Record Review: The Buggles – The Age Of Plastic DLX RM [part 1]

Island Records | JPN | CD | 2011 | UICY-9181

Island Records | JPN | CD | 2011 | UICY-9181

The Buggles: The Age Of Plastic Japan DLX RM CD [2011]

  1. Living In The Plastic Age
  2. Video Killed The Radio Star
  3. Kid Dynamo
  4. I Love You [Miss Robot]
  5. Clean, Clean
  6. Elstree
  7. Astroboy [And The Proles On Parade]
  8. Johnny On The Monorail
  9. Island
  10. Technopop
  11. Johnny On The Monorail [A Very Different Version]

I came to this album in a left-field fashion. It was probably some time following its initial 1980 release that my old friend chasinvictoria [back when he was a new friend] came into the radio station where we both worked at in high school clutching a copy of this amazing new album; touting its many virtues. Curious, I asked to borrow it and gave it a spin at my home. Even more curious, I was unmoved by that I heard …that first time. I discounted it for some insane reason, but went on to buy the next Yes album, “Drama,” which, for some reason I still can’t fathom, had The Buggles replacing the then-departed Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Shocking, I know!

It didn’t take too much longer for me to do a severe volte-face and completely take a 180° degree position on this album. I then immediately bought the next Buggles album, “Adventures In Modern Recording” when it appeared two years later to my [but few others’] rapt attention. After all, The Buggles had proved themselves of being masters of sound and arrangement with the current cutting edge of recording technology at their disposal.  The silly name, was apparently down to the self-deprecating notion that during the band’s gestation as a trio [with Bruce Woolley still on board with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes] they would “Never be as big as The Buggles” a mocking reference to The Beatles.

Of course, when their debut single was released in the waning light of 1979, this looked for a moment that it might not be so mocking a notion. Their demo of “Video Killed The Radio Star” stirred not a whit of industry interest until it crossed the desk of Island’s Chris Blackwell, who admonished his minions to sign the band “at any cost!” A few months later,  the single reached the #1 spot on the UK pop charts and thus provided Island Records with its first number one single [finally]. It soon conquered charts the world over, with America holding the suspicious proto-technopop morsel at arms length, where it only rose to number 40 in the charts.

buggles - theplasticageGER7AAmazingly, half of the album’s eight tracks were released as singles. “Living In The Plastic” age opened with what seemed to be some sort of dystopian torture sounds with electric bolts zapping followed by heavily reverbed cries of anguish. At least that’s how I always parsed it. Listening now, on phones, it could well be the alarm clock in the song intruding on a dreamscape. The immaculately arranged songs featured the sort of rich, fondant sound that Trevor Horn’s name would be synonymous with evermore. The mixture of analog synthesizers, Horn’s own bass playing with guitars and vocals arranged for maximum pop impact on a composition that displayed wit and enough vision to be taken as a cautionary comment on the very values it was ostensibly espousing showed a winning, post-modern hand.

buggles - cideokilledtheradiostarUK7AOf “Video Killed The Radio Star” what more can be said? The single was a huge winner that was the alpha and omega of The Buggles’ career. It was the kind of hit that casts a huge shadow over the entire remainder of the group’s career. It was an example of picture perfect technopop before it had made the leap to the digital era and further codified into synthpop. It fairly dripped with synthesizers, but that didn’t stop conventional instruments from filling in the gaps in the sound for an edifying whole. It was one of the earlier examples of a high tech mentality looking back nostalgically in a song. I don’t think that started to happen until the post-WWII generation began to mature. Of course, every piece of technology used to make this recording is now hopelessly archaic.

Next: …To be continued

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Record Review: The Buggles – The Age Of Plastic DLX RM [part 1]

  1. “Video Killed…” was such a fresh blast of synthesized air back in 1980. I’m not sure why it hooked me so quickly but I still have the album in heavy rotation here.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Video Killed The Radio Star is one of those song, along with Gary Numan’s Cars that had a sudden impact…throwing notions of what modern pop music was against a neon lit wall. But, like the latter track, it became so synonymous with electronic/snyth pop that it lost its cache, its importance, its rightful place in the pantheon.

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  3. One of the distinguishing marks of New Wave was an ability to write songs about something other than love/sex (and indeed some bands emphasized this idea, particularly the Talking Heads), and while the Buggles were hardly the first to go there, one of the many joys of this analog synth record is the retro-futurist angle that permeates the album. Another is that the production skills on display are such that you actually notice them — they are as much a member of the band as the (underrated) Geoff Downes. I can understand why Bruce Woolley did not remain in the band — its always tricky to have two leaders in a group, particularly one that small! — but his contribution to LITPA is deep and really makes this one my favourite of the two proper albums.

    I remember how astonished I was to pick up a single for “Johnny” and discover it to be (as the subtitle says) a very different version, and IIRC I later found another alternate version of Clean, Clean (probably a demo). Then there’s Woolley’s own take on some of the songs he co-wrote, and if memory serves I think his version actually came out just a bit earlier than the Buggles’ album, but I may be misremembering. Woolley’s name generally appears on most of my favourite Horn/Downes songs, in and outside of The Buggles.

    This album is just more proof that 1979 is in the running for the best-ever year of music releases; it’s certainly a candidate. Like 1939 was for movies, 1979 was blessed with a huge number of particularly well-received and still-influential releases that kicked off the New Wave and related movements.

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    • Echorich says:

      There really is no Buggles without Bruce Woolley. Well, maybe that’s going a bit far, but BW has been a pretty integral part of Trevor Horn’s successful career. He’s a sort of man behind The Man, and has seemed to be pretty comfortable in that role for over 30 years. And you are right Chas – English Garden came out a full month earlier than The Age of Plastic.

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