An underappreciated aspect of the ’80s is just how much weird stuff not only invaded pop culture, but also became wildly popular. Of course with the passage of time, many of those stranger moments have been forgotten. Take for example, Information Society. History has relegated the Minneapolis-born band to the one-hit wonder bin with their 1988 hit “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy),” ignoring the fact that they landed two other songs in the Billboard Top 40 during their tenure and consistently landed on the dance charts. It also overlooks how they bridged the worlds of synth-pop and early house music, as well as managed to have a presence in the freestyle world. One could make an argument that they were instrumental in sampling’s rise to prominence. Oh, and the fact that their self-titled album also went gold in five months, matching the sales of the “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)” single, is nothing to sneeze at.
But all things can’t stay gold and after three major label albums, the band broke up. There was a one-man revival by singer Kurt Harland in 1997, but he jettisoned the band’s trademark sound for a more industrial-based one. After that incarnation flopped commercially, it seemed fair to say that the group had finally run its course. However, one thing led to another and Harland reunited with other principal members, Paul Robb and James Cassidy, for a few one-off concerts in 2005. Now 22 years after the release of their last album with the classic line-up, the band is back with Hello World (HAKATAK International/MVD).
Looking back at the initial trio of albums on Tommy Boy (Information Society, Hack, and Peace & Love Inc.), it’s difficult to see the band as cutting edge as it was at the time. There’s been so many technological and production advances since those albums were out, it’s hard to remember how the songs pushed at the borders of what could be done in a pop song. At this point, what was slightly avant garde is fairly commonplace. But while the technology was exciting, it was the tension between the production and the pure-pop songwriting that was exciting. So now 22 years later, the question is whether the band succumbs to nostalgia or does it try to take their sound to new places.
The answer is that Hello World goes in both directions. There are plenty of samples mixed with the blend of synth-pop and house that characterized their earlier work. Yet, there are some tweaks to the formula, with different keyboard and drum sounds, a slight nod to dubstep and some other recent electro styles. There’s no overt adoption of anything current, which gives it a slightly dated feel at times, but also ties back to the way the band once existed in its own universe. There is also a faithful cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World,” complete with assistance from spudboy Gerald V. Casale. What hasn’t changed is that the album maintains the strong songwriting of the past. Mixing tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase (“In the land of the blind, the one-armed man is king,”) with heart-on-the-sleeve emotion and anthemic overdrive, Hello World hits every note you’d hope to hear. Now let’s hope there won’t be another 22 years for a reintroduction.