I was shocked this morning to find that British producer Martin Rushent had died yesterday at the young age of 63. As coincidence would have it, I was trying to find a record in the archives this weekend that I had purchased nine years ago but had not listened to yet. I was determined to finally hear it. It was by a trio called Down To Earth and the single was “Interference.”
I was completely unfamiliar with the band and song. I had bought the record for a single reason; it was a single from 1981 produced by Martin Rushent. Back in the day you just bought records produced by Martin Rushent! In 1981 you paid special attention to everything he did!
I first heard his work with The Stranglers some time in 1978. It was their amazing third album “Black + White” that I had heard first. The recording of the bass on that album was unprecedented to me. It was absolutely thuggish and right in your face, yet the songs were a weird blend of almost progressive musicianship coupled with extreme aggression. I couldn’t quite call it punk at the end of the day as it was far too accomplished and eclectic with songs about Yukio Mishima rubbing shoulders with tunes about how great it is to enlist and kill people. I worked my way backward and was rewarded with incredible singles like “Five Minutes” and “Grip.”
I soon heard his seminal work with The Buzzcocks and by the summer of 1981, his first work with The Human League, of whom I was already a fan, began to trickle out. The Human League records, in particular, were on the bleeding edge of radical new technologies that would come to dominate recording in the eighties. The “Dare” album with its reliance on the Linn Drum Computer and Roland Microcomposer, were the sound of 1981! Of course, all of this technology is useless without good pop at its core. Rushent was expert at driving to the heart of the song and enhancing its intrinsic power so as to make weird outsiders like The Stranglers and The Human League chart toppers.
1981 also saw his work with Pete Shelley from the Buzzcocks now solo also hit the marketplace. Dazzling tunes from Shelley’s “Homosapien” album broke new ground by teaming chugging acoustic guitars with the same technologies he brought to the Human League’s plate. The “Homosapien” album was intended to be demos for the Buzzcocks album that wasn’t to be. The Roland Microcomposer was not intended as a performance tool per se; its strength was its ability to act like a recording studio to flesh out arrangements which ideally, would be followed by musicians on acoustic instruments at a later time. But the labels heard the demos and flipped. Shelley and Rushent then thought “why gild the lily” and went with them. The Buzzcocks had crumbled by then so Shelley’s solo career was born in the crucible of new digital technology in what was intended as demos but were now enjoyed for what they were; sparkling pop tunes with a expansive technological sheen.
All of his work at the time built to an incredible synergy. Hot on the heels of his incredible success with The Human League, he became the go-to producer of the time. He next produced Scotland’s Altered Images. They specialized in crafting songs that generated interest by juxtaposing sugar sweet melodies sung by the girlish Clare Grogan with bittersweet and cynical lyrics to create frissons of tension and interest. They had previously worked with Steve Severin of The Banshees, who ended up emphasizing dark melodies; resulting in a Banshees Junior approach that was less interesting than what would eventually come with Rushent.
How many of these classics do you have in your collection? R.I.P. Martin Rushent.
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