The nostalgia for the 1980s continues in the UK as more TV programmes and books come out that either hark back to that turbulent time or chart their attenuation. Two cultural releases look set to endure, in particular: a novel and what at first seems a pop record.
Afshin Rattansi’s quartet about sex, finance, terrorism, property and the media is a tour de force. Much of it is set in the maelstrom that was the 1980s – when the Reagan-Thatcher model became entrenched and there was no longer any shame in saying you wanted to become a banker and make lots of money.
The Pet Shop Boys, a band formed by a journalist from the 1980s, had a hit with the ironic song “Let’s make lots of money” and it came out amidst a 1980s musical landscape dominated by Prince’s political album “Sign o’ The Times” and the highly political work of The Smiths and Elvis Costello. But the Pet Shop Boy’s catchy synth tunes were played by those who embraced the new capitalism. In their new album, “Fundamental” (
Parlophone, £12.99), Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe seem to draw on the work of “The Dream of the Decade – The London Novels” and evoke not only Afshin Rattansi’s 1980s but what came after as well.
The chord progressions and disco beats are instantly recognisable and the lines in the opener, Psychological, echo The Dream of the Decade’s characters with their asymmetric haircuts and eye make-up.
Just as the London Novels look at the conditions that spawned policies on regime change, immigration, ID cards and the politics of fear so do The Pet Shop Boys.
Incisive political comment – as well as humour – is what you find in the work of Afshin Rattansi as well as the Pet Shop Boys. The band’s songs, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money), Shopping, Rent and King’s Cross have themes that dominate the lives of Dream’s characters.
Of course, when it comes to aiding change, The Pet Shop Boys work more as comfort aids for people who are engaged in it – whilst the loves and losses of Rattansi’s characters are undiluted by infectious poppy synth sounds.
The Independent said “the illusory contentments of bread and circuses, and the doomed, temporary nature of hedonist escape are again tackled in “Luna Park”, which manages to be at once celebratory and elegiac, with its references to how “on the shooting range the plastic prizes never change”. The youthful thrill of revolution is found wanting in comparison to the security of the familiar.” It all echoes Rattansi’s “The Dream of the Decade.”
Rattansi, worked for the BBC programme that exposed the deceit of the British government over nonexistent WMD in Iraq. The David Kelly affair and subsequent resignations of the Chairman and Director-General of the BBC find echoes so many years after the initial onslaught on Baghdad. The Pet Shop Boys were censored on the BBC’s Top of the Pops. A theatrical anti-war performance of their new hit “I’m With Stupid” was compulsorily altered. Three dancers with Bush masks and three with Blair masks werenot allowed. Instead, the British broadcaster insisted the band include other political leaders to make their stage show balanced, for fear of upsetting viewers.Masks depicting former US President Bill Clinton, UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell and Russian President Vladimir Putin were subsequently added. Though Rattansi, in fairness, might have agreed with BBC pop producers, it’s a mark of the time that focused anger is not allowed on the cultural battlefield.