Review of ‘Listening to the Music the Machines Make’ by Richard Evans

With a foreword by Vince Clarke and a focus on source material such as the music press and the charts, this is a detailed and thorough exploration of how a number of bands, mainly British, developed their sounds from 1978 – 1983. The book begins with influential artists such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. It then goes on to look in detail at each year and the careers of the bands who emerged, plus occasional context such as the Musicians’ Union being worried about synthesisers, the introduction of CDs and the ‘home taping is killing music’ campaign. It ends by looking at how early electronic pop influenced acid house and rave music later in the decade. There are a huge number of quotes from the music magazines and these were cringeworthy to read because the critics were cruel to pretty much all of the bands featured in this book.

Listening to the Music the Machines Make hardback book cover

The book includes the following artists (take a deep breath): Devo, Cabaret Voltaire, Tubeway Army, Gary Numan, The Human League, Soft Cell, OMD, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Visage, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, John Foxx, Japan, Heaven 17, Joy Division, New Order, Thomas Dolby, Fad Gadget, Silicon Teens, Landscape, Blancmange…

There are a number of curious omissions, however. Tears for Fears’ debut album topped the chart in 1983 yet they are never mentioned. Talk Talk (entered the charts in 1982), Aneka, Kim Wilde, Toyah, Hazel O’Connor, Grace Jones, Madonna, Blondie. I felt that women were underrepresented because they consisted of a few pages on Annie Lennox, with minor cameos from Delia Derbyshire, the Human League girls, Gillian from New Order and Thereza Bazaar. I also felt that some of the excruciating detail about the chart placings of, say, Duran Duran, could have been replaced with more about other bands who barely feature or are not featured at all.

The journalistic style of the book was quite repetitive, but somehow oddly soothing. I did enjoy the book but I have read more compelling narratives covering the same topics and era. It’s an excellent achievement and meticulously researched, with a generous number of black and white photos as well as a colour plate section. The author, Richard Evans, has worked for the group Erasure for many years.

Published in 2022 by Omnibus Press.

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