Modern English is often included on lists of one hit wonder bands. In fact, there’s a new station on Sirius/XM called Onederland that is dedicated to playing these songs and the promo goes something like this (with “I Melt With You” playing): “remember this big hit from 1982? Now remember their big follow up hit? You can’t because there wasn’t one!” To be fair, the band actually did have a modest follow-up hit with the song “Hands Across the Sea” from the 1984 album Ricochet Days. But it was nowhere near as big or omnipresent as “I Melt With You”, which is still played frequently to this day.
Those songs were the anomalies in their catalog as Modern English, especially at the beginning of their career, was much more of a post-punk band in the vein of early Echo & the Bunnymen, Bauhaus or Joy Division. On this night especially, if anyone showed up at The Hideout expecting to hear a bunch of shimmering new wave sing-alongs, they would be quite disappointed, since Modern English planned to play their debut album, Mesh & Lace, in its entirety. This record, released in 1981 on the 4AD label, is a dark and magnificent LP and might surprise some of the more casual fans that bought a ticket.
And the show turned out to be everything a long-time fan could have hoped for. This was the original lineup of Robbie Grey on vocals, Gary McDowell on guitar, Mick Conroy on bass, Stephen Walker on keys, plus touring drummer Roy Martin. While they did play all of Mesh & Lace they did not play it in its original sequence. The show started with an insistent drum beat and synthesized atmospherics, then a spoken-word verse from Grey, followed by a melodic bass line and then a slashing guitar riff. Ultimately the drums kick in and we’re right in the middle of “Dance of Devotion (a Love Song).” The song, and the performance as a whole, was propulsive, menacing, and majestic.
These aren’t young guys anymore, but when I closed my eyes and just let the music wash over me it felt like I’d just been dropped into some small club back in 1981. Robbie Grey was not shy about reading off a lyric sheet that he held (and showed us) but other than that there was no quarter given to time and age. This music was 35 years old but the way Modern English delivered it on this night it did not feel nostalgic. In fact, it almost seemed out of place when Grey said, “we’re going to play ‘that song’ now” – but even then they delivered their big hit to close out the show with energy and passion.
Modern English will soon be releasing their first album of new material since the 1996 LP, Everything Is Mad. You can check out the band on their website here: Modern English.
I have to admit I did not have the best view of the stage for this event. The Hideout is a small venue and I’m not sure if the fire marshal would have approved of how crowded it was – but here are the three songs I got a video of: