Last year I celebrated a variety of bands performing in Miami in September. I offered nary a follow-up because I wound up in the ER with a slipped disc in my back. I could hardly walk, much less stand at a rock show. Some tickets went in the trash and guest list invites went to waste. One of the bands I did not even mention as performing around that time was rumored to have had put on a good show. Glad to see Modern English will make a repeat appearance at Miami’s Grand Central at the end of this September.
Though popularly known as a one-hit wonder for the song “I’ll Melt With You,” Modern English emerged from the final breaths of the pioneering post-punk indie rock scene of pre-1980 UK. For me, I feel the strongest song in their catalog is one of their first. “Gathering Dust” was released as a 7-inch by 4AD Records in 1980:
It’s a far cry from the group’s 1983 New Wave pop hit “I’ll Melt With You.” The song includes the best characteristics of post punk, revealing influences from Joy Division to David Bowie, but also escalating them to more dramatic heights of noisy, layered fuzz that pre-dates the noise pop of My Bloody Valentine. The high-pitched bass line owes an obvious debt to Joy Division, as the processed sound of a ticking cymbal and what sounds like the pulse of a dial tone fizz and hum in the background. The ebb and flow of a wispy, gleaming synthetic wind fades in, adding a luscious metallic quality lifted from the B-side of David Bowie’s 1977 album “Heroes,” as the rhythm section shifts to double time with a bouncier bass and the more percussive sound of toms.
The song breaks through another wall, reaching layers of pre-dream pop din as layers of roaring guitars and brawny synths pile up. Singer Robbie Grey’s thick English accent is barely intelligible throughout, terse and emphatic, sounding more like Colin Newman of Wire. I do not care, after all these years, that I do not know or understand what he is singing. His voice is folded deep into the cacophony of wrestling instruments featuring driving pseudo horns and piercing guitars, adding to the song’s enigmatic dreamy quality.
When the song appeared as the opener to their debut 1981 album Mesh and Lace, nothing on that album felt as dynamic or atmospheric. Not that the album’s bad. It actually has a dark edge that betrays the character of that other single the mainstream so easily defines the band with. However, for me, “Gathering Dust,” is the one hit Modern English should be celebrated for.
Modern English performs at Grand Central, 697 North Miami Ave Miami, FL 33136, Friday, Sept. 28 with Axe and the Oak supporting. Doors open at 10 p.m. The show is for those 18 and over. For tickets, jump through this link.