|Missing since 1985, if found, please contact local authorities.|
It may not be cool to name-check a-Ha on the list of the best enw wave albums ever made, but to deny the greatness of Hunting High And Low as an album is to do yourself and the band a disservice. This writer would go so far as to say that the album, and band, would have been better off never writing "Take On Me" because all it did (besides make them superstars, of course) was stunt their forward progress in the States. Sure, "The Sun Always Hines On TV" was a hit, but only because it is such an undeniable tour de force in its own right.
It's not because they didn't continue to make great music, but that they never wrote another "Take On Me", which is just fine by most of us who were never that into the song anyway. I mean, sure, it's catchy and the video was groundbreaking at the time, and singer Morten Harket hits a note that even Mariah Carey in her prime couldn't reach, but, let's face it, it's as supericial as Baltimora's "Monkey Boy" or the Europeans "Animal Song".
4. Pet Shop Boys - Please
If any album on this list could be re-issued under the title "Greatest Hits" and not a single person would complain, it would be this album. Side One (for those of us who grew up with the album and/or cassette) is chock full of songs you already know by heart whether you have owned a PSB album in your life or not: West End Girls, Opportunities, Love Comes Quickly, Suburbia, and Two Divided By Zero.
The album not only made international pop stars out of singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe, it put producer Stephen Hague on the map after years of "shoulda been hits" as a member of Jules Shear's Polar Bears and knob twiddler on albums by Gleaming Spires and Slow Children. He produced OMD's Crush the year before, too, but that album got unjustly panned at the time of its release. Please, on the other hand, led Hague's recording schedule to become booked solid for the next decade and beyond.
3. Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward
There may be some tempted to suggest that Speak And Spell belongs on this list more than Some Great Reward and don't think it didn't cross this writer's mind. After all, that was the lone album the band recorded while Vince Clark was a member of the band and does feature "Just Can't Get Enough". Thankfully, one listen to SGR and logic suddenly prevailed.
See, Clarke leaving DM after Speak And Spell had the same impact on the remaining band members as Ian Curtis's death had upon the surviving members of Joy Division. Finding their own way after losing the creative heart and soul of the band took a few albums and Some Great reward is the sound of every individual member of the band coming into their own. Most importantly, Martin Gore's songwriting comes to truly transcend the synth-pop/new wave tag and can now stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone and Dave Gahan's vocals are now as much an expressive instrument as Gore's keyboards.
2. Tears For Fears - Songs From The Big Chair
For those of us already in bands at the time of its release, Songs From The Big Chair changed everything. I vividly remember sitting in the control room as our producer showed us this great new piece of equipment called a CD player, which he demonstrated the sonic capabilities of by playing this album. Unlike the soppy warmth of a good slab of vinyl, the CD gave a clinical clarity to every bell and whistle flying past our ears. The band's use of traditional instrumentation combined with the latest in digital gadgetry gave this album a space-age sheen, yet the songs themselves are as solid and clever as anything found on a late period Beatles album.
The next thing I know, we're programming Linn Drums and synthesizers instead of adding layers of guitars like we'd been doing just days before. Much like Nirvana's Nevermind had changed the landscape in the early '90s, Songs From The Big Chair did the much same thing in 1985.
Unlike most other albums recorded during that period, SFTBC holds up amazingly well. This can best be attributed to great songs, great songs, and great songs: Shout, Mother's Talk, Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Head Over Heels, I Believe...
1. Human League - Dare
For better and worse, Dare will always be known as "the album with 'Don't You Want Me" on it" and, let's face it, there are worse things in the world than being pigeonholed by one great song, but the success of that song succeeded in blocking out the sun to such a large extent that a truly genius, conceptually brilliant album got largely ignored.
Those who think ABC was being innovative when Martin Fry recruited two non-musicians to give ABC a new look, need remember that Philip Oakey of Human League did it first by recruiting Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Oakey went on to make the greatest new wave album of all time, weaving a rhythmically majestic, dark, and sexy masterpiece that has lot none of its magic in the 35 years since its release.