Anarchy in the UK
(or how I won't forgive Jim Steinman, no, really)
There's a certain image, maybe a romantic ideal, that I think of when using the phrase 'synthpop duo'. To me, the synthpop duo felt like the natural extension of punk, the DIY aesthetic forced into evolution by the emerging electronic music technology of the time. I imagine two people locked away in a room, pouring over a keyboard, bits of paper with half written lyrics scattered about the place. My particular imaginary example of a synthpop duo are forever trapped in the 80s like the Doctor Who episodes of the time, which don't quite hold water and are embarrassing to look at today but evoke that faint whiff of nostalgia, like the smell of vomit you can't quite get out of the carpet. Shiny nostalgia of the early 80s, except, being the early 80s houses were still mostly empty. For some reason I associate 70s houses as not having the sheer amount of 'stuff' we as human beings seem to depend on these days to survive, but I digress.
For a period of time there it felt like there was nothing the synthpop duo could not accomplish. A self contained unit, needing only a producer to add the radioactive glow required to add the special power which would enable their music to radiate from the top 40, contaminating a nation over the course of a few (mostly short) weeks with catchy synth lines and strangely immediate lyric. There are, of course, numerous examples of this. Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Yello, but one in particular pains me, one group and one song in particular breaks my notion of what I consider a synthpop duo to be and I can't quite forgive them.
Namely, the Eurthymics 1984 hit, "Here comes the rain". I have to preface this with the fact I love the song. The first 20 seconds are so sublime. The plucked string sound, as we are shortly to discover as the song progresses, are real. Not synth. I gather they got Michael Kamen in to write the string parts which were then performed by the British Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, at this point, you're probably wondering what the hell I'm going on about and why on earth I'd care about such a thing. Surely there are other such examples where outside influences have been drafted in like this. And I guess it comes down to a combination of two things, firstly the shattering of my perfect notion of what a synth pop duo means and secondly intimacy. The immediacy of the setting of the lyrics feels distracted to me by the presence of a full size orchestra standing behind the band. It's less about that feeling where you're perhaps a fly on the wall watching two people tell their story, and more like it becomes a scene from a soap opera where a two people are having a 'barney' down the Queen Vic in Eastenders.
Is it raining with you?