This year will see the release of two related albums that broke new sonic and artistic ground in the early 1980s. But while these albums were groundbreaking in every sense of the word, apart from in circles of avid music collectors, they haven’t seen the light of day since the 1980s. The first is the album Fabrique from the group Fashion, originally released in 1982 while the other is Identity by the duo Zee from 1984.
At the core of both albums is composer, musician and vocalist David Harris (credited as De Harriss on Fabrique) who later embarked on a successful production career starting in the mid 1980s. Both albums showcase Harris’s innovative songwriting and his ability to embrace what in the 1980s was cutting edge synthesizer technology to create albums with all the warmth associated with traditional instruments while also creating a sound that was futuristic in the early 1980s and which remains timeless today, unlike many other recordings from the same era.
The key to the success of both records was the seamless melding of incredibly strong songwriting combined with an energetic pushing of the sonic palette. Today, when virtually every sound of every instrument from the dawn of time to the MIDI age is easily sampled, few artists are pushing the boundaries that Harris and his band-mates did in the 1980s.
While Fashion began as a ‘late punk’ outfit in 1979, it was only when Harris joined to record Fabrique alongside noted producer Zeus B. Held that the band was able to truly make waves. A final album without Harris saw Fashion produce Twilight of Idols, a highly enjoyable pop record but one without the dark moods and sonic innovation of Fabrique.
In terms of musical mystique, Zee’s Identity is all the more storied. The particular story begins when Harris met once and future Pink Floyd co-founder Richard Wright and the two decided to collaborate on a new project. After experimenting in a band format, Harris and Wright opted to record their new project as a duo, making use of the then revolutionary Fairlight CMI synthesizer and sampler. The result is something as sonically ambitious as the work Peter Gabriel was doing around the same time with his Fairlight, but with the unique element of Harris’s unmistakably surreal, yet danceable songwriting in addition to Richard Wright’s melodic, haunting and chordal touch. The albums are both very ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in terms of accessibility, electronic in terms of textures but best described as ‘post rock’ in terms of their pushing of all previously understood boundaries.
With both albums set for a long overdue release in 2018, the world will once again get to hear two of the very best albums of the 1980s, on par with the best works of Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, Talk Talk and Yes. The 1980s is a decade where average music has been embarrassingly dated by early digital synths and drum machines that went out of ‘fashion’ in the 1990s, but where the great music not only sounds fresh but futuristic in a 21st century caught in a chasm between blamed programmed electronic music and underwhelming attempts at re-creating outdated rock sounds.