Muse's dip into the '80s has been fantastic, but columnist Mark Beaumont, who apparently forgot to take a swipe at Bastille this week, hopes it's the full stop on the everlasting '80s revival
The Tron dancers grab their neon poles and sink beneath the stage. Matt Bellamy, his jacket covered in flashing dot matrix lights and his face transformed into a 50ft Max Headroom on the vast screen, pulls the plug on the retro arcade machine, plunging Milan’s San Siro stadium into darkness. Up close, Muse’s stupendous ‘Simulation Theory’ show submerges you so deep in the aesthetic of the ‘80s that you half expect to be bombarded with asteroids from all angles or get accosted by a rubber Neil Kinnock.
It’s the ultimate grand statement final word in ‘80s retro and, as the tour winds to its close this week, I do hope the simulation ends with it. As another season of Stranger Things drops with promises of a season four and M83 announce an album inspired by the music from the original Legend Of Zelda, frankly, I’m ’80s-ed out.
If we count the Melody Maker’s ill-fated romo ‘scene’ from 1995 – an ’80s revival touted at a time when we’d only just seen the back of the neon decade and were so busy enjoying the ‘90s that going ‘romo’ would’ve been like logging on to Netflix via dial-up – or even if we start the clock running at electroclash, funk-punk or ‘Somebody Told Me’, then the ‘80s revival has lasted far longer than the original decade itself. And that wasn’t even worth the ten years it hung about.
“The ‘80s revival has lasted far longer than the original decade itself. And that wasn’t even worth the ten years it hung about”
It’s almost as if the entire span of global culture has decided that music reached its pinnacle on Nik Kershaw’s ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’ and we should just stick on that for the 50 years or so we have left before the earth melts like a manky, bug-covered Magnum. We’ve been stuck in the ’80s so long that even politics has succumbed – it’s all right-wing rhetoric, nuclear paranoia, Russian plots and haircuts you need a gallon of L’Oreal Studio Line’s most quick-setting cement spray to maintain.
Now it might sound like an impossibly glamorous age to millennials, but I was a teenager in the ‘80s and I’m here to tell you: they fucking sucked.
If you think it’s tough getting your trousers to hang at the chic-est few inches below the bottom of your underpants, try rolling up a blazer sleeve or holding a keytar in any manner that doesn’t scream ‘wanker’ at several thousand decibels. If we wanted to meet someone in the ‘80s, you had to arrange a precise place and time and be there; if you wanted to hook up with a member of the opposite sex we had to talk to them, face to face, looking exactly how we actually look, and subsequently sending someone a nude was a matter purely between you, the recipient, several giggling Boots shop assistants and a factory full of film developers in Darlington.
All those cool sizzling synth sounds you love? They came attached to parrot-headed divots called things like Kajagoogoo, and if you think it’s funny getting Rick-rolled, try doing it for three years solid, only he brings along a never-ending parade of equally gormless boys and girls-next-door with all the charismatic star quality of Apple Store Geniuses and one Stock, Aitken and Waterman tune between them.
If you’re bored by all the Latin pop ‘Despacito’ rip-offs clogging up the charts all summer, count yourself lucky – we had Jive Bunny megamixes and sangria-drenched pop songs by Black Lace that your parents would conga round botulism-infected swimming pools in Magaluf to. Sick to death of Lana Del Rey being pouty and miserable all the time? At least she’s not a green, nappy-wearing puppet of some unidentifiable breed of flightless bird. It’s a source of unending frustration to those of us that lived through the ’80s that its revival focuses almost entirely on the mainstream chart aesthetic of the age rather than the good stuff – The Smiths, The Cure, Pixies, Happy Mondays, The Jesus & Mary Chain. It’s like getting wistful about the middle ages by injecting yourself with undiluted plague.
It was an era of shallowness, pretence and – if my personal experience of the decade was representative – zero sex whatsoever. So I can’t wait for the first band to Lambeth Walk up to me, click their heels in the air, go “oi oi!” and kick off the ‘90s revival.
I was out for a night with ’90s aftershow Zelig Chris McCormack of Britrockers Three Colours Red the other week, which must surely be the first sign of 1995 coming back into some sort of fashion, even though it was in a swanky winery in Zagreb rather than the bar of the Reading Ramada hotel during festival weekend, just before the annual police raid and 4am fire drill.
But even then, I worry for the future direction of revivals. After the ’90s revival winds up around 2026 and the ’00s revival of heroin-addled shamble-indie ends with a mercifully brief Pigeon Detectives comeback in 2034, what then?
How could anybody revive the ’10s, a decade lacking any fundamental, defining aesthetic or sonic characteristics? What would that even be? Ironic post-racism? Twerk yoga? Underground punk acts slipping in drainpipe EDM noises and snippets of lyrics from ‘The Shape Of You’?
The music industry has become so adept at regurgitating the past that the biggest musical genre of the current era is a sort of reformed Brit Awards/X Factor version of classic soul – if there was a ‘10s revival decades hence, would we even notice it, or would we just think it was the latest in a ceaseless chain of production-line Lewis Capaldis?
So let’s forgo chronology. Instead of a ’90s revival, let’s have a communal return to the 1920s – clubs full of bob-haired flappers trying to do the Charlston to ‘Hey Ya’ on ketamine.
Or maybe the release of the smallpox virus from the melting permafrost will prompt a 1640s revival, a generation of mead-swilling cavaliers shredding lutes and trying to make EDM-speed beats on tibors to soundtrack the Brexit Civil War. Better still, perhaps Rory Stewart’s confession of opium use might kick off an 1810s revival full of foppish poets ripped off their cravats on laudanum and penning symphonies about the ineffable allure of Kylie Jenner.
Anything but more sizzling retro synths, please. I wasted enough of my life in the ‘80s, I don’t wanna waste no more.