Switched On – Various Artists: Musik Music Musique 3.0: Synth Pop On The Air (Cherry Red)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

So good they named it thrice! Cherry Red build on the success they have enjoyed with the first two compilations in this series, which takes its name from the track of the same name by Zeus. On the first triple album they looked at music in 1980, and ‘the dawn of synth pop’ – followed by the rise of the same style in 1981.

Now we reach 1982 and synth pop is ‘on the air’ – and the shift in musical style as it starts to take over the airwaves is tangible.

What’s the music like?

A fascinating electronic diary. There is lots to discover here, whether you approach the collection as a knowledgeable pop music fan, or if you come in from the cold. It gets off to the best possible and most appropriate start, too. Radio Silence starts the first of three instalments, a great, deadpan start with Thomas Dolby‘s plea to ‘tune in tonight’. Elsewhere the joyous song The Passage, from XOYO, makes a strong impression, as does the poise of Talk Talk‘s Mirror Man. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark make a majestic contribution with, as do Blancmange, who bring some gravitas with I’ve Seen The Word. Streetplayer is a bright and brassy number from Fashiøn, before Tears For Fears bring the emotion and the harmonic twists with Pale Shelter. Arthur Brown, Planning By Numbers and Ultravox complete a winning first part.

Part two starts strongly too, with Dramatis‘s The Shame and Fiat Lux‘s surprisingly graceful This Illness. New Order‘s Temptation could hardly be bettered in ’82, but cuts like Dead Or Alive‘s What I Want show there was plenty in reserve elsewhere. Soft Cell‘s Sex Dwarf and Yello‘s Heavy Whispers show just what variety there was too! The Human League‘s offbeat You Remind Me Of Gold shows a darker side, while the rougher sounding Hold Me by Section 25 shows electronic music in a murkier state, finding the middle of a darker dancefloor.

Clattering drums give way to elegance in Heaven 17‘s Let Me Go!, again a complete polar opposite to the scuttling beat of Siegmund Freud’s Party from Telex. Falco proves in the course of Maschine Brennt that he was capable of much more than one big hit, too. On this third part Cherry Red push the boat out further, Mikado‘s Par Hasard making an elegant impression, in contrast to Those French Girls and Sorry Sorry. Ukraine‘s Remote Control is brilliantly lo-fi, with cavernous production and a funky bass, but then Sergeant Frog‘s Profile Dance is compact and nippy. A final surprise awaits in the form of Omega Theatre‘s decidedly odd Robots, Machines and Silicon Dreams, moving between intimacy and choral bursts.

Does it all work?

Yes, mostly. The surprising aspect of this compilation is just how modern and fresh everything sounds, as though producers had just been let through the doors of their own studios. Not everything has aged ideally, but because the track ordering is so well thought out, there are natural peaks and troughs.

Is it recommended?

It is – and so is the series, going from strength to strength.



You can buy this compilation on the Cherry Red website

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