Modern English is the English rock band best remembered for the 1983 new wave classic “I Melt with You” which has been revived repeatedly over the years in various commercials including Burger King, Ritz Crackers and Taco Bell.
Sound Observations With Modern English
by David Moye
In 1982, Modern English became a staple of what was then called “Modern Rock Radio” when the band released a truly classic song, “I Melt With You,” one of the best songs ever written using 2.5 chords.
Although the band had other great songs, such as “Hands Across the Sea,” “Life in the Gladhouse” and “Ink and Paper,” “I Melt With You” was, and is, a true classic song, combining an easily singable melody (which sounds even better when sung with a fake Limey accent), a clever atmospheric arrangement, and lyrics that were sexy, yet obscure — perfect for wannabe So Cal Goths to wave their fingerless glove-clad hands in front of their face.
No wonder the song has lasted so long. You heard that old phrase, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”? Right now, as you read this, there is a fast food restaurant using “I Melt With You” to advertise cheeseburgers.
So you’d think the band would be pissed that, after 30 years, they get pegged unfairly as one-hit wonders. To be fair, “I Melt With You” only made the lower reaches of the Billboard top 100 (No. 76 in 1982 and No. 78 in 1990) and “Hands Across The Sea” did creep on to the chart at No. 93.
But they are not. At least lead singer Robbie Grey isn’t.
“We don’t have a problem with it,” he said from London during a recent phone interview in anticipation of their September 5 performance at Anthology. “’I Melt With You’ has kept us afloat for many years. It’s been in so many films.
“But every band does want to have everyone aware of their music. During our recent tour of the East Coast and Midwest, there were a lot of people familiar with lots of songs from our catalog.”
Including, he said, the newest album, “Soundtrack,” Modern English’s first new album since 1996’s Everything Is Mad. It marks a reunion of their most classic lineup: Grey, guitarist Gary McDowell, bassist Mick Conroy and keyboardist Stephen Walker, for the first time since the mid-80s, as well as the addition of a second guitarist, Steve Walker (who plays on “Soundtrack” and should not to be confused with the keyboardist).
Having the old band back together has been enjoyable for Grey, who believes that Modern English is a band where the sum is greater than the parts –especially when they were starting out.
“When we wrote ‘Mesh and Lace” [the album containing “I Melt With You”], we wrote songs, but none of could really play. We weren’t classically trained so we used sex and abstract arrangements to get our point across.
“These days, we do know how to write a song, but we don’t want to lose that spark of what we did in the beginning. To me, it’s art first than technique.”
Like many bands that formed in the early 1980s, Modern English was affected by punk rock.
“Punk showed us that we didn’t have to be proficient,” he said. “It was emotional AND artistic.”
However, Grey says what’s made the band last is that its influences aren’t just musical.
“I’m as influenced by Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon as I am by Wire and Joy Division,” he said. “Poetry, literature and art all influence my songs. When we write a song, the music does come first, than a ‘feel’ or an atmosphere. Then I get the germ of a line.”
Grey believes that the crowd who comes to Anthology for “I Melt With You” will appreciate the newer songs as well.
“’Soundtrack’ is a bridge between ‘Mesh and Lace,’ and ‘After The Snow’ – a marriage of both of those things,” he said. “Some of my best lyrics, very thoughtful and mature. They were written in London, in my flat. It’s a dark album, an emotional album, because I was single at the time.”
Meanwhile, folks who are coming for the big hit, won’t be disappointed, but they should be prepared.
“There will be no ska rock! For the longest time, your website listed us as playing that, and I just want to make sure people aren’t disappointed that we’re not a ska band,” he laughed.