Before writing this entry, I spent a while researching Paul Hardcastle’s later career as a highly successful figure in the land of Smooth Jazz. I cannot tell you how long this actually took, as time can have no meaning in a world where tracks are called things like “Visions Of Illusions” and “Constellation Of Dreams”. But what this voyage of illumination showed me is that “19” is a very odd fish indeed: even Hardcastle’s prior output, if YouTube is any guide, sounded like the on-hold music for a flotation centre. What happens when such a man decides to make a cut-up electro record?
As a lesson in recent history, “19” is a phenomenal success: if there’s one thing any 1985 schoolboy could tell you about the Vietnam War it’s how old the poor bastards shipped out there were. As a pop record it’s half-triumphant, half-awkward, and the triumph and awkwardness are indivisible. If that rent-a-soul chorus hadn’t been on there – with its “those who remember won’t forget” clanger – the record wouldn’t be as memorable. But the way that chorus gets chopped and diced – “d-d-d-d-d-destruction!” – undermines any seriousness “19” might have reached for, takes its indictment of Vietnam into goofy Max Headroom territory.
But then again, if it had been a wholly serious record, would it have been any better? It is possible to give this kind of quick-cut documentary pop weight without sacrificing its groove – check out Steinski’s fantastic “The Motorcade Sped On” for a dramatisation of signal becoming noise in the white heat of a massive event. “19”‘, though, is slick, glib, in love with its own techniques and surface and beat. But I think if it hadn’t it would have been even clumsier: judging by his other work, I wouldn’t trust Hardcastle with intentional resonance or nuance.
And as it is, “19” manages unintentional resonance really well: the post-Vietnam generation working out, in public, what they thought and felt about the war. Hardcastle was part of a great spasm of mid-80s ‘Nam references, a door opening in history and things never resolved rushing back into currency. And the barrage of different impulses you get in “19” – this was awful! But so visual! But horrific! But pop! – gives a better feel for that working-through than some of its more considered and famous products.