Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Song: "Contract of the Heart" (1985 radio edit)
Artist: Spelt Like This
Search Term: "Spelt"

In the early '90s, I used to listen to the radio a lot because the Windsor, Ontario-based station 89X behaved like a college radio station with a 100,000-watt broadcast tower. For a few years, their programming was fairly unpredictable within the bounds of an "alternative" station: Though any given music block would contain a few obligatory heavy-hitters like R.E.M. and Soundgarden (and popular singles from the likes of Veruca Salt and Porno for Pyros), it was also commonplace for the DJ to drop in unexpected chestnuts by less mainstream acts like the Archers of Loaf and Sloan as well as relatively older songs by, say, Elvis Costello or Love and Rockets. It was hardly the most eclectic radio station that ever existed, but at a time when the other radio stations in Detroit seemed to be playing "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" on an endless loop, 89X's 120 Minutes-style variety seemed positively transgressive.

Of course, this didn't last, and 89X's broadcast day disappointingly became more and more repetitive and corporate bandwagon-centric. In about 1995, shortly before I gave up listening to any commercial radio station with any regularity, I finally decided it was no longer worth my while to keep track of which songs were attributed to which artists on 89X's playlist. Since it was all the same sludgy, midtempo post-grunge filling time between commercials, mentally filing them as Seven Mary Three, Silverchair, or Sponge would have been a distinction without a difference.

None of that has anything to do with Spelt Like This's "Contract of the Heart" except that, while listening to its new romantic earnestness, it occurred to me that I might have had the same experience of bored resignation in 1985 if I had been born a decade sooner, because this really does sound exactly like every other new wave ballad released in John Hughes's heyday. It's not at all bad--melodically, I actually like it better than any Culture Club song I've ever heard save "Karma Chameleon"--but you're still not going to get anything from this song you haven't already gotten from Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, OMD, A Flock of Seagulls, et al. It's all homogenized synths, rinky-dink guitar, and oversensitive love poetry moaned FROM THE HEART. I know there will always be musical trends, and within those trends there will be hop-ons who don't even bother to attempt anything running even slightly counter to the established components of the genre, but, like the "alt-rock" of 1995, new romantic balladry strikes me as such an exhausting style of music to be subjected to at any length that I cannot imagine how the '80s rolled to a close without every radio in the nation having been thrown disgustedly out of a window.

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