In this the coldest part of the year, I often get all warm and sentimental about albums that I associate with the season. One of those records comes from the English band Modern English. This special brand of gloom and doom came to us via the legendary 4AD label who with the graphic design firm 23 Envelope formed the overly stylish English version of what we now might call Emo rock.
I never knew what band leader Robbie Grey was always moping about, but it look and sounded cool – if not a bit gay by gruff American standards. But hey, I was going to go to art school so it was ok. Like millions of other teens, it was the song “I Melt with You” that attracted my attention. The single was boosted by being the flagship song for the film Valley Girl. Other tracks heard on college radio seemed to confirm that there was more to Modern English than one cute hit single.
‘I Melt with You’ only reached #78 on the Billboard singles chart, but that was quite a feat for alternative music back in those days. After paying nearly $20 dollars for an import LP at a smelly college record store, I was happy to find that the album had as much atmosphere and style in the grooves as on the cover. Eight songs of mid tempo gloom and (post) teen repression might seem like too much when there’s over a foot of snow on the ground, but somehow it seemed like an appropriate soundtrack to my formative years during the dead of winter.
Produced by Hugh Jones, the overall guitar driven sound was not unlike that of Echo & the Bunnymen and at times Kitchens of Distinction. All of the 4AD artists had a sound and style that was similar, but Modern English was on the guitar side of that equation while bands like the Cocteau Twins of Clan of Xmoz tended to be more electronic.
As a new wave album, After the Snow had post-punk elements (however mild) of angst and Goth in songs like ‘Life in the Gladhouse’ and ‘Carry Me Down’. The somber feel and downbeat tempo was more like Depeche Mode, a band that Modern English resembled sonically early on. It was still a unique sound for the early ’80s and because of that it was a critical favorite of magazines like Rolling Stone and NME.
The strength of the first single prompted Sire records to distribute the album in America, by which time it was available as a reasonably priced CD. Modern English had their moment in the spotlight as it were and would peak around the release of this album. Subsequent releases would see them loosing favor in England while nipping at the top 100 in America with a single from their following album Ricochet Days in 1984.
After the Snow finds the Modern English in perfect alignment stylistically and sonically as they were early pioneers in the Goth era that influenced nearly every black clothes wearing art major in the 80s. Being snowed in has it benefits.