By striving for more than simple musicality, these albums are as inventive as they are lush
Like visual arts, music is a medium of expression that’s open to interpretation. Art pop is one of the many pragmatic movements endorsed during the ‘80s that aimed to diverge from the expected. Elements of this style are based around notions that art can be appropriated into music. As influential as art pop has been on our musical stratosphere, its purveyors are a more intriguing force to analyze. Avoiding traditional aspects of music and centralizing on artifice, the sheer inventiveness of art pop outshines its atypical gestures. Here are some of the most distinctive and globe-altering revolutions ‘80s art pop had to offer.
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985)
Kate Bush approaches heartbreak through poignant middle-earth scenarios and doe-eyed imagery. Her ability to paint lyrical portraits is built around a deep affinity for musical fantasia. Hounds of Love relishes in that fondness but addresses it realistically. Blossoming with creativity, Hounds of Love is an abstract dreamscape of euphoric synths and crystalline production, yet its striking narratives feel painfully self-aware and human.
“Running Up That Hill” gallops in a hazy mirage of ‘80s melodrama—tensioned and just waiting to explode. The track’s darting drum rhythm wounds Bush’s dogged vocals in a web of ‘80s grandiosity. “Cloudbusting,” Bush’s take on government conspiracies, traces out baroque-pop strings and fleshes out the drum rhythm with emphatic choral chants.
The record’s B-side feels like a different realm entirely, comprising of tracks filled with suffocating depth and prickly tones. The album leaves an indelible mark, and does so with that explicable dichotomy it masterfully possesses—the A-side’s larger-than-life compass and the B-side’s haunting beauty.
Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)
The Talking Heads’ defining moment as a band was forged during a period of immense change. That awkward shift between the ‘70s and ‘80s found the Heads at a crossroads, where they still functioned in accordance with punk, but yearned for a more experimental edge. Unwilling to settle for one or the other, Remain In Light was the resulting product of that creative ambivalence. Byrne’s anxious guitar noodling mingles with tribal drums, supporting inventive polyrhythms and spastic bass hooks. The record feels pop sensible but is calculated to be inaccessible at the same time. It’s punk music for the futurists, by the futurists.
Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring (1986)
Talk Talk had aspirations beyond radio-manufactured pop and The Colour of Spring appeared to be that brief compromise. In actuality, it bridged the gap between the two, offering intelligent pop music with the sensibilities of an auteur—the best of both worlds. Mark Hollis unleashes passion in “Life’s What You Make It,” with a thick piano hook carrying his plaintive anecdote. Acidic guitar licks pass the new-wave threshold into a styling enigmatic of ‘90s proto-goth. The transition from the ‘80s to the ‘90s has never been more pronounced than it is here.
Roxy Music – Avalon (1982)
Evolving from primitive art-rock into fully-fledged synth pop, Roxy Music drew on their ever growing fixation on art and glamour and projected it outward. Their ‘80s hit swansong, Avalon was the first and final glimpse at an improved Roxy Music—their sound more layered with detail and injected with new life. Avalon boasts a sleek ‘80s production style, with slight variations made on its trademark glimmer. At its core, the record is pure pop; strident vocals crooning at a consistent pace amongst faux-reggae guitar plucks.
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (1981)
The queer movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s cemented Grace Jones’ goddess-like stature in pop culture. Nightclubbing is an unsworn culmination of her influence. Nightclubbing is many things: a deep-cutting triumph, an idyllic pride record and a ruthless seizure of homophobia. Jones excellently hones her objective of sexual liberation in this love letter to retro-soul. Everyone in range of this record has to sit down, shut up, and listen. The record’s power lies in Jones’ disarming androgyny, which adds an extra hint of venom to her stinging hostility. Musically, Nightclubbing is empowering pop bombast; aesthetically, it represents a sturdy, well-crafted middle finger.
Laurie Anderson – Big Science (1982)
Big Science is best known for the eight-minute epic “O Superman,” a monochromatic pop song held together by a computerized vocal loop. It’s an enigma of a song that’s more performance than music; something that more easily evokes a bizarre image than any semblance of mood.