Melody Maker, September 3, 1988
The Observer, 30 September 1990
by Simon Reynolds
This summer, The Grid released 'Floatation', a single that perfectly captured the New Age mood that has pervaded club culture in 1990. 'Floatation' combined deep exhalations, submarine sonar blips, waves lapping the shore, with the mellow, moonwalking groove that has dominated dancefloors all year.
Like a session in a flotation tank, the track was designed to soothe your soul, lower your metabolic rate, and leave you feeling "centered".
Despite being a big success in the clubs, it narrowly missed being a chart hit, because it was too long for radio play. "We want to promote the idea of music that's not limited to a three-minute pop format," explained Richard Norris, The Grid's conceptualist and a former music journalist, "music that's not focused particularly on the lyrics, that you can use functionally, as a soundtrack to your life. The Grid has more in common with Pink Floyd or Brian Eno."
Norris sees encouraging signs of a willingness to experiment in the UK dance scene. "This year, it's seemed like there's more people like us involved, introducing all these art-rock elements. Dance music is a lot like dub reggae at the moment, in its use of space and weird effects. We've always been more interested in head music than music that makes your body move. But I think the good thing now is that those two things are being integrated."
Norris is taking that fusion even further with plans for a future album, The Origins Of Dance. It's a collaboration with the guru of psychedelia, Timothy Leary, and Fraser Clarke from the psychedelic magazine Evolution. "Fraser taped Leary reciting a speech at the Cafe Largo, which has been a beatnik enclave in San Francisco from the Fifties," Norris said.
"The speech itself was 20 years old, and is a Leary manifesto about the psychedelic powers of dance. We composed a techno-mantra backing for his recitation. Later, we met up with Leary in Amsterdam [he's still banned from the UK] and he gave it his seal of approval. He described it as 'hi-tech paganism'.
"Leary is a very impressive figure. He's in his seventies, but seems very aware and open-minded. He's totally hip to what's going on in house music, how it relates to the trance-dance idea that goes back to the earliest origins of music. And he liked the fact that acid house was a working-class phenomenon, whereas the counter-culture had been a bit bourgeois."
Norris's partner in The Grid is David Ball, the techno-boffin half of electro-pop duo Soft Cell. Norris and Ball are busy remixing and reworking Soft Cell's early Eighties classics, such as 'Tainted Love' and 'Memorabilia', in order to reintroduce them into the contemporary dance scene.
They are also producing some of ex-Soft Cell singer Mark Almond's new songs, composing music for Japanese TV commercials and soundtracks for Columbia Pictures.
The Grid's debut album, Electric Head, reflects these interests, ranging from ambient music to the "tacky disco" of the current chart-bound single, 'A Beat Called Love'.
"The Grid is a kind of reaction against theory and conceptualism," said Norris. We're neither trying to be ironic, nor make serious statements. We like to do throwaway, superficial, crass pop songs like 'A Beat Called Love', as well as atmospheric pieces like 'Floatation'. In both cases, we're not trying to 'say' anything. It's not the text that's important, it's the sensual textures of the sound."
from Retromania, a little section on Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, in the chapter of the 1970s rock'n'roll revival and its long tail
LET'S DO THE TIMEWARP AGAIN
"Innocence" is not the only thing that Seventies musicians sought and found in the 1950s. As Fifties revivalism continued and diversified in the second half of the Seventies, two other "essences" of rock 'n' roll came to the fore. Some bands, like The Cramps, focused on rockabilly's febrile sexuality and "real gone" frenzy, making a fetish of obscure artists, those who'd never made it out of the Deep South. Others homed in on the histrionic excess of rock 'n' roll's more poptastic and produced side, figures like Phil Spector, Roy Orbison, and Del Shannon.
Far and away the most successful version of the latter was Meatloaf. He was stupendously successful: the multiplatinum Bat Out of Hell was one of 1978's biggest records, especially in the U.K. where it had the same kind of over-the-top appeal as Queen. Meatloaf had first come to public attention in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the 1975 movie version of Richard O'Brien's cult musical) in which he played a rock'n'roller called Eddie whose brain has partially been removed. While working on the movie in 1974, Meatloaf also began his Bat Out of Hell collaboration with songwriter and "walking rock encyclopedia" Jim Steinman.
Steinman's approach to rock'n'roll resurrection was completely opposed to the reductionism of Creedence, Lennon, and Glitter-Leander. Phil Spector's "wall of sound" and densely layered "teenage symphonies" were the model. Something of a rock'n'roll philosopher as well as a songwriter-arranger, Steinman talked eloquently about how the music's core was violence and hysteria. Meatloaf, the Pavarotti of rock, had the only voice majestic enough to do his songs justice, he said. Swollen both in width and length (several Bat Out of Hell numbers reached nine or ten minutes), Steinman's music grew as corpulent as Meatloaf's physique. But the result wasn't so much rock opera as rock'n'roll opera: beneath the gassy bloat, the roots of the sound were clearly Chuck Berry and The Ronettes, while the songs deal with Fifties-type scenarios such as a Harley Davidson death-ride or making out in a Chevy and struggling to get the girl to go all the way.
Steinman's manager David Sonenberg described him as having " the intellect of an Orson Welles… yet he's kind of frozen in the emotional body of a 17-year-old." That nails Bat Out of Hell precisely: corny yet grotesque, arrested but overblown, as if rock's artistic and emotional development had stopped circa 1957 but its sonic form kept growing. Bat Out Of Hell actually came out of an earlier Steinman project called Neverland that was primarily based around Peter Pan. The songwriter hailed J. M. Barrie's story as "the ultimate rock-and-roll myth--lost boys who don't grow up." Rock'n'roll, Steinman argued , "has to do with being a teenager, the energy of adolescence. When it starts to get too adult, I think it begins to lose a little of the power." He complained that in the early Seventies, music "got real bland, tranquilizing". It lost touch with the epic quality of songs like Del Shannon's "Runaway", "that cross-roads, where romance became violent and violence became romantic. " Singer-songwriters like "Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne" were "the exact opposite of my world", he continued, because they wrote about grown-up stuff like " meaningful relationships".
Steinman also makes a cameo in this piece: