New Musik’s Tony Mansfield (writer, producer, vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist) has never been overly enamored of trendy trappings of music or image, which is why his band, never fashionable, had only minor UK hits. (As a freelance producer, however, Mansfield has had no such trouble.) Nonetheless, in attempting to recast and/or rediscover pop-rock through modern technology, New Musik helped launch the style as a commercial force in America, where its debut single, “Straight Lines” — predating Gary Numan’s US hit with “Cars” — nearly crossed over from the dance clubs to the mass market as an import. (The 10-inch EP also includes its follow-up and both B-sides.)
New Musik’s full but spacious sound is immediately appealing: vocals, acoustic guitars, synths and other keyboards ply melodious ditties impeccably deployed and ingeniously enhanced at the mixing console. What’s most telling about this new musik is that it’s sensuous but not sensual, energetic but not violent, calling up a sort of bittersweet, melancholic feeling, but never redolent of the gloom-doom syndrome. Which makes the band either a breath of fresh air or an overly polite and sterile waste of time.
Yet, surprisingly enough, the lyrics are almost all about loneliness, alienation and humanity’s inability to cope with the modern world — but worded simply, and exclusively in terms of ideals (safety, identity, luxury), abstractions (lines, numbers, motion) and/or metaphors (often to do with the ocean and travel). Though hardly immortal poesy, when put in context by the music, core phrases can be most evocative.
From A to B contains three strong singles (one, “This World of Water,” is brilliant) unmatched by those on Anywhere, but otherwise there’s little difference in quality or style between the two. Sanctuary takes the best of both, making it a near-apotheosis of ear candy. Warp, however, sounds transitional: band involvement in the studio had apparently increased, adding a new rhythmic component with no effective niche. More acute (and pessimistic) lyrics are accompanied by a paucity of new melodic ideas.
Mansfield’s subsequent life as a pop producer yielded hits for Naked Eyes, the B-52’s, Captain Sensible and others.