Thursday, January 14, 2016

Unsophisticated Time (Album Retrospective)

Haling from 1985, you'd think that Marti Jone's Unsophisticated Time would be full of synthesizers, synthetic clothing, and pop magic, all on a background of robot drummers. Yet, in the college radio days, this wasn't true.

Hell happened to music in the 80's. With the creation of hard rock vs. soft rock stations, anything that didn't fit into those categories, which was most of popular music at the time, wound up in musical exile or college radio. It's in this place that the big acts of the late 80's simmered and stewed, ready to wreck havoc in the late 80's and early 90's. It is into this sphere of unfitting that Unsophisticated Time lived. Marti could not have been long away from Color Me Gone, a band that she performed with just a few years earlier.

In her first solo album, Marti, along with her producer, Don Dixon (who she would marry), produced a perfect pop album for the wrong decade. Low key, sparse by 80's standards, underproduced, and full of naturalistic sounds, with songs that only an introvert could love, and I did love them, Unsophisticated Time brings to us a clever, intelligent, playful, and sweet collection of songs.

The album opens with "Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)", a college radio hit. With a strong, but subdued rift, mildly jangly guitar, and a soft synth, Marti delivers a melancholic tone combined with introspection.

This track is followed up by "(If I Could) Walk Away", another college radio favorite. Don introduces the song with a slide-sounding guitar, beefing up Marti's understated tune. The tune itself is one of desire and ambivalence, about the desire to leave one relationship for another.

Perhaps the best song of all is the unremittingly sweet and unabashed "Follow You All Over the World." In an interview, Marti related how her audience knew all the words despite the song having no repeated lyrics, so my high opinion of this tune is shared by many. This song is not sweet in the saccharine manner, but in an emotional manner. Despite the backup playing the track, every instrument is held back, with Marti's acoustic guitar playing taking front stage, and in truth, that's all the production that this tune really needed.

There are times when the album feels like an acoustic version of a heavily machined 80's track, with it's steady manual drums, steady keyboards, and upbeat intensity. Fortunately, none of that impacts Marti's emotion. Her vocal performance always comes through. Sometimes, the arrangements feel right out of 1977, more in line with the Nerve and Blondie, and the early days of punk-pop.

Although I don't think that the arrangements all hold up equally well 30 years later, I can't fault their overall production choices. Don delivered the production that these songs asked for, which is why I still love this album so well. Thank you, Marti and Don.