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Modern English



Modern English is probably best remembered (if it is remembered at all) for its great radio single "I'll Melt with You," which stands with Human League's "Don't You Want Me Baby," New Order's "Love Vigilantes," and Duran Duran's early hits ("Girls on Film," "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf," etc.) as one of the most enduring songs of the early '80s English synth-pop movement. In fact, the band was much more than a one-hit wonder, releasing a series of great albums throughout the '80s, and though it never achieved the stature of Duran Duran, Modern English was one of the seminal outfits of the English new wave. The band's genesis came in the historic English town of Colchester, where three friends -- vocalist Robbie Grey, guitarist Gary McDowell, and drummer Richard Brown -- were inspired by the Sex Pistols to start their own band, which they dubbed the Lepers. Within a year, keyboardist Steve Walker and bassist Mick Conroy had joined and the band became known as Modern English and moved to London to seek its fortune. It was rough going at first, as Modern English was unable to garner any interest among the big English record labels. But then the fledgling 4AD took notice and signed the band, leading eventually to the release of Modern English's 1981 debut, Mesh & Lace.

Their early style probably had more in common with the Psychedelic Furs and Echo and The Bunnymen than the bands mentioned above, a catchily dark, rough-edged sound influenced by aggressive British punk rock, the dark melodramatic experimentalism of Roxy Music, the proto-electronic music of Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire, (then) newer gothic post-punk bands like the Birthday Party, Bauhaus, and of course, Joy Division. There were rousing anthemic melodies there, but the songs weren't the most palatable, full of bleak, austere textures created with wiry guitars and surprisingly vicious, punky synthesizers, inciting a somewhat ambivalent response from consumers and critics alike. With its second album, the acclaimed 1982 LP After the Snow (recorded with Bunnymen producer Hugh Jones, that was the album that featured "I'll Melt with You"), Modern English lightened up a bit, emphasizing cohesive songwriting over stark expressions of anger, though plenty of jagged edges remained.

The success of the single and the album led to a big U.S. tour and a deal with Sire Records. As the '80s progressed, Modern English, like New Order and others, left its post-punk aggression behind and evolved into an aurally pleasing, if not especially confrontational, dance-pop band. In 1984 came the lighter, airier Ricochet Days, a pretty, gently psychedelic album (also recorded with Jones) full of layered keys and string arrangements. In 1986, Modern English released Stop Start, then fell apart. An abortive attempt to reunite yielded the lackluster 1990 album Pillow Lips.

In 2001, 4AD issued a best-of compilation of Modern English's early days, titled Life in the Gladhouse 1980-1984, which features cuts from the band's first three albums and assorted early singles. The clean, jangly "Rainbow's End" first appeared on Ricochet Days.

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