Riding the crest of the new wave of British synthpop
In the last decade or so, there’s been a splurge of UK bands influenced by the sounds of the early 1980s and, it would seem, pretty much nothing but the sounds of the early 1980s. A lot of them are old enough to have experienced this period first-hand for themselves. Some are so shamelessly derivative, they could pretty much be tribute acts.
They make for what is a curious and intriguing scene, existing in a little retro bubble on the far fringes of the electronic music spectrum. It’s almost a kind of new wave of British synthpop, or NWOBSP as we call it round our house, a tag inspired by the so-called NWOBHM (new wave of British heavy metal), the movement that saw a resurgence of hairy headbangers in the aftermath of punk. Remember The Tygers Of Pan Tang? No? Well, why would you?
I don’t suppose Tenek have been compared to Iron Maiden too many times, but there is a correlation in the sense that, just as Iron Maiden were NWOBHM kingpins, Tenek are behemoths of the NWOBSP scene. Main men Peter Steer and Geoff Pinckney have been doing the do for nigh on 10 years now, sharing stages with such luminaries as The Human League, Heaven 17 and Blancmange along the way. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is the group’s third album and sees them expanding their line-up to incorporate drummer Steve Clark. It also features a guest appearance from one-time T’Pau bassist Paul Jackson.
The T’Pau reference is an important clue to where Tenek are coming from. Because although the principal touchstones of the NWOBSP are the first generation synth outfits, Steer and Pinckney are clearly into lots of the later 80s pop stuff too. What’s more, they’re keen on guitars as well as synths, which sets them apart from the rest of the scene. So while ‘Sunlight’ and ‘Soloman’ are fine examples of solid electronic goodness, it’s when they get the slap-bass runs and the live drums going that they fly. At various points, I’m reminded of King, China Crisis, Re-Flex and the always awesome Fashion, who could easily have recorded the funky pop strut that is ‘Fear For Nothing’, my favourite track here.
‘Everything Lost’ ploughs another funk furrow, ‘Headlights’ is a slick stadium rocker, and ‘Blue Man’ is a slowly unfolding windswept drama. The most involved track is probably ‘Imitation Of Life’, which piles the waves of synths so high that the whole thing seems in danger of toppling over. The production is super precise throughout, with every element polished to the max, but don’t mistake the shine for superficiality. There’s plenty of depth and weight too.
Let’s not pretend that ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is anything revolutionary or even evolutionary. It’s neither. It’s a record that largely sounds like acid house never happened, but there’s much to admire all the same. It’s big and hearty and full of great hooks. It’s also a very assured record. “Yeah, you really like this, don’t you, don’t you?” sings Peter Steer on ‘Imitation Of Life’. And actually, yeah, I do really like it. Good work fellas.