Before I talk about Survivor I’m going to talk about me a little. Skip down a few paragraphs if you don’t care.
There. Now, I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood. And from mid ’82 to late ’84 it was at its happiest. Not dramatically joyful or anything, not eventful even – just the simple, hassle- and hormone-free happiness of the boy of 9 or 10 who knows what he enjoys and has the space and security to get on with it. Simple, nerdy stuff. Books. The BBC Micro. Camping trips. School projects. Youth theatre groups. Doctor Who. Dungeons & Dragons. The radio.
Being happy didn’t mean I liked all the pop music I heard at the time. Far from it. Some of it I hated. (And hating it was something else to make me happy). But the result is that on some level I like almost all of it now. The suffusing marshmallow memory of my happiness has subsumed my judgement, smoothed it out. I feel safe in saying that there is not a single record which charted in 1983 that I couldn’t get some base nostalgic pleasure out of even if my higher brain functions were screaming out against it.
Will this make any difference to how I write Popular entries? I have no idea. But it seemed fair to warn you against it.
And now, let’s talk about Survivor.
On the Irene Cara thread there was some talk about American triumphalism and swagger in pop – in contrast to the more playful tones of British New Pop. Obviously, “Fame” is like Noel Coward compared to “Eye Of The Tiger”, which was specially commissioned to be as pummelling and bombastic as is musically possible. Does it succeed?
Yes, indeed too well. If this was a boxing match, the hero would flatten his opponent within the first fifteen seconds. The taut, macho bassline and punchbag riff that open the track are awesome: the only problem is that Survivor have to follow them with a song, and “Eye Of The Tiger” predictably underwhelms. It’s already said everything it needs to with devastating economy – all this “man and his will to survive” stuff is just labouring the point, and the longer it goes on the more you doubt it.
Perhaps theirs was an impossible task – though when Destiny’s Child got their hands on something very like the “Tiger” bassline for “Bootylicious” they built a killer song on top. On the other hand, there are many bands who strain for years without producing anything as primal as the first fifteen seconds of “Eye”: Survivor’s failure to capitalise – in both a track and career sense – can’t take that away from them.