BUGGLES: ADVENTURES IN MODERN RECORDING (1981)
1) Adventures In Modern Recording; 2) Beatnik; 3) Vermillion Sands; 4) I Am A Camera; 5) On TV; 6) Inner City; 7) Lenny; 8) Rainbow Warrior; 9) Adventures In Modern Recording (reprise).
This one's okay, but it ain't Age Of Plastic. Yes, those nasty boys of prog rock, blew up The Buggles before they had a real chance to conquer the world, and sucked them inside the band to replace Jon Anderson — like I already said, if you listen to Age Of Plastic long enough, you will begin to see that this wasn't the most random-decided decision on earth, but fact of the matter is, Horn and Downes were no longer The Buggles, but hired gunmen to guide a bunch of old out-of-touch proggers into the new realities of a rapidly changing world (including hairstyles). And once it didn't work out... well, the biorhythms were broken, and they just couldn't really go back to being The Buggles like nothing happened. A broken family is a broken family.
In the end, Geoff Downes just defected away to Asia — trading the coolness, the irony, and the snarkiness of a Buggle for the stiffness, seriousness, and pomposity of an «Asian» — before the sessions for the new album had even started properly, leaving behind only some of his keyboard playing on some of the demos. So Trevor Horn cursed him all the way to adult contemporary hell and beyond, and set out to complete the record on his own, with a little help from such friends as Simon Darlow (keyboards), John Sinclair (drum programming and co-producing), and even a keyboard part from Anne Dudley on ʽBeatnikʼ (who then joined Horn for many of his projects, including The Art Of Noise).
The resulting album is understandably much more morose and depressed than Age Of Plastic, and this decreases its value — as long as the Buggles were happy, snappy, and punchy, the magic worked, but in this noticeably more pensive, melancholic, «downer» mood, quite a few songs tend to drag, if not suck. Case in point: ʽLennyʼ. It may or it may not refer to Lenny Bruce, and there's nothing wrong with either possibility — but its melody progresses from somewhat moronic to simply boring, just lots of poorly expressive synthesizers and a semi-decent vocal track which still has Horn in his «I am Jon Anderson» mode, trying to make us believe he is trying to make some sort of important point, but really just wasting three minutes of our time. And this is not the only misfire on this record.
Thankfully, some of that old snarkiness is still in action on about half of the record. ʽBeatnikʼ is a hilarious reinvention of the rockabilly genre for the technopop era — and graced with more Yes-style harmonies and lyrics ("all will be revealed before the next move!") on top of it all. The title track, in prime Buggles fashion, pokes fun at whatever the Buggles themselves are doing: "they're not playing, they're just having adventures in modern recording!", and it is light, sprightly, self-ironic, tends to change keys and tempos — basically, the kind of stuff that 10cc might have been doing in 1981, had they survived up to 1981 in a less crappy format than they did. And even the lengthy romantic epic ʽVermilion Sandsʼ ends in a bit of «Vegas» fun, also rearranged for the electronic age, proving that humor has not been abandoned.
Elsewhere, Horn tends to get too serious — apparently, even one year with Yes can rearrange your liver to such solid mental grace that the next thing you know, you're writing sci-fi mythological ballads with references to rainbow warriors or allusions to J. G. Ballard. Actually, both ʽVermilion Sandsʼ and ʽRainbow Warriorʼ seem like decent compositions, but this whole «art-synth-pop» business... I just don't know. Too simple and silly to really compete with the proggers — too complex and artistically pretentious to be plain kinky fun. There's no denying some creativity and intelligence here, but ʽJohnny On The Monorailʼ has all this stuff beat in a jiffy — that one just had plain old hooks, these ones seem to demand from you to acknowledge their depth, and I am not sure if they have any.
There's also a remake of ʽI Am A Cameraʼ (formerly ʽInto The Lensʼ) here, done Buggles-style rather than Yes-style, but I've never been a big fan of that song in the first place, so let's not get any ideas. Actually, one point is clear — both Downes and Horn underwent a «maturation» process while they were in Yes, so that Downes eventually got serious enough for Asia (!) and Horn got serious enough for turning Buggles into BuggYes. If this latter idea intrigues and fascinates you, go for this album at once — if you are a big fan of Drama, it is impossible that you will not find something here to please your synth-prog lover's heart. If, however, it sounds unattractive in theory, I do not believe you will find it any different in practice. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the «quirky» songs and I respect the craft of the «serious» songs, so the overall rating is still a thumbs up — them Buggles don't have more than two albums out anyway, so they might just as well get an extra pointer for that (including an advance for not releasing a Buggles album anywhere near 1986, which would probably have been fatal). Also, Trevor Horn is just a good guy with a strong artistic vision, and even some of his relative failures are still interesting.