There was a time when the economy was stagnant, Russia was flexing geopolitical muscle (even if it wasn’t really financially capable of following through), and people used the word “malaise” to describe the state of the country. That time was 2015.
In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” These descriptions could also depict the late 1970s, another time that threatened international strife and the end of optimism. Then along came the 1980s and the rebirth of hope.
Are we experiencing a similar moment now? If we look to music, the answer is yes, although with a minor reversal. In the ‘80s, optimism led to ridiculous excess, parachute pants, bouncy synth-driven pop, and some of the greatest films ever made. We may not have the parachute pants and the cinema, but we do have Chvrches and “Every Open Eye,” the band’s sophomore release.
Don’t Call It a Throwback
The Scottish electropop trio isn’t exactly a throwback to the ‘80s, even if they are heavily influenced by it. Their clean and bouncy tunes hearken back to a time when Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall and tight-rolled pants were radical. Today, Vladimir Putin may not be rebuilding the wall—a certain “Republican” candidate for president is instead promising to build one—but we do have tight-rolled pants. To accompany it all, we have the aforementioned album.
To get a feel for “Every Open Eye,” start with the first track, “Never Ending Circles.” While lyrically it’s not so upbeat—in it, singer Lauren Mayberry tells a man to get serious or move on—but musically it sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is not music for angst-ridden teens dressed in all-black clothing.
From there, we get to “Leave a Trace,” the album’s first single. It’s a little more downtempo, by Chvrches’ standards, but it still bubbles with layered synths and vocals, with Mayberry looking for release. She doesn’t say it’s a release from malaise, but she doesn’t say it’s not.
We Love the ‘80s
But, you ask, what about the ‘80s? You said there would be the ‘80s. When we get to “Keep Them Golden,” we get the ‘80s, by God. If you grew up back then, not only are you of the greatest generation on earth, you will also be hard-pressed not to throw on a couple of Swatch watches and pump your fist to this one.
From there, “Every Open Eye” keeps going up and, with it, so does your mood. “Clearest Blue” is the chance for reconciliation and meeting “half-a-way.” Martin Doherty takes over vocals and slows things down for a minute with “High Enough to Carry You Over.” Then “Empty Threat” (not about the Donald) brings the tempo back as it pulsates and gyrates into your ears. With “Down Side of Me,” the pace again slows, which makes the coming jam that much better.
“Playing Dead” is the absolute standout track from the album that storms in and grabs you. “No more excuses and no more playing dead/There are no silver linings in anything you said.” Again, this isn’t about Trump, but it is nonetheless assertive, defiant, and rollicking.
We Are Groot
There is much this crazy world has to be despondent about, but there is also potential. As Jimmy Carter and the ‘70s gave way to the triumph of the ‘80s, so might Barack Obama and the mid-2000s give way to a new triumph. The conditions may be different, even if it is déjà vu all over again, but as long as we have the will to be optimistic and to work to bequeath our children something better than we inherited, the American experiment can continue.
When it comes to capturing that optimism and energy, a good playlist helps. And while we can’t go back to the ‘80s, either musically or economically, it is useful to remember so that we might repeat it when possible. That’s where Chrvches comes in. With “Every Open Eye,” we’ve got solid additions for that playlist. With “Every Open Eye,” we can go Star-Lord, pop in our cassette, turn up the volume, and blast off for the future.