Recently discovered this album and I've not stopped listening to it since. It is absolutely outstanding, in fact probably the best album I've ever heard. There is not one weak track on it, every track could have been a single. It's a totally'upbeat' sounding album, but has a wistful, melancholy feel to it as well. Difficult to pick the best track, but I'd probably go for "I Love You (Miss Robot)" which is a sublime piece of futuristic electro pop, and the dynamic "Johnny On The Monorail". The bonus tracks are very good as well, and not just filler like on a lot of reissues. I can't praise this album highly enough. Buy it! You won't regret it.
The days of cold dark winter mornings getting ready then walking to school. 'Video Killed the Radio Star' and 'Plastic Age' on the radio before breakfast TV came along. I only bought this album 3 years ago; songs such as 'Astro Boy,Technopop and Kid Dynamo' although they were on the B side of the singles i owned in 79/80 never got listenend to.These songs are so beautifully forlorn and at the same time optimistic about the future.The reprise at the end of'Video'(not on the single)sets off emotions long ago left behind in 1979. ''i heard you on the wireless back in '52..' in 79 that was 27 years in the past, now 1979 + 27 = 2006. So next year look back down that same length of time and see if 'Video' evokes the same thoughts.Im glad to be living in the Age of Plastic...
The Buggles have their place in music history because their quirky hit "Video Killed the Radio Star" has the distinction of being the first music video shown on MTV. But their 1980 debut album "Age of Plastic" deserves to be remembered on its own terms; not just for the "futuristic" music, but because the lyrics represent a coherent critique of the world of technology as being full of potential but fraught with peril. Even a cursory look at "Video Killed the Radio Star" shows the song is offering up less than subtle ironies about the medium of pop music, not to mention the fledgling MTV. The Buggles consisted of the tandem of Geoffrey Downes on percussion/keyboards and Trevor Horn doing bass/guitar/percussion/vocals, both of who were obviously more interested in producing. That same year they produced the Yes album "Drama," and the pair ended up joining the group and replacing Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Pay attention to the lyrics on this album. "Kid Dynamo" is about the death of imagination in the age of mass media, a proposition that is clearly becoming more and more obvious with each year. "I Love You Miss Robot" is not kinky, despite its title, and is about the pitfalls of human dependence on technology. As for the music, it is pretty diverse. ""Video Killed the Radio Star" is upbeat and peppy while "Johnny on the Monorail" is the exact opposite, dark and brooding. Of course, at the time the use of electronic devices was considered cutting edge and the novelty of it all distracted from the potency of the lyrics. The Alan Parsons Project tried to do something along these lines with with 1977's "I Robot," but that effort seems ponderous and pretentious when compared to "Age of Plastic." I think I could make a compelling argument that this is one of the top ten, or at least top two dozen albums, from the decade (and you can go either way on that as the end of the 1970s or the start of the 1980s).
Contrary to its title and futuristic sleeve design (futuristic, at least, for 1980) the Buggles duo's first album harks back to a lost or rapidly vanishing world as much it looks forward with trepidation to the creation of a dystopian society. And despite the modernity and precision of the production (as standard with anything Trevor Horn is involved with) it is because of these themes, realised through wit, sadness, jadedness, fear and nostaligic hankering for the way things once were, that the The Age of Plastic easily surpasses other souless electronica dross churned out at the same time by the likes of Gary Numan and the Human League et al and which sadly came to characterise the worst of 1980s vulgarity. From the off The Age of Plastic throws the listener into a superficial and sinister world of the not-to-distant future with the number Living In The Plastic Age. In this world burnt-out workers who are no longer of use to their masters are abruplty disposed of ('They send the heart police to put you under cardiac arrest/And as they darg you through the door they tell you that you've failed a test'), thus pre-empting the imminent assault launched upon employees' rights throughout the 1980s. Furthermore, and with astonishing perceptiveness, it goes on to forecast the decline of manufacturing industries in favour of a financial services-led economy as characterised in Britain by Thatcherism ('Talking fast I make a deal/Buy the fake and sell what's real'); and the growing fad for vanity/cosmetic surgery ('Hello Doctor! Lift my Face/I wish my skin could stand the pace'). These plesant sounding, almost child-like, rhymes coupled with jolly fairground-like keyboards give the song a darkly comic but appealing twist. Little needs to said about Video Killed The Radio Star, except that it is a very sad and wistful look-back to a bygone era which perfectly suits Horn's thin transatlantic whingings/vocals, whatever other criticisms may be levelled against them. Video, like the track Elstree which is also a direct piece of nostalgia, are both appropriately enough straightforward and traditional in their arrangements, although the faked drum machine approach in Video cleverly moulds its other theme of encroaching and lifeless modernity to the central idea of a lost age. Indeed, Elstree is a significant song as it confirms the The Buggles were essentially concerned with warning of the dangers of losing by the turn of the 1970s/80s the old certanties they themselves had grown up with in post-war Britain. Elstree is a lament to the once great but now quickly declining British film industry at a time when any number of other industries were set to go the same way. In many ways The Age Of Plastic stands for the post-war atmosphere of hope and consensus as much as the Royal Festival Hall on the Thames' South Bank does. The energetic Kid Dynamo imagines two friends in the materially-obsessed near future looking back to their pasts and one reflecting upon the lost idealism of the other who is now bloated with greed having bought into for the media's hype he once so despised. Much else is to be found which paints an even stranger picture of what the future may be like. I Love You (Miss Robot) is another particular and bizarre highlight, containing some almost risque lyrics about a chap conducting a relationship with an android! The metronomic and highly-pitched desperate background vocals certainly lend it a slightly disturbing edge. The slightly less peculiar Astroboy (And The Proles On Parade) and Johnny On The Monorail suffer from a slight dip in quality but are still interesting visions of The Buggles' dystopian dread. However, the entertaining and highly kitch/camp Clean, Clean more than makes up for any minor blips whilst also dealing with the erstwhile duo's concerns about increasing Cold War tensions in the Reagan/Thatcher period. So, all in all, a great sounding and very intelligent record from two men who would go to have even more financially successful, but certainly not as artistically successful careers. The follow-up Buggles record Adventures In Modern Recording would not be such a collaborative or cohesive effort, but there again due to the limitations of electronica and Horn's vocal abilities room for progression, in all likelihood, was cramped. Nevertheless, The Age Of Plastic forces me to concede that what I never felt possible: that I could enjoy electronica and that it could be so much better than its other bland incarnations and be rightly regarded as classic pop.
This is a true timeless classic and a fantastically enjoyable album. Contrary to the throw away sentiment of the title, mssrs Downes and Horn were consummate musicians going on to reinvigorate Yes and beyond. I can't recommend this one highly enough.
Before there was techno, there was Technopop, the Buggles rarely heard song on the b-side to Clean Clean until it's inclusion on the newer CD reissue; and techno pop, an apt description used in the day to describe the sort of music found on The Age of Plastic. The only real competition until then would have been Kraftwerk's The Model, and a handful of unknowns taking the punk ethos in an electronic direction which would soon explode into the new music of the Eighties, i.e. Human League et al.
Even at the time, I found it intriguing that a straight-ahead American rock station was playing Clean Clean, and just a handful of--for them--very experimental acts such as Talking Head and B52's. Well, that didn't last very long; for a short while they probably just didn't know better! Thank God for college radio and some modern rock outlets taking the baton and running with it. Still, astonishingly, it was that otherwise dull broadcast outlet which first introduced me to the Buggles, and got me hooked.
This record is one of those rare works in which every track has it's own singular appeal, and grabs one as an instant classic, which it remains to this day. The production is first rate, and the songwriting is very inventive, just the thing to keep a young person listening over and over, discovering new nuances each time. Although this rates as one of my favorite all-time "pop" masterpieces, the musical accomplishment was quite serious, and the lyrical content was equally engaging, even to a young Yank who had only the vaguest grasp as to its actual meaning. I thought Elstree was a person until seeing Lucas or Spielberg talk about it on DVD special features.
Regardless, for someone like me who has always been drawn to synthesizer sounds, this was a groundbreaking album which paved the way for electronics to be used in more than just "space music". To this day, a large part of the appeal for me in many styles of music from post punk to EBM/industrial lies in the many interesting, and yes, emotive sounds coming from the synths. The Buggles may have had a decent sense of humor to complement their bleak take on modern society, but you also get the sense of serious emotions and wistfulness, not at all hampered by the instrumentation, contrary to much popular opinion about the supposed "coldness" of non-acoustic sounds. For proof, look to a later Trevor Horn masterpiece, the evocative Moments in Love by Art of Noise, featuring a generous helping of sampling technology.
For his work here and with Art of Noise, as well as with Propaganda, Pet Shop Boys and others, in my book Horn rates as one of the great producers, along with Martin Hannett (for different reasons) of modern music, noteworthy for far-reaching influence. Still, not withstanding the serious qualities at work, The Age of Plastic is just plain great ear candy.