You can’t get very deep into the underground and techno side of New Wave before you run into synth pop pioneers Naked Lunch. Groups like these are always confusing for me as a fan, as I suspect many of them have far wider recognition in the UK than in the States and enthusing about them makes me feel like some guy named Liam is going to make fun of me for being an uncultured knob.
At least for the rest of the world, though, I haven’t seen much evidence of a revival (the band was essentially defunct by the time peers Depeche Mode and Soft Cell were conquering foreign airwaves) until now. Peripheral Minimal released my favorite compilation of 2018 – Prophecy + Progress which showcased the early and lesser-known technopunks that laid some of the groundwork for electronic music in the UK during the 1980s. Now they’ve taken three of Naked Lunch’s 7″ singles and their b-sides and released them on a 12″ pressing for the first time.
“Rabies” is the lead and likely Naked Lunch’s best known single, but “Slipping Away” (1981) is a little masterpiece of a cold electro balladeer. The grooves sound guttural, the melodies like the pinched whine and blare of circuitboards and diodes. (The bass actually has that round, artificial tone that may indicate a Roland TB-303 used for its actual intended purpose rather than as an acid box.)
Overall I found myself drawn to the B-sides more. “Breathe” feels like a one-take miracle without any consideration for the audience’s taste or commercial viability, which makes it stand out even more.
James Young wrote one of the best books ever about the music industry, focusing on his time touring the world with ex-Velvet Underground songstress Nico. The original title of it was Songs They Never Play On The Radio. I always loved that: it’s the thread that binds together all kinds of music that we love but which has little in common other than that they are songs never played on the radio. And sometimes we love them for this alone.
Like most of Nico’s later solo material, Naked Lunch’s songs have largely escaped becoming captured as “classics” in AOR format by a dying radio industry. They’re still songs they never play on the radio. They deserve a good set of liner notes, though.
Naked Lunch: ’80s Singles EP / Peripheral Minimal
1. Naked Lunch: Rabies (1981) (04:55)
2. Naked Lunch: Slipping Again (1981) (03:57)
3. Naked Lunch: You Tie Me Down (1984) (03:26)
4. Naked Lunch: Laugh Your Mind Away (1984) (03:32)
5. Naked Lunch: Make Believe (1984) (03:35)
6. Naked Lunch: Breathe (1984) (03:40)