First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2004, Volume 11, #8
Written by Michael Cooney
Sometimes, it appears as if the í80s never ended. After all, popular television shows like Family Ties, The Golden Girls, and The Cosby Show remain in heavy syndication around the world, and since the decade came to a close, the music industry has unleashed a virtual flood of í80s-oriented rock and pop compilations. Of course, this isnít much of a surprise. Itís a much simpler task to rehash old hits than it is to find new talent, and as a result, nearly 15 years after the fact, the music of the í80s is still going strong.
The latest retro offering to hit store shelves is Ultimate 80s, and contrary to its name, the album hardly paints a complete picture of eraís music. Several movements that grew to prominence during the decade ó such as Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop, for example ó are missing entirely from the collection, and even the biggest stars of the day ó most notably Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna ó are nowhere to be found. Still, Ultimate 80s is an entertaining endeavor. Its two discs are packed with choice cuts from Devo, the Cars, Richard Marx, and The J. Geils Band, among others, and it also boasts at least a few true classics. Back on the Chain Gang from The Pretenders, and the Simple Mindsí smash Donít You (Forget about Me) are certain to tug at the heart strings of any í80s kid, but even so, it is impossible to listen to Ultimate 80s without recognizing how much the world has changed. In the intervening years, both Robert Palmer and INXSí Michael Hutchence have passed away, and many of the stars who remain seem to have lost most of their luster. For instance, has anyone taken a look at Boy George lately? What the hell is he thinking, and how did the country as a whole ever come to the conclusion that Huey Lewis and Bananarama actually made music worth buying? Even those artists who were once hard-edged and tough have been declawed and tempered. Pat Benatar and Billy Idol were once symbols of rock rebellion, but now Benatarís Hit Me with Your Best Shot and Idolís cover of Mony Mony have become staples of soft rock radio. As such, they utterly have lost their bite. Even Duran Duranís hit Hungry Like the Wolf, which once was thought to be sexually explicit because it featured the sound of a woman moaning over the music, sounds absurdly tame.
Yet, the most important difference between the í80s generation and the current one is that the children of the former never had to worry about guns in schools or terrorists on airplanes. In fact, the biggest problem that many middle class kids had on their minds was who to take to the dance on a Friday night. While itís easy to feel nostalgic about the past ó and Ultimate 80s certainly assists in that regard ó in a post-9/11 world, much of the music and everything else about the decade of Reagan and Bush I seems passionless, uninspired, and more than just a little bit silly. In other words, itís time, perhaps, for all of those still fixated upon the era to just grow up.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box