Monday, March 16, 2009

Lost Gem of the 80s #15: Level 42 - "World Machine" (1985)

This one holds a special place in my heart. When my family first moved to England in the summer of '91, this was the only cassette we could all agree on. So, it stayed in the player on repeat for that whole summer.

Level 42 has always been much much much bigger in the UK than the US. Like, sell out Wembley Stadium big. Here, they're one of those 2 hit wonders, but most people only remember one. That hit was "Something About You" which has the added misfortune of not being recognizable by name. So, no one remembers the band name, their albums, or the song until you sing a few bars (Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" has the same problem. You have to say the "Hey now, hey now" part before the light goes on.). The good part is, once the light does go on, it's usually followed with a "yeeahh, I remember that song" and a smile slowly creeps across their lips.

The band is made up of the two-man core of Mark King (bass/vocals) and Mike Lindup (keyboards/backing vocals). Their sound has always been this amalgam of African rhythms and percussion mixed with jazz and expert pop. King, who looks a little like Alton Brown, is an expert bassist and utilizes that thumb slap method, which you can hear in all their stuff. Lindup is fine on the keyboards, but his real strength, and an underappreciated gift to all mankind, is his singing voice. It's this beautiful high falsetto that is the perfect compliment to any song. I dare say, he may be the greatest back-up singer in the history of recorded music. Every song is given weight and made better by his voice. Every one. It's one of the world's most amazing instruments.

World Machine was their sort of coming out in the states, the first thing they released here that got any attention. And the album is deeper than just that wonderful single. "Leaving Me Now" is one of the great love songs of the 80s (be sure to get the version on this album, and not their greatest hits package, Level Best. That album cuts off the final piano-played coda, which is the best part.) "The Chant Has Begun" really showcases their African influences, and "Hot Water", the follow up single to "Something..." that went nowhere, is them on full tilt. That monster bass, the spastic percussion, and the righteous horns all come together for a major good time. Incidentally, all of these were hit singles in the UK. Here? Nada.

Truthfully, every 80s music lover should have Level Best in their collection. Not only will it bring back memories, but it's the sort of stuff that manages to put a smile on your face. And, the follow up album to World Machine, Running In The Family, might even be more consistent from beginning to end. But, this one has the sentimental value. Plus, it has that song!

Nugget: "Leaving Me Now". Seriously, that piano!


Marilyn said...

Thank you so much for writing about Level 42, Jon. I LOVE Level 42, and they hold a special place in my heart too, because of the summer of '91 and our move to England. Great memories of great times, with Level 42 setting the tone and providing the background music. I hope Mike Lindup reads your post; he'd be so pleased with what you said about him.

jasoncpetersen said...

Jon, sorry for posting this late, but had to comment on the Feb. 25 posting. I'd like to see a full articulation of your take on Prop. 8 and the Church. For example:
You indicate that you think that Prop.8 is the third black eye for the Church. Does that mean:
A) the Church should not have taken a 'yes on 8' stand and asked for its members to be involved
B) the Church should have taken a 'no on 8' stand
C) the Church should have taken a 'we don't get involved in politics stand'
D) much like the Church position shifts on blacks and the priesthood and polygamy, do you see a fundamental doctrine change - e.g. homosexual sex will be okay as long as it is within the bonds of a legally recognized marriage, the Church will actually perform homosexual unions by its bishops and in its temples.

Just interested in your take. Thanks.