Monday, March 15, 2010

Barbee Boys

In many ways the Barbee Boys are my quintessential '80s band, even though I didn't discover them until the early '90s. They took so many musical clichés of that decade - the Police-style production, the Men at Work-style soprano sax, the Edge-style screaming guitar, the Fixx-style angry white funk - and made them all work. There's just too much to love about them.

About that Police sound. Everybody was under the Police's spell in the early '80s, every musician at least who was at all interested in making their peace with the new decade; their clean, bright, uncluttered sound offered a way out of punk's angry mess and mainstream rock's orchestral stodge, and their unabashed chops offered hope that, despite what the rock press was eager to proclaim, there was still a place for musicianship in rock. Barbee Boys take that all to heart, too, but they pack that tight sound even tighter with the anger of their songs. The bright clean space of the Police becomes the harsh glare of a dance-floor strobe for the Barbees.

Those songs: at their best the Barbees' lyrics explored the hot, jagged edges of romance in the pumped-tight, coked-up, fucked-up '80s. Edgy, agitated, nervous lyrics, delivered with angry aplomb by their two lead vocalists: Konta and Kyoko. Yes, that's a boy and a girl. This was their secret weapon. Sometimes one or the other would take over for a whole song, but at their best they were singing against each other, giving you a lover's argument or treacherous flirtation in song. Their voices and deliveries were perfect for this: Konta the intellectual, shrill male (think Elvis Costello with a sweeter voice and less of a sense of humor), Kyoko the husky-voiced female, equally capable of crooning seductively and belting angrily. (I don't think I've ever heard a sexier singer than Kyoko. Maybe, in a completely different vein, Astrud.)

It was a stunningly effective formula, and they managed to come up with enough variations on it - ska interludes here, big-echo power-rock there, almost-tender ballads occasionally - to keep it interesting without losing their punch.

Here's their first single.

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