Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stepdad Songs: "Fig. 14" by Human Sexual Response

In January 2014, I acquired approximately 200 records from my stepdad. In addition to many already familiar favorites, his collection included dozens of obscure-to-me but intriguing records. I will periodically be reviewing these records on this blog. For the full backstory, click here.

                                      Human Sexual Response- Fig. 14 (1980)

Human Sexual Response was an American New Wave band formed in Boston, MA in 1978. The band broke up in 1982.

Now that I've cut-and-pasted the first line from their Wikipedia page, let's get down to business. I had never remotely heard of this band before happening upon the extremely-striking album cover shown above. According to this Boston Globe article from November 2012, the band was actually rather popular in the Boston area in the early '80s. They were all over college radio throughout the country and even garnered some airplay on Los Angeles' KROQ for their biggest "hit," "Jackie Onassis." To my surprise, my dad (who lived in Los Angeles at that time) told me he had heard of the band, so perhaps that is why. The article also reveals a fun little factoid: the lone female singer in the group, Casey Cameron, is the mother of Cameron Mesirow-- otherwise known as notable indie act Glasser.

Alright, on to the music. The first notes I heard from this album were not track one, but rather, the song that leads off side two of the LP. Hanging out with some friends at my apartment prior to a visit to a local watering hole, I decided to throw on the record so we could embark on this aural journey together. Inadvertently, I neglected to pay attention to which side I was playing, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As the bouncy bassline of Side Two opener "What Does Sex Mean to Me?" started, followed shortly by handclaps and singer Larry Bangor's jerky, Tom Verlaine-esque vocals, I said aloud "hey this is pretty good." 
It turns out that Fig. 14 is full of catchy new wave songs, not far removed from Talking Heads and the B-52's. Lyrically, the album is a bit out there, as my friends and I soon realized as the second verse of "What Does Sex Mean to Me?" began with this truly poetic couplet: "I put my finger to my tongue/and I taste vagina." Alrighty then. The music, however, is consistently enjoyable (and really, the lyrics aren't nearly as bizarre on the rest of the record). Leadoff track "Guardian Angel" is a surging, guitar-driven anthem similar to what David Bowie was doing on Scary Monsters, released that same year. The aforementioned "Jackie Onassis" is an amusing rumination on what life would be like as the glamorous former first lady, while "Unba Unba" is a joyfully spastic number reminiscent of Devo's first album.
Of course, the album has some duds too-- particularly closer "Anne Frank Story" which, as one would guess from the title, is the album's darkest song. However, the subject matter is perhaps a little too heady for a band that is much better suited to writing quirky and infectious pop songs. Nonetheless, the album as a whole is a good one. Perhaps not great, and certainly not on the same level as the bands whose sounds are evoked on the record-- but highly enjoyable all the same. I am pleased to be familiar with this album, if nothing else so I can impress the DJ by requesting "some fucking Human Sexual Response, man" the next time I attend 80s night at Neo. All in all, a successful first foray into my stepdad's record collection, I'd say.

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