Landscape: From The Tearooms of Mars… To The Hell-holes Of Uranus US LP 
- European Man
- Shake The West Awake
- Computer Person
- Alpine Tragedy; Sisters
- Face Of The 80’s
- New Religion
- Einstein A Go-Go
- Norman Bates
- The Doll’s House
- From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars…To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus
After buying the “Blitz” US RCA New Wave sampler in 1981, I was incredibly smitten with most of it, but I fell hard, in particular for the hi-tech synth-rock of Landscape, who had their single A-side “European Man” on the compilation. Thirty two years later, it remains one of the all-time great New Romantic tracks that never the less, has not been played out in the intervening years. Heck, it was almost under the radar in 1981! The frictionless Colin Thurston production moves like a Delorean with the same chromium skin giving the track an admirable sheen. The lyrics reference Alvin Toffler’s book “The Third Wave,” and postulate computers giving us endless leisure time in the coming future, and we can all see how that worked out. It seems our owners had other ideas.
Landscape were inextricably linked to the New Romantic trend by not only sound, but the positioning of the group’s mainstay Richard James Burgess in the center of the Blitz scene. In fact, it was he who coined the term “New Romantic,” according to scene lore. In addition to his own work, he also took Spandau Ballet from concept to stardom as the producer of their first two albums. But where he ultimately had the most impact was for drummers throughout the eighties, as he was the drummer who paired with Dave Simmons to develop the iconic Simmons SDS drums that stand as potent signifiers of that era. Their first recorded usage was on the “Tearooms” album, but I can also hear other electro-percussion elements like the Roland CR-78 chugging away on tracks like “Computer Person.”
In addition to the rhythmic elements to this record that were game-changing, what strikes the most about Landscape then and now, was that the band had come from a jazz point of reference with a full horn section comprised of natural and synthetic sounds. They actually started their lifespan in 1974 and mutated wildly by the time that they released this as their second album in 1981. By that time, they bore the heavy stamp of Kraftwerk influence, but filtered through a very quirky English sensibility that allowed for droll humor to the left of Kraftwerk’s deadpan attempts. What is fascinating is that they explore similar themes [“Shake The West Awake,” “Computer Person”] to what Kraftwerk were also readying for release at much the same time with their “Computer World” album. It definitely was a case of similar minds reacting to the zeitgeist in the same manner.
This album is far more eclectic that the somewhat homogenized “Computer World.” There is room for sleek dance floor fodder like “Face of The 80s” and “European Man” as well as twee techno pop of a Buggles/Kraftwerk stripe with “Computer Person” and “New Religion.” However, the lightness of cuts like these are more than balanced by other tracks on the album.
One striking thread here is the darkness that runs through tracks like “Norman Bates” and “The Doll’s House.” “Norman Bates” succeeds as a musical adaptation of the movie “Psycho” and that’s followed by a cut that sounds like for all the world that drummer Burgess was smitten by “Intruder” from the previous years’ peter gabriel album. “The Doll’s House” is built on dominant rhythms copped almost whole cloth from the gated brute slam that Steve Lillywhite achieved with Phil Collins on that album. But I’ll give credit where its due; Burgess has crafted a track that is just as disturbing, albeit far more abstract than the Gabriel track. The only vocals are highly distorted snatches of dialog that are dubbed throughout the cut; leaving the foreboding horns the commanding tone of dread throughout. The minor key backing vocals are vocoderized for heightened impact. It’s too bad that this cut wasn’t remixed but there’s no reason why that couldn’t still happen. There’s a lot here to work with!
The big hit single on this album is a really queer kettle of fish. “Einstein-A-Go-Go” seems to be positing a right wing loony with nuclear bombs who would cleanse the world of sinners to “save” it. That the disquieting lyrics are delivered over a pristine technopop music bed that seems to have an evergreen lifespan, according to the many uses of the song in ads and films in the intervening 32 years, probably accounted for its placement in the UK top 5 at the time.
Finally, the band wrapped things up with the closer; a segued trilogy of electrojazz ditties that comprised the title track. The “Beguine,” Mambo” and “Tango” all take a retro-sci-fi perspective with the horn heavy tracks rubbing padded shoulders with heavy synths and drumboxes. It sounds like the approach that Kraftwerk took on the title cut to “Trans Europe Express” but with a campy, humorous quality that the Düsseldorf group would never countenance. In the end, the idea of a “British Kraftwerk” that so many groups I like [particularly the early Human League] might have been best realized on this album, while few realized it at the time. In fact, the final cut all but crafts the blueprint for phenomena that would not exist for decades later, like Señor Coconut!
Alas, the next Landscape album, “Manhattan Boogie Woogie,” never sat well with me, and it wasn’t until 2002 that I discovered that there had been an eponymous first album that I’d never heard! The brains at Cherry Red re-issued this album for a second time on CD in 2002, which is where my current, digital copy dates from. I gave my cherished US LP of this title to a friend who I thought should give it another chance. Maybe I should do the same with “Manhattan Boogie Woogie.” Cherry Red has also issued a twofer CD with the debut album plus “Manhattan Boogie Woogie” of late and I would like to hear the first album in any case.
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If you haven’t heard it already you will find the first Landscape very different from the two albums that followed. As per Howard Moon from the boosh it could probably be categorised as “Jazz Fusion”. Personally I like all three albums.
Paul – Welcome to the comments! I have not heard it, but “Japan” was used as the B-side of “Einstein-A-Go-Go” and it certainly did not offend. I bought the “Sonja Heine” 7″ 15 years ago – mental note to self: listen to it! I have the 2009 Cherry Red “Landscape/Manhattan Boogie Woogie” penciled in on my want list. Just a matter now of of acting. You know how that goes!
Great minds think alike, Mr. Monk! I’ve been listening to this disc in my car over the course of the day, and I like it as much now as I did when I bought the lp in late ’81. The album art, incidentally, was selected as one of that year’s worst by the 1982 edition of “The Rock Yearbook,” a dubious distinction also awarded to the first Visage album.
James Pagan – Ah, The Rock Yearbook! Those volumes were pretty indispensable back in the day. Alas, I do not own the 1982 volume. I have ’81, ’83, ’85, ’86, and ’87. I always loved the Landscape cover. The Visage, less so. It’s interesting seeing the original Peter Ashworth photo before the overpainting.