VHS Or Beta - Night On Fire

Sam Wetherell 11/04/2005

Rating: 4/5

By day they go around solving crimes in a van with Duran Duran, by night they are… Vhs or Beta! This band couldn't be more 80's if they pulled up on a Ford Sierra deep in a conversation about Reaganomics, their rather brilliant name comes directly from one of those nostalgic Channel 4 programs where D-list pundits ruminate about 1984.

Now I imagine many of you will be hiding behind the sofa by now. And that's fine, I admit that their debut, “Night On Fire” isn't going to be everyone's skinny latte. But behind the haircuts and the desperately retro cover art there lurks a rather brilliant album.

The opener, “Night on Fire”, seethes with squealing guitars so high pitched all the neighbourhood dogs will be gathering at your window by the end of the song, spread deliciously over a relentlessly sleazy slap-bass line. Its certainly better than anything Duran Duran have every made (which perhaps isn't a difficult accomplishment), and seems more textured, and less tinny than, say, The Human League or Soft Cell.

Saying that however, its not all good. The track “Forever” should be avoided at all cost. The lyrics seem to be the line “forever on my mind” repeated over and over (and over and over and over) again in a truly grating Daft-Punk vocal style. Perhaps its because I was born in 1986, and this track touches a dim and primal nerve somewhere in the darker recesses of my unconscious, but it just sounds too much like too many shockingly crap 80s disco numbers. I cannot stress enough how much of a mistake this song was… so I'll move on.

One of the stranger and more wonderful aspects to this album, is that three of the ten tracks are purely instrumental. You heard me… instrumentals on a (reasonably) NME approved American 80's revivalist band… an occurrence more unlikely than Pope John-Paul II rising from the dead and expressing a preference for Nathan Barely. When listening to “Nightwaves” I kept expecting Craig Pfunder's desperate, trembling voice to eventually cut through the throbbing layers of reverberating guitar and bass… but it never happened. Those of you already trembling at the thought of a 1980's disco-esque instrumental should look away now. One of them, “Irreversible”, is nine minutes long!

Which begs the question: What's the point? Why, in 2005, is a band straining every muscle to create tracks that, if you look hard enough can probably be found on the soundtrack to Donnie Darko, at all relevant? Because Vhs or Beta make great music, that's why. They are by far the best band to emerge from the recent 1980s revival, and The Bravery should be feeling pretty damned ashamed of themselves for existing in comparison to these guys.