Running In The Family

Level 42

Polygram Records, 1987

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


The best of the '80s synthesizer bands -- Wang Chung, Tears For Fears, and Go West come to mind -- were able to do two things that made them rise above the crowd. The first was an ability to lay down a white-boy funk or rock backbeat, usually involving bass guitar (Wang Chung's Nick Feldman being an example of a severely underrated bass player), and the second was the ability to add elements from diverse pop music forms in their work -- funk, disco, rock, soul, R&B, and the nascent forms of what has become techno and electronica. Any attempt to evaluate music like this has to be in context; in other words, don't bitch about how Prefab Sprout wasn't as exciting and raw as The Clash.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That said, I like '80s synth-pop. I'm one of its remaining defenders against the hordes of music critic barbarians who have moved on to the Next Big Thing (and the next, and the next, and the next…) It was some pretty fun stuff, folks, and I'm not ashamed to say I get out my Wang Chung CDs on a regular basis. A lot of these bands have achieved a small but fanatical following on the Internet, and one of the chief among those are the fans of Brit-pop band Level 42. While their lineup has changed over the last twenty-some years, original bassist Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup has hung in there -- but the band's central lineup's heyday were their two largest hits, 1985's World Machine and today's feature, 1987's Running In The Family.

I can hear you all now. 'Enough history, Duke, talk about the music.'

And so I shall, O Ye DV Faithful. Running With The Family is an interesting piece of music on the first review; it's kind of like reading a manual on How To Do An Eighties Synth-Pop CD. To wit:

RULE 1: Get A Catchy Single. ("Lessons In Love." Check.) RULE 2: Do Something Deep And Philosophical. ("Children Say." Check.) RULE 3: Do Something Soulful, So Maybe You'll Get The Next "Melt With You." ("It's Over." Check.) RULE 4: Be Funky. ("To Be With You Again." Check.) RULE 5: Make Fun Of Your Own Club Audience, In A Piece Of Witty, Self-Referential, And Bitter Parody. ("Fashion Fever." Check.)

I can go on like this for a while, but I'll save you the agony of my weak attempts at humour. Running In The Family is mostly formulaic, with all the cliches and conventions firmly in place. If you like Swing Out Sister and you guard your Thompson Twins CDs with your life, you'll like this, and if your most recent CD purchase was Linkin Park, you probably won't. There are a couple of moments where Running In The Family outstrips its own cliches -- "The Sleepwalkers" is a quirky and neat piece of songwriting that defies the stereotypes -- but it's mostly well-produced, smooth, slick, and average. If you like the genre, check it out; if you don't, it's not going to change your mind.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polygram Records, and is used for informational purposes only.