UPDATED AND COMPLETED 3/8. (Sorry about that.)
The Vapors, 1981.
The Vapors were only an active band for about 18 months, and none of them, as far as I can tell, continued in music after the band. (I recall seeing on a VH-1 special a number of years ago that David Fenton, the whisper-thin, bug-eyed lead singer, became a barrister.)
Look, you think you know this band. You don't, almost certainly. By far their dumbest, lamest, admittedly catchy, but annoying song is the one you know. And yes, it's about masturbation, and yes, I have it on vinyl(twice. And CD, at least three times I can think of off the top of my head). (But the rest of New Clear Days is better by far--"Trains," "News at Ten," "Spring Collection," "Letter from Hiro," "Waiting for the Weekend.")
But this one is different. Look, the dominant mode of power pop is effervescent. The idea of a dark power pop record is a little weird, to say the least. And yet I've always dug this one. But what can you say about a record that references cult mass killing, assasination, and hired guns?
Silver Machines - This song, probably the strongest musically on the record, is about the invasions of technology. It's extremely catchy, much more melodic than, say, "Turning Japanese." Fun power pop observation: the melody line for the chorus ("We've lived on lines across the world, we've lived off words that no one's heard....") was lifted wholesale by 20/20 for the riff in their excellent political tune "Nothing At All" from 4-Day Tornado. (Or maybe they both lifted it from someplace else, but in any case, it's the same riff.) And there's a great bass line in this tune.
Jimmie Jones - Yes, this is indeed a song about the People's Temple cult leader. For what it's worth, it was the album's single, which might explain a few things. I have the video around someplace, with The Vapors singing in traditional British rustic garb in a cave-cum-barn with inspirational sayings painted on the walls. A Deliverance-esque teen closes them in the cave at the end of the song, and who can disagree with him?
Magnets - The title song here, about a motorcade and the Kennedys, in some way prefigures XTC's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead." Generals, assassins, witnesses, all have eyes like little, cold black magnets. And the Kennedys draw such people like magnets, to their own destruction. It's pretty carefully constructed, and disturbing. "There's a man with a message and it's writen on lead/ There's a man who was God, but God is dead."
Johnny's in Love (Again) - I'm not entirely sure what to say about this song, focused as it is on a psychopathic killer. "My friend Johnny's got a lot to enjoy/ He don't hang around with the rest of the boys/ He sits with his sandwiches, gun in hand/ singing 'loves me, loves me not,' popping off God's toys." Creepy. Again, a lot of the melodic work here is done by the bass line, often a great choice.
Spiders - I don't usually do quirky for quirky's sake, but this song is too weird and fun not to note. "She's got spiders inside her head/ she's an angel, she's easily lead/ she's on missions from morning til night/ she takes pictures with infrared light." No damn idea what it's about, though. Robots? Drug addiction? Spies? (If anyone has a theory, please do enlighten me.)
Which is not to leave out other faves: "Daylight Titans;" "Live at the Marquee;" "Isolated Case." There are just a lot of really terrific songs here.
The cover, by the not-yet-famous Martin Handford (of Where's Waldo? fame) features a bloody auto accident or murder scene in Handford's trademark style, surrounded by police, surrounded by ambulances, surrounded by a crowd, forming a huge human eye. (You can kind of see this in the graphic above, but not the amount of detail on the cover itself, which, like a Where's Waldo, is filled with tiny figures, each of which is distinct and doing something different.) And the album itself is similarly creepy.