Despite what many might perceive, pop music of the ’80s wasn’t all Flock of Seagull haircuts and DX7 synths. Among those going against the proverbial grain, The Woodentops, who formed in South London in 1983, took an organic approach that was as startling for its propulsive rhythms, acoustic hooks, and mantra-like choruses as its lack of artifice. Their debut album, 1986’s Giant, and the singles that led up to it were revelatory slices of unbridled passion for pop’s basic elements taken to the nth degree by an energy every bit as manic as that of the punk explosion from the decade previous.
As such, in these days where the ephemeral nature of the decade of excess is once again being embraced, there is probably no reunion that is more necessary than that of The Woodentops. Regrouping in 2006 to play live and releasing a compilation of their studio recordings last year, the band is set to release its first album in 25 years next week.
To these ears, Granular Tales (Cherry Red Records) picks up where Giant left off. As it turned out, the Tops were not impervious to some of the sonic faults to their times, and despite “spiritual assistance” from Lee Perry, who wound up at the studio where they were recording through a taxi mishap, their follow-up, 1988’s Woodenfoot Cops on the Highway, suffered from ’80s production values, most notably on the drum tracks. On Granular Tales, the band, which includes original members Rolo McGinty (vocals, guitar), Simon Mawby (guitar), and Frank de Freitas (bass), has tapped into the vibe of its earlier years without rehashing past formulas. “A Pact” matches frenetic rhythms to a galvanic acoustic riff and keyboard flutters that are belied by a darkened tone, while “Third Floor Rooftop High” is a bombastic romp seemingly channeling the same energy of yore. Best, though, is “Every Step of the Way,” whose intro is vaguely reminiscent of that of “Good Thing,” but which finds a low-key groove and burrows into it. Though not quite a perfect 10, Granular Tales is an amazing return to form that will hopefully continue onward.