Flashy flashbacks

Apr 4, 2001 at 12:00 am

Given the recent retro-pop proliferation of the Prima Donnas, Baxendale, Future Bible Heroes and Stars, it’s not totally ludicrous to claim that some of the best ’80s music is being made almost two dozen years after video killed the radio star. And after this winter’s presidential inauguration of yet another bumbling, brain-dead idiot named Bush, Reaganomics doesn’t seem quite as long ago as it did pre-election. It may only be 2001, but sometimes it feels like the ‘90s never happened.

Laptop’s Jesse Hartman must think so too. On his one-man electro-band’s Opening Credits, Richard Hell’s ex-guitarist plunges headlong into the ’80s abyss of synth and sin. A magnificent mishmash of New Order, Devo and Gary Numan, the album is so successful at revisiting pop’s past that it could easily spend its shelf life in supermarket discount bins of Totally ’80s compilations. Laptop is too talented for such a fate, though: Unlike the way so many people dance with ironic, detached distance to those compilations, Hartman doesn’t want listeners to separate their fun from their feelings. And so despite a few corny missteps, the emotional investment beneath Laptop’s dance beats keeps his retro-disco from sounding like the novelty it probably would be otherwise.

Unfortunately, Liverpool’s Ladytron doesn’t pull off pop nostalgia quite so successfully. Overflowing with similar Atari-rigged robotics and deadpanned deliveries as Laptop, these Brit brainiacs’ full-length debut should be more dance floor fun than you can shake a glowstick at. Instead of coming off like a welcome throwback to the days of the Flying Lizards and Lene Lovich, however, 604 sounds like a party for black-clad artsy-fartsies more concerned with a stoic style than a solid sound. Although song titles such as “Discotrax” and “Jet Age” promise to set boom boxes ablaze, there’s not a single danceable beat in the bunch: This is Depeche Mode-damaged music for crossed-armed scenesters, where music is little more than an accessory to geek-chic fashion.

Which is too bad, really, because if a band wants to take listeners on a retro-tour through the ‘80s, then they better make the trip enjoyable. For many of us, surviving that decade once was enough — and while Laptop makes a great case for welcoming that era’s return, Ladytron aren’t gonna convince anyone to do it for the Gipper.

E-mail Jimmy Draper at [email protected].