I don’t actually know if this one qualifies as a lost classic, but it never crops up in lists of classics, so it’s going in the Lost Classics shelf.
The Buggles‘ The Age of Plastic is a remarkable LP for lots of reasons. While it’s a contemporary (roughly) of Kraftwerk’s Computer World, there could hardly be more difference between them, despite superficial similarities of theme. Computer World is brain food – a manifestation of an almost limitless intelligence. I am glad to be one of the many people who have made a pilgrimage to Mintropstrasse, Duesseldorf just to stand at the doorway of where Kling Klang used to be. Computer World is biting satire, its rhythmicism a necessary corrective, its darkness illuminating. I wouldn’t count myself as a Kraftwerk fan though beyond Computerwelt and the song Neonlicht. Why? Why not. Anyway, where the fuck was I? Oh yes, The Age of Plastic.
Computer World is sequenced, metronomic, swingless, nailed down with spikes. The Age of Plastic is uncomputerised. Computer World is – in a sense – neoclassical. A term that’d usually be pejorative but in KW’s case it’s not pejorative at all. The Age of Plastic is pop all the way through, with some proper prog bubbles fizzing at the surface. What both records have though – in bulk – is tunes: melos and structure.
1. The Plastic Age. The lyrics here don’t really withstand critical analysis. This is not a Ray Bradbury short story. Essentially it’s a brief evocative description of someone overcome by technology. Touch of the Jacques Tati rather than the Fritz Lang.
2. Video Killed The Radio Star. A 4 minute 14 second long operetta. Teh end of teh pop. LOL. „Put the blame on VCR“ – a slightly ludicrous piece of metacommentary, yes – but that’s what pop music is for. If we wanted something on the inextricability of sound/vision we’d have to pick up a Roland Barthes book and light up a Gauloises cigarette.
3. Kid Dynamo – this reminds me of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. For this reason: the music tells a better story than the libretto. A musical masterpiece with funny human larynx soundwaves on top. Odd but truly great.
4. I Love You (Miss Robot). This is the greatest song on the record. Somewhere in this gleaming cyborg fantasy is the trace of John Donne’s „The Sun Rising“. But the unruly sun is down, and the sky is nuclear, and the sour prentices are sardonic and made of metal.
5. Clean Clean. Very, very clever stuff. Starts off with funeral church organ not unlike John Cage’s „Souvenir“ (which it predates, time travel stylee) and the rest is a war narrative presumably from the POV of the dead, with media echoes in his head. „Lost a million in our very first attack. Clean clean. Don’t you worry ‚cause you know we’ll get them back“. A powerful, trenchant and understated comment on the deluded arithmetic of conflict.
6. Elstree. More media metacommentary. A snowstorm within a snowstorm. Love the juxtaposition here, against the previous song. „They made a field into a war zone/ I beat the enemy on my own/ All the bullets just went over my head/ There’s no reality and no one dead/ in Elstree…“
7. Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade). Is this prescience or is it just history? The lyrics tell of overprivilege and ennui. But there is heart here, as well as brioche.
8. Johny on the Monorail. Like track 3, the backing track transcends the lyrical content. Strip the track of its vox and watch a YouTube (or VCR) clip of the Chicago Loop with it instead.