Cold War Night Life – Rational Youth (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Tracy Howe has the gift of prophecy! We have the proof in the fact that in 1989 the world was treated to images of jubilant Germans dancing on the  now redundant Berlin Wall, something that Howe had put into song in 1982! Okay, I may have overplayed that slightly but there are many reasons to love Rational Youth. Arguably Canada’s first all synth pop band, they were devotees of Kraftwerk’s cold, exploratory, staccato sounds and found themselves supporting Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as only their second ever gig. 

So if you are interested in the birth of Canadian synth-pop, electronic music, pioneering 80’s bands or anything in between you will be pleased to know that the possibly prophetic Cold War Night Life is being re-issued, expanded and remastered with all associated remixes and singles as a CD or a double gatefold vinyl.

The one thing that you notice about these makers of future sounding music is that, to a degree, it still sounds like the soundtrack to the future. Obviously the reference points change, though not as much as you would imagine, but there is still something of a dystopian future being conjured by the music, something slightly bleak and inhumanly industrial about the music. There is also something relevant about dancing on such walls, it’s just that the wall is now in a different country.

Saturdays in Silesia has all the hallmarks of the era – computerised beats, monophonic riffs, Cold War anxieties, references to grim sounding places, all put to highly infectious grooves, but Ring The Bells somehow sounds as if it is of the here and now. Okay, it sounds like a modern band heavily inspired by those times, such as Siamese Youth, hmmm…coincidental name….well, yes but like many of the songs found here it has aged well enough in the 37 years since it first saw the light of day. Coboloid Race is a dark and brooding affair all space and beats with stiletto sharp synths weaving between the two and City of Night shows a softer side to the band and explains just why they ended up opening for OMD.

It’s a great album to revisit and I’m guessing that there is going to be a lot of people, even those who were into the synth-pop scene back in the day, who may be coming to this for the first time. But whether you are old friends or new acquaintances, experienced music collectors or young pop pickers, Cold War Night Life is not only an album that you are going to want to have in your musical arsenal, it is one which you will find yourself playing over and over again.

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