There is a secret history of British New Wave. Beneath the cosmetic façade of Boy George and Adam Ant lurked a legion of post-punk misfits champions of cheap guitars, thrift-store glamour and reckless experimentation. Behind every Duran Duran was the spiky funk of the Pop Group; behind every Bow Wow Wow was the cat-scratch feminism of the Slits. Throughout the late '70s and early '80s these underground groups recast punk rock's fleeting fury into more sustained and cerebral forms, sculpting spit, piss and boot polish into a kind of guerrilla-savant art.
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All this, of course, should have little to do with a band from balmy San Diego circa 2002. And yet here is GoGoGo Airheart, a group of Anglophilic retro-post-punkers offering up their fourth album of out-of-joint guitars and mutant-disco rhythm. On top of all the requisite Gang of Four-isms, GoGoGo Airheart has stretched out a bit on this new record. Michael Vermillion's tortured, sensual rants still fall somewhere between Can's Malcolm Mooney and the Fall's Mark E. Smith, though now there's also a hint of Brian Ferry's icy croon. The clanging glam of early Japan and pre-Ure Ultravox is also in evidence on Exitheuxa, especially on wiry, almost-pop songs such as "Sincerely P.S." and "My Baby Has a Gang."
America had its own proponents of this New Wave sound in the '70s. Bands like Pere Ubu, Television and the Modern Lovers existed before the Ramones and also seem to have predicted (and evolved past) punk rock before it even happened. Exitheuxa bridges the gap between these pioneers and their subsequent disciples like the Feelies and Talking Heads, doling out dub-addled beats and oblique guitar heroics on tracks like "Witch Hunt" and "When the Flesh Hits."
However, the strangest influence is a helping of straight-up classic rock. "Sit and Stare" glues a chugging Zeppelin bass line to GoGoGo Airheart's usual sandpaper dissonance. Moving from acoustic strum to serrated distortion, Benjamin White coaxes the full range of rock out of his guitar; his effected, chordal leads on "Last Goodbyes" even echo Carlos Alomar's work on Bowie's Lodger. Most curious, though, is "Nice Up the Dance," a barely veiled appropriation of, of all things, the Beatles' "You Won't See Me." Keep in mind that GoGoGo Airheart recently appeared on a Queen tribute album, and it all begins to make an odd sort of sense. Kind of.
Existing primarily as a big bundle of musical influences only works if a band creates something greater than the sum of those influences. GoGoGo Airheart, unfortunately, does not. But the group is adept at another, perhaps even trickier method of attaining pop-art relevance: existing within the "right" context at the right time, an approach that no other group today besides Clinic has fully perfected. And with faux-earnest, tear-soaked junk like Dashboard Confessional commandeering today's rock "underground," perhaps GoGoGo Airheart is in a way even more revolutionary than its agit-prop-spouting forebears.