The 80s saw the start of both a new creative and personal relationship for Andy Latimer, with partner Susan Hoover. Hoover provided the lyrics and concept for Camel’s next album, Nude, based on a true story about Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who held out in the Philippines until 1974, denying that WWII had ended. Thus with lofty concept in place, Latimer assembled the rhythm section of Andy Ward and Colin Bass, along with former 10cc keyboardist Duncan Mackay and session man Mel Collins at Abbey Road. The opening “City Life” and “Nude” contain all the things that make up Camel music; soft, gentle vocals, easy melodies and pristine production. But that big bass line of “Drafted” starts a series of tracks that offer all the tension and intrigue of Nude’s journey. The album returns to a consistency in composition that echoes previous Camel epics. Mackay keys are first rate throughout and the rhythm section of Ward and Bass certainly get their work in as well. The second side’s “Changing Places” gives Collins a chance to shine, but again the well-composed instrumentals offer more than a continuity to the storyline. “Lies” is the penultimate conclusion, another typically Camel vocal number, with Latimer’s brilliant guitar tone singing over the straightforward beat. The album rose to No. 36 in the UK charts, and saw release on Passport Records in the US. Following the band’s spring tour, Ward took his leave from the band for personal reasons, but Decca forced Latimer back into the studio to complete an album. The aptly titled The Single Factor was recorded with a host of musicians, including Anthony Phillips and David Patton (from Pilot). A final studio album Stationary Traveler was released in 1984, with Ton Scherpenzeel from Kayak on keyboards and Paul Burgess from 10cc on drums, and after a final live album for Decca, Camel broke up in 1984.
Rush ensconced once again to Le Studio in Quebec with Terry Brown, to record their eight studio album, Moving Pictures. “Tom Sawyer” kicks off the album, and continuing the trend from the previous record, offers another slice of radio-friend prog rock. Geddy Lee's synthesizers accent the track, which features another of Alex Lifeson's firebrand guitar solos. “Red Barchetta” follows, a tale of a Ferrari roadster, and winds its course in expert fashion. The instrumental YYZ takes its name from the airport code for Toronto, but musically it's all Rush, featuring their brand of tight, complex hard rock. “Limelight” was the second single from the album and features one of Neil Peart's classic lyrics, dealing with the band's new found fame. Clocking in at eleven minutes, the two parts of “The Camera Eye” opens the second side in epic fashion, while the ensuing “Witch Hunt” takes a while to get going. While the album reached No. 1 in their native Canada, the album would reach No. 3 on both sides of the Atlantic, earning quadruple platinum status in the US. The album sports a triple entendre courtesy of long-time Rush artist Hugh Syme. Rush immediately leaped on tour following the albums release, recording material for their next release. Exit... Stage Left. Also released in 1981, it features those recordings plus one side record on the previous Permanent Waves tour and bookends another period of work for the band. On subsequent albums Rush would further embrace synthesizer technology and also part with long-standing producer Brown. Success however, never quite as acute as it was here, would continue their way throughout the 80s.
The final album from Soft Machine was written by Karl Jenkins and produced by Mike Thorne (who produced Wire's trailblazing initial trio of albums). The title refers to a medieval land of plenty, and plenty of diverse tracks is what we got. Released in 1981, it was well past Soft Machine's sell by date - their previous studio album was 1976's Softs, and a live album was recorded a few years later. Joining Jenkins and John Marshall are a stellar cast: Jack Bruce, Allan Holdsworth and Alan Parker, John Taylor, Ray Warleigh and Dick Morrissey, but it's also the only album from the band to feature string arrangements. What about the music? Well, I haven't followed Sir Karl Jenkins career to mega-stardom, but here he moves between what I suppose would become his new agey-ness, a good measure of disco-era cheeze-whiz funk (with strings of course!), some Oldfield-like minimalism, and maybe even a tinsy-tiny hint of the Softs of old (some nice blowing towards the end of the record). Holdsworth makes his mark on Sly Monkey, but I still can't believe how much the opener sounds like Supertramp! It's a strange record, not that it's difficult to listen to or digest, but one that ultimately has no time nor place; Soft Machine? Not really. New Age? Maybe. Rock-n-roll? Certainly not. 1981? Really!? Well, it sank with little trace, and apart from a week-long residency in 1984 at Ronnie Scotts, this remains the Soft Machine's final coda. What a long strange trip it had been!
Curiously, one of Anthony Phillips’ next releases was an album of electronic keyboard music released in 1981, under the title of 1984. Assisted by Richard Scott, the album saw Phillips exclusively using electronic keyboards to compose and create the music, though Morris Pert did offer some percussion to the recordings. The Roland CompuRhythm CR-78 was an early programmable drum machine, and its familiar “chirp” can be heard on Phil Collins’ classic track, “In The Air Tonight”. The Orwellian black and white cover with an image of a cage was in contrast to previous Peter Cross creations, but so was the music. “Prelude ‘84” b/w “Anthem 1984” were issued as a single, but the meat of the album is the two parts of the title track “1984” that encompasses the majority of the album. Gone are his pastoral, acoustic compositions and instead, constantly propelled by the driving force of the drum machine, is a contemporary work as lyrical as any of Phillips’ previous. Themes reprise, tension ebbs and flows, all culminating in a grand finale of vocoder, as the layers of Polymoog and ARP 2600 synthesizers blast away, forging a landscape of dark beauty; it’s a brilliant work and bold step for Phillips. The album was released by RCA Records in the UK and again on Passport Records in the US. For the remainder of the 80s, Phillips concentrated on his Private Parts & Pieces series, although he did briefly collaborate with Andrew Latimore on Camel’s 1982 release, The Single Factor. Another curious outlier was 1983’s Invisible Men, recorded again with Richard Scott. Ostensibly a pop album, it saw Phillips return to contemporary music and subject matter (the Falklands War) for a final time.
Peter Hammill entered the 80s a solo artist, yet one still managed by Charisma's Gail Colson. This link led to a production job with Random Hold's debut album, and a brief label, S-Type, that released his 1980 album A Black Box. Arranged, performed and produced by Hammill himself, it's a curious album, full of experimentation and an odd chunky production. For his next album, Sitting Targets, he enlisted David Lord in what must have been a larger role; sonically, it's light years ahead of its predecessor, presenting a contemporary if raw and off-kilter sound. The opening “Breakthrough” benefits from Guy Evan's crisp drumming, as does the following “My Experience”. Layers of guitars, synths, punchy bass, and compressed drums push Hammill into the 80s, while his compositions offer strangely appealing songs. “Ophelia” slows the pace, offering one of Hammill's tender ballads, while “Empress' Clothes” and “Glue” cranks up the drum-machine for a more serene ride. “Hesitation” is raw, with David Jackson offering his sax. The strong title track opens the second side, while piano based “Stranger Still” offers one of Hammill's classic lyrics. “Sign” jumps with Evan's drums, and features that thick-toned guitar. Classic stuff. All-in-all, the album is one of his most cohesive, and very contemporary for the time. His next move was to form the K Group, a beat group featuring Evans, bassist Nic Potter and guitarist John Ellis, to tour the album, which saw release on Virgin Records. The K Group would remain a going concern for a further three albums, all building on what was laid here. From here, he would foster a solo career uniquely his own. While others would find mainstream success in the ‘80s, Hammill’s career would be best defined by a different measure - perseverance. One of the most prolific artists to arise from the progressive era, he continues to release records to his ever-fervent fan base to this very day.
Early in 1981, drummer and vocalist Phil Collins released his debut solo album, Face Value. Featuring the single “In The Air Tonight b/w The Roof is Leaking”, it was a massive success, reaching the top of the charts and launching Collins to superstar status through out the 80s. Collins brought engineer Hugh Padgham along when Genesis reconvened at their studio in Surrey to record their eleventh studio album, Abacab. A play on the arrangement of the track and album, “Abacab” opens the album presenting a different Genesis. Sparser, with a reliance on synthesizers, there's a simplicity to the sound that belies the band's artistry-laid past. Harsh drums, big synth lines, and an almost jam-like ending still contain an edge, but are light years from the band just a few years earlier. “No Reply At All” was a massive hit, complete with horns from Earth, Wind & Fire. Tony Bank's “Me & Sarah Jane” and like Mike Rutherford's “Like It Or Not” have that sound that reaches back a little into the band's past, but “Keep It Dark” lumbers over Collin's plodding drums. “Dodo” and “Lurker” similarly offer a hard edge, but Collin's “Man On The Corner”, despite a sympathetic arrangement, is of the new era. Abacab, released in September, was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching No. 1 again in the UK, and No. 7 in the US. It also serves as the dividing line between the Genesis of the 70s and that of the new decade. Following the the albums release, the band embarked on a world-wide tour, culminating in the double-album Three Sides Live in 1982. The tour was the first to feature Vari-Lite technology, something the band's investment helped create. For the next few years, Genesis would reign supreme, with further platinum No. 1 albums, numerous hit singles, and the runaway success of Collin's solo career, at least until the 90s, when a reappraisal began.
After Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen ceased in late 1980, he teamed with drummer Bill Bruford for a new venture. First aboard was guitarist Adrian Belew, fresh from a stint with The Talking Heads, while bassist Tony Levin came aboard after Bruford's choice of Jeff Berlin was rejected. The band debuted in April, under the name Discipline. When and why they became King Crimson is a matter of course; however it the change did provide the album title. “Elephant Talk” opens the album, offering not only a great lyric from Belew, but a very fresh and modern sound from the band. “Frame By Frame” continues, highlighting the guitar interplay between Fripp and Belew; the former's arpeggios are contrasted with the free-form sonics of the latter. “Matte Kudasai” slows the pace, with Belew's up front and center. “Indiscipline” unleashes the fury of the band, with Levin's Stick bass adding his unique signature to the overall sound. “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (anagram of “heat in the jungle”) intersperses some hilarious field recordings from Belew, while “The Sheltering Sky” sees Bruford highlighting electronic drumming into his repertoire. Band name aside, the music presents a clean break from the Crimson of the 70s, yet one equally compelling and contemporary with the new decade. Discipline, released by Warner Brothers, was successful reaching the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. The band's live set would only feature “Larks' Tongue In Aspic Part II” from their back catalog and less than a year later a second album Beat would appear with similar modus operandi. However another two years and one album later the experiment would come to an end. King Crimson were no more, well, until they were much more again.
Now a trio of Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmölling, Tangerine Dream's first release of 1981 would be the soundtrack to the film Thief, in April. However they would record a further five studio albums for Virgin Records, including the not-to-be-missed classic Exit in 1981. Offering six discreet tracks, the album is a very contemporary take on electronic music. “Kiew Mission” offers a slight return to vocals, disguised in the spoken word chant of continent names. But the second side is some of the finest Tangerine on record. The slow moving “Exit” ambles over an undulating sequence, while “Network 23” blasts open with a tight groove. However the closing “Remote Viewing” is a return to their 70s glory. A powerful, monolithic wall of sound gives rise to a hypnotic and detailed sequence, one full of the band's expert sound design, that goes for the long fade. Brilliance. Both soundtrack and studio album saw release in the US on Elektra Records, and both rose to No. 43 in the UK. Concurrently Tangerine Dream would concentrate on soundtracks and film scores, effectively a replacement for their live shows, which all but disappeared after a final European tour in 1982. From Hollywood blockbusters (Risky Business, Firestarter and Legend), to lower budget films (Wavelength, Heartbreakers), soundtracks would foot the bill for the band. By 1983 their contract with Virgin Records expired, and by mid-decade Schmölling would exit the band. With Paul Haslinger on board, TD would relocate to Los Angeles and their output would have little if any resemblance to that of the 70s and early 80s.
Hawkwind headlined Glastonbury Festival in June, and in a bizarre twist of fate, Ginger Baker was co-headliner. The band had recovered from the debacle with their former drummer, regrouping around Dave Brock, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Harvey Bainbridge, the latter now sharing keyboard duties with Brock. Martin Griffin, previously a member of Ark and the Hawklords, returned on drums, as did poet Michael Moorcock, absent during most of the Robert Calvert era.
Recorded in the summer of 1981 at Kingsley Ward's Rockfield Studios for his RCA-distributed Active label, Sonic Attack would be Hawkwind's eleventh studio record in as many years. The album opens with a rehash of "Sonic Attack" and it's familiar lyric which dates back to the Space Ritual days. But the Lloyd-Langton penned "Rocky Paths" points to the band's new sound for the early 80s, the so-called the "heavy metal years". Hawkwind's music is firmly riff driven and pulsed over a click-track steady rhythm, with sequencers and synths galore. Lloyd-Langton adds his proficient lead guitar, bending more than a few notes. Moorcock takes a vocal for his "Coded Languages". Brock's "Angels Of Death", also the single from the album, follows suit, as does his "Streets Of Fire". Both highlight that driving force that the band perfected over the past decade.
The album was released to near unanimous acclaim, reaching No. 19 in the UK charts. An appearance at London's Rainbow Theatre in December even saw former colleagues Nik Turner and Robert Calvert take to the stage. Two further albums appeared in 1982 on RCA/Active: the more electronic-natured Church of Hawkwind was released in May, while Choose Your Masques came out in October. Hawkwind would then sign to Flicknife Records, releasing a number of albums that consisted of live recordings, demos and other detrita, including the Hawkwind, Friends and Relations series (heir apparent to Brock's mail-order only Weird Tapes). It would not be until 1985 that the band released a "proper" studio album, the epic saga The Chronicle Of The Black Sword. With Brock in the captain's chair, Hawkwind would soldier on through the 80s, with numerous lineups and personnel changes, experimenting with new musical directions, yet defying fate and fortune and continue until this very day.