The Suburbs - Tape Your Wife To The Ceiling
From the LP Credit In Heaven (Twin/Tone Records, 1981)
So Charity and I met up one evening last week to have a pleasant evening's stroll through Boston's North End, followed by dinner in Chinatown. Because I work from home and Charity works in the Longwood Medical Area, we have to take different subway lines to meet up in Government Center. Government Center, no matter what the Jonathan Richman song about it says, is a horrible, horrible place, a vast, treeless, red-bricked expanse around the ugliest public building I've ever seen in my life. (Seriously, y'all, Image Google "'Government Center' Boston" and gaze upon the evil yourself, or just go here: www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/kallmann/front.jpg ) But there's a Newbury Comics nearby, so that makes it okay.
I often have to explain this to people who aren't from New England: Newbury Comics is actually a record store with a small sideline business in comics and other bits of geek-boy paraphernalia. They are, in fact, easily the most kick-ass record store chain since those long-forgotten days back in the early '80s when Sound Warehouse was actually good. I was browsing the used CDs idly with one hand and texting Charity with the other when I stumbled upon the circa-2001 reissues of the Suburbs' two Twin/Tone records, 1980's In Combo and 1981's Credit In Heaven, at the appealingly low price of $3.99 apiece. Having not heard the albums in years, but with fond memories of the group's high points, I snapped them up. (Also got a nice Barbara Acklin compilation -- you might know her hit "Am I the Same Girl," which I adore -- for only $2.97!)
Listening to these albums again, especially Credit In Heaven, in light of recent Little Hits discussions, I made a connection I'd never heard before but is now inescapable: The Suburbs were a slightly less pervy Human Sexual Response with a much less theatrical singer and better pop instincts. Like I suspect many Little Hits readers did, I came late to their dance-rock party: when I bought the Replacements' Let It Be in early '85, it was packaged with an inner sleeve that had a full Twin/Tone catalogue, with descriptions. Over the years, I've bought nearly all of the albums listed there, but the Suburbs' core catalogue -- these two, 1982's Dream Hog EP and the 1983 major-label bow Love Is The Law -- resonated more for me than the likes of the Phones or Curtiss A. Though I was rediscovering punk through new bands like the 'Mats, Husker Du and the Minutemen at this point, I was still a fairly hardcore Anglophile, and the Suburbs were possibly the most English-sounding American band I knew of in 1985. Specifically, they sounded heavily influenced by Roxy Music's early, weird albums, by Sparks (who I think I still thought were English at the time) and by the Gang of Four. Their fundamental sound was an odd mixture of dancey synth-pop and a much more ballsy, punky thrash element, and everything was held together by what I now recognize as one of the all-time great rhythm sections in bassist Michael Halliday and drummer Hugo Klaers.
The Suburbs were pitched toward MTV and college radio with the catchy dance-pop singles "Music For Boys," "Waiting" and "Love Is The Law," but their albums also were filled with two-minute freakouts like "Tape Your Wife To The Ceiling," which is what makes them so fundamentally different from, say, Spandau Ballet. (It must be said, however, that the Suburbs were very nearly as pretty as Spandau Ballet, and I assume that in Minneapolis in 1982, there wasn't necessarily a lot of cross-over between Suburbs fans and Replacements fans.) I strongly recommend picking up these CDs while they're still around: the Suburbs sound every bit as vital today as they did a quarter-century ago, and there's no reason why a fan of Franz Ferdinand or the Arctic Monkeys wouldn't find this band instantly comprehensible.
Incidentally, the video pages at Twin/Tone's website feature a number of live and promo videos from the Suburbs' career, which revealed something to me just now that I never knew before: though I've always somehow been under the impression that guitarist Beej Chaney was the group's primary lead singer, it turns out that keyboardist Chan Poling actually did the lion's share of the singing. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other bit of gossip I know about the Suburbs: the story I've always heard is that the band broke up not entirely from major-label ineptitude (though they had their share, like any former indie stars from the '80s), but because Chaney married an heiress to the Cargill Feed fortune and didn't need the tsuris anymore. Good for him, say I.