With the current penchant – musically and fashionwise – to live the dream like the ’80s never happened, the landscape is primed and ready for Was (Not Was)’s first studio album in 20 years. Because for Don and David, it’s not so much as if the ’80s never happened as that they never stopped.
How to describe them, then, for today’s young whippersnappers who may not have been born the last time they graced the charts? A slightly funkier Flaming Lips, perhaps. Gnarls Barkley with snappier suits would also do the trick.
Combining disco, funk, soft jazz and pop sensibilities, back in the day the band were allegedly dropped by their record label for being too difficult to classify – today, savvy indie types might want to slot them in alongside bands such as We Are Scientists and Young Knives, if not for their musical style then for their sense of humour and general outlook on life.
Was (Not Was) are one of those wonderful bands that don’t take themselves, the music industry nor any genre too seriously and yet in doing so surpass the novelty, finding a niche of their own precisely because of that rather than in spite of it. And, of course, because their dreamy lounge jazz pop is more than good enough to stand the test of time and the cool police.
So now they’re back. Older, wider and still dressing in suits endorsed by a pimp’s personal shopper from 1982, they are by turns lyrically funny, bizarre, tongue-in-cheek and challenging – often on the same track (Needletooth, for one). They haven’t exactly moved on, and they certainly haven’t reinvented themselves for the new century, but nonetheless it’s a welcome return.
In many ways, funk-soul disco floor fillers such as Forget Everything could be seen as the band parodying themselves, while Mr Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore finally gives a studio release to the song they co-wrote with Bob Dylan for Paula Abdul while producing Dylan’s Under The Red Sky album. Other past collaborators include Ozzy Osbourne, The Rolling Stones, Kim Basinger and Kris Kristofferson, who joins them again here for guest vocals on the madly paranoid Green Pills In The Dresser.
The result is fun, easily listenable, entertaining and good material for weddings, 40th birthday parties and, for those of you who weren’t there the first time round, any ’80s theme party you might want to hold. Cool (Not Cool) – they’re both at the same time, so enjoy it while it lasts.