by DJ El Toro
I did something reprehensible last week, and I want to come clean. I bought a Flock of Seagulls album. A brand-new copy. On compact disc. A European import, no less. And you know those aren’t cheap.
Which one? Not the eponymous 1982 debut. Because I got that back in the day, even before the Liverpool quartet stormed the US charts. Nor was it their 1983 follow-up, Listen. I already have that one, too. In two formats, no less. (What? The cassette had bonus cuts. And you can’t pass up a song named “The Last Flight of Yuri Gagarin.”) For reasons that elude me even now, I felt the need to shell out full price for the CD reissue of their 1984 flop The Story of a Young Heart.
I’m not sure what my logic was. I’d wanted to hear the album in its entirety for a while now, having skipped it upon release; by 1984, I was all about the Smiths. No more haircut bands for me. (Ha!) By rights, I should have just bought a second-hand vinyl copy from a 99 cent bin, sated my curiosity, and been done with it. But for some reason, after many months of casual looking, I’d not stumbled across one. Perhaps there had been a recent run on The Story… by in-the-know hipsters? What if I was missing out on a masterpiece?
I wasn’t. But I had to discover that the hard way.
Until a few days ago, what I knew about the third A Flock of Seagulls album boiled down to two tidbits. First, I liked the song “The More You Live, the More You Love,” their last single to chart in America (peaking at a staggering #56 on the Billboard Hot 100). While hardly a classic, it married the churning, pulsating drive of their earlier hits (“I Ran,” “Space Age Love Song”) with that standing-on-a-cliff vibe of early U2 or post-Breakfast Club Simple Minds. And I dig cheap sentiment.
Secondly, my freshman year of college, my friend John’s girlfriend, Melanie, revealed that she really dug The Story of a Young Heart. It was one of her favorite pop records. I hasten to add that “pop” part, because Melanie was an aspiring opera singer. Of Greek extraction. Like Maria Callas. Well, if something was good enough for the next Callas, who was I to turn up my nose at it?
I have just watched the video for “The More You Live…” on YouTube, and can report that while it was not filmed on a precipice, it does take place in front of some roaring surf (shot at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, according to the rather spotty liner notes accompanying the new edition), which was probably a smarter location choice than a cliff. Considering how vicious critics of AFOS were in their prime, it seems highly likely some miffed metalhead might have popped out of the bushes and pushed one or more Seagulls to their doom.
But after listening to the whole album, which sounds more-or-less like half a dozen variations on the single, plus a couple livelier tunes (I might have played “Over My Head” more than once), I’m pretty sure Callas would never have hung out with these guys. Yes, Montserrat Caballe cut an album with Freddie Mercury, and Pavarotti collaborated with U2, but there are limits. When starring in a film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini is considered your career low point, keeping company with a bunch of Liverpudlian hairdressers doesn’t even seem an option.
So why did I pay top dollar for this stinker? On compact disc, no less? Because I never found that dollar-bin version. Thus, I had convinced myself that not only did I need to hear The Story… in all its remastered glory, but I might as well get all its b-sides and remixes in one fell swoop, too (I’m still a sucker for bonus tracks), lest I end up shelling out for those on vinyl down the line. That’s how my brain works; I convinced myself I was saving money with this ill-advised selection.
Oh well. The more you live, the more you learn. Something like that. And if you stumble across a cheap vinyl copy of Dream Come True, the 1986 swan song by the original AFOS, please buy it for me… before some villain reissues that one, too.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.