Own It or Disown It: #269: A Flock of Seagulls, A Flock of Seagulls

OwnItorDisownIt

The British new wave band's breakout album came out thirty-five years ago this year.

I’ve no idea how the term “one hit wonder” became a term of derision. I understand how it caught on—it is an alliterative phrase used to communicate a not-uncommon thing that is not easily communicated by any other shorthand—but the phrase has become synonymous with failure. Limit the use of the word “hit” to mean “chart hits” and one could easily say that Sinead O’Connor, Jimi Hendrix, and Chuck Berry were one hit wonders, owing to the successes of, respectively, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “All Along the Watchtower”, and most inexplicably, “My Ding-A-Ling”. Sure, these scrubs may have only gotten one hit, but that’s one more hit song than you, me, and most likely anyone you personally know will ever get, and just getting into a spot where you could have a hit on your hands depends on a lot of things going right for you. A Flock of Seagulls might have been a one hit wonder, but that’s something they can always be proud of.

Except that they’re kind of not one hit wonders. “I Ran (So Far Away)” is one of three singles that charted internationally, and their sole Grammy win came on the strength of “DNA”, which wasn’t released as a single at all. Heck, I’d go as far as to say that “I Ran” is the weakest of the album’s four singles, with even the “dud” of the bunch, “Modern Love Is Automatic”, being far more infectiously energetic that “I Ran”. It isn’t that I feel “I Ran” is a terrible song, I think it is pretty damn great, but goodness gracious, it’s going up against some heavy hitters. “Telecommunication” sounds like a good version of “North American Scum”, but the real highlight here is “Space Age Love Song”, which comes across as a new wave “Born to Run” and, were hits judged on merit over sales and airplay, should have been A Flock of Seagulls’s signature song.

Let’s be clear: A Flock of Seagulls is not a terribly sophisticated album. For its SF conceptual leanings, this is a dance-rock record that doesn’t challenge the system and, at forty minutes over ten tracks, doesn’t announce itself as a commanding force. What it lacks in ambition and scope, though, it makes up for in being damn fun for its duration. I’m giving no brownie points for its age or my lack of expectations going into this one, and frankly, if this came out today, it would stand a chance at breaking my top five of this year.

So, then, what the fuck happened? Why are A Flock of Seagulls considered a punchline? Well, to simplify a much longer story, A Flock of Seagulls at once came to fame in the right decade and at the exact wrong time. Their brand of rock was compatible with what was gaining popularity in the mainstream at the time, but while that was good for sales in the short term, that meant they were now part of the mainstream machine and would need to keep up with music trends to sate both a mainstream audience as well as the suits, and that did not bode well for any involved as music trends were changing and exploding at a rapid rate. The music suffered, sales suffered, and the band suffered as members left to pursue other ventures, including their lead guitarist. AFOS are still technically together, but only member is of their original line-up, singer/keyboardist Mike Score. Their sound may be synonymous with the 80s, but I’d like to think a band like this would have had their creative side cultivated rather than stunted if they came along today.

For the record: yes, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is basically fine, while A Flock of Seagulls is fucking amazing. If that strikes you as odd, you must be new here.

VERDICT: OWN

For what it's worth, I listened to the US version of this album for this write-up, which has a different order and omits "Tokyo". Due to it all striking the same emotional tones, I don't imagine my opinions towards the UK release being much different save for singling out "Tokyo" as being not good.

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