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Modern English: After The Snow (1982)

August 4, 2011

after the snowRoll: 3-2-18
Album:
Modern English,
After The Snow

Modern English, at least to many North Americans listeners, are one of those bands the pop-music gods have banished to the ignominious realm of One-Hit-Wonderland.

This is their unjust rewards for producing “I Melt With You”, now a perennial feature on the set lists of ’80s night DJs and new wave compilation CDs. A mix CD in the ’90s is actually where I first heard the song. Which leads me to wonder how much of a hit it really was on this side of the Atlantic.

Placed beside the artists who’d inspired me to purchase the compilation—Thompson TwinsFlock of Seagulls, Culture Club, Duran Duran—the song seems like a bit of an odd-duck. Though Flock of Seagulls were really never given the artistic credit they deserved, rightly disregarded for their unfortunate hairdon’ts, “I Melt With You” still feels far more authentic than Modern English’s glitzy MTV counterparts on the disc. That’s probably due in part to knowing what the rest of After the Snow sounds like.

At the time I has no idea. I was just rediscovering my love of new wave. I’d spent my ’80s teen years dismissing the genre as “fag music” and stuck to hair metal like a gnat caught in a web of Aqua Net. As you know if you’ve ever seen early pictures of Poison, hair metal wasn’t faggy at all. As I matured, I realized my favourite music was, in fact, fag music. Being bi-sexual in art-school will pretty much help you come to that epiphany.

Anyway, at the time I had a girlfriend who was deeply into new wave and acted as a guide who came to take me by the hand (to borrow a phrase). I’ve mentioned her before. She later tried to kill me. But long before things took a turn for the worst she turned me onto a lot of bands I was only vaguely aware of. Fun Boy Three, The Human League‘s early material, Echo and the Bunnymen and the subject of this review, one-hit wonders, Modern English.

It’s a sad fate for any band, but it seems an especially unfair legacy for these boys from Essex.

One hit wonders are usually pop-bands striving for top 40 success by any means necessary whose solitary claim to fame is a song written for them by hired-gun hit-makers or a one-off cover version of a classic. Predictably, their own material simply doesn’t hold a candle to this gem and they’re forgotten as soon as the record company has taken their pound of flesh from the band’s fifteen minutes of fame.

Though I’m sure they wanted success as much as anyone trying to make money from their art, Modern English weren’t really a top-40 pop band. They were actually a pretty dark, somewhat political, somewhat gothy post-punk band who happened to produce one relatively poppy single.

“I Melt With You” admittedly does sound quite a bit like something from The Cure‘s mid-80’s pop period, but the rest of After The Snow has more in common with Seventeen Seconds and Pornography. Not entirely original, the record is made of similar ingredients to the Joy Division and Factory Records catalogue yet Modern English managed to mix them in their own unique way. The band deserved to be more than mere also-rans to the aforementioned giants of Thatcher-era gloom. Still, you can tell they were fellow architects of the iconic sound, not mere copycat hacks. It’s a record very much of its time, but it doesn’t feel as if they were trying to please anyone by checking off boxes.

Of course, the boxes do get checked off in short order:

  • Chilly vocal delivery of dire, paranoid lyrics, check.
  • Funky tom-tom beats, check.
  • Melodic minor-key bass lines and serpentine, often discordant guitar licks, check.

The album might be more accessible than Pornography or Closer (or even their own debut), but the fractured, jagged arrangements are still only barely smoothed over by touches of analogue synth and the atmospheric guitar textures that make the album very much at home on the 4AD label.

For those newly bitten by the post-punk bug, who wonder why their weren’t more records like those by PiL and Joy Division, Modern English’s debut, Mesh and Lace, is essential listening. After The Snow can wait until that one has been digested.

If you’re a more pop-minded listener who likes the idea of an edgier Simple Minds, a goth Big Country, a less disaffected New Order, or the U2 album that would have come between War and Unforgettable Fire, After The Snow might be what you’ve always been looking for. It’d be a shame if you’d missed out because “I Melt With You” has been played to death at the local bar.

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