BIGGER THAN AMERICA reviewed by Christopher Juul
What's this? What's this! A NEW Heaven 17 record? This may have been out for a few months, but I just ran across it. I figured that if I hadn't heard of it, maybe you, our readers would like to know also. Lead singer Glenn Gregory helped Martin Fry re-launch ABC's first album in about 6 years earlier this year with very mixed results. Maybe he saved all the good stuff for this record. First off, there is no imminent US release date which could raise the ¡el-stinko! flag much as the last OMD and ABC imports did for me. But, alas, Heaven 17 have persevered. Gone is the crappy, fake soul of their last release Duke, Teddy Bear and Psycho. Back is their smart, socially danceable commentaries sounding much like their best work on their first two albums. This time they've taken aim at the good old USA. Songs like Bigger Than America, and The Big Dipper very coyly stab at America's genitalia with lyrics such as The king of Hollywood is dead / I don't care what the President said / I don't believe in anything I've read / the Big Dipper's coming down / New York's a shanty town / The distant sound is L.A. burning down.
Other highlights include the Fascist Groove Thing-like rhythm of Designing Heaven, the atmospheric opening track Dive, the disco pomp of We Blame Love, and the industrial tinged Freak. Heaven 17 have managed to transcend the new wave slump that has claimed the life of many a new wave comeback albums (See Modern English's last abomination, parts of A Flock of Seagulls and the Human League's as well) by incorporating smart lyrics, beats, and lots of analog synth sounds. Eight years is a long time between records. Are they still relevant? Do you even care? About the only thing that's changed about the band are their hair and waist lines. (Glenn Gregory now looks almost exactly like Peter Barrett of Midnight Oil). If you say that good new wave synthpop is gone, pick this up and you'll discover otherwise.