Sputnik did SO much for the electronic dance scene that it’s difficult to disentangle them from the history of that specific genre of music. Almost everything that we take for granted, now, about sampled music started with that record.
Then there’s the note of fear and paranoia running all the way through Flaunt It [culminating in the 900 pound wallop that is “Massive Retaliation”] that signals what everyone was feeling at the time: we probably wouldn’t make it to the next morning, anyway, if the Americans and Russians kept the cold war going like they did, so why not just shut it all out and party?
Did I mention that Giorgio Moroder was ALL OVER this album? No? If nothing else, it’s instructive to see exactly what the Godfather of Dance Music was thinking in 1986.
Do you buy this one or stream it? Stream it. It’s an interesting bit of 1980’s trivia that might require you to listen to one or two songs to figure out what it was all about. I’d strongly recommend “Atari Baby,” “Love Missile F1-11” and “Massive Retaliation.”