By Brett Leigh Dicks
If left to mainstream pop culture, the 1980s would be portrayed as a decade of cultural cringe flavored by John Hughes films, hair bands, synthesizers, and Cabbage Patch Kids. But just as there were Lethal Weapon and Back to the Future, there was also Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Wings of Desire. And for every Brian Adams, fortunately there was a Nick Cave. It’s almost like there were two simultaneous ’80s taking place, one that defined the mainstream, the other that explored “alternative” tangents. And among it all was a budding young musician in a band called Shiva Burlesque.
Grant-Lee Phillips might have moved to Los Angeles to be a filmmaker, but music soon became his obsession. “I really feel like there was this whole other ’80s,” the troubadour enthused. “There was this shadow ’80s that, funny enough, a lot of us actually experienced. It was sort of like being abducted by a UFO; you just have to take our word for it that it did really happen.”
Shiva Burlesque contorted itself into the famed Grant Lee Buffalo, and Phillips was quickly thrust into the musical limelight. The energetic trio took their fuzzy-acoustic version of Americana around the globe before Phillips decided to finally venture forth on his own. Four solo albums later, Grant-Lee Phillips’s musical world has seemingly turned full circle: His latest album Nineteeneighties is a collection of songs from that decade. Lurking among renditions of REM’s “Central Rain” and The Pixies “Wave of Mutilation” are lesser known gems such as Robyn Hitchcock’s “I Dream of Trains” and The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.”
“Echo and the Bunnymen were real, as were the Psychedelic Furs,” said Phillips. “Even if they didn’t occupy the same dominance Whitney Houston or George Michael might have, they did happen.” So pick up Phillips’s tribute to these unsung heroes of the ’80s — the alternative ’80s, that is.