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Ian North - Neo
 

Ian North - Neo

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Title:  Neo
Company: Aura
Catalog: AUL 706
Year: 1979
Country/State: Woodmere, New York
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Grading comments: cut out notch on edge

Singer/multi-instrumentalist Ian North started his professional musical career as a member of the Long Island-based power pop band Milk 'n' Cookies. When that group collapsed in 1976, Island Records invited North to London to discuss a possible solo contract. The contract fell through (Island instead chose to release the previously shelved Milk 'n' Cookies LP), but North decided to stay in the UK where he formed the band Ian North's Radio with guitarist George Dyner, Sparks bass player Martin Gordon and drummer Paul Simon. Gordon quickly dropped out of the project reappearing as a member of Radio Stars. Dyner then quit, quickly replaced by Robert Simon (coincidently Paul's brother). At this point the band morphed into new-wave styled outfit Neo.

Neo's first break came when they were asked to record a couple of songs for the 1977 "Live At the Vortex" album. Essentially a British punk sampler, there was certainly some irony in the fact the two Neo tracks were recorded at the Vortex Club, but in an afternoon session that saw them recording without an audience (the crowd noises were added after the fact), to say nothing of the fact Neo was led by an American. I found an on-line interview where North actually talked about the album: "We were doubled booked the night of the recording - we tried to back out but they wouldn't let us. So we played at the Vortex early before the club opened and the record company dubbed in crowd noises later. It was recorded live but I do remember going into the studio and re-recording a vocal track. Don't kid yourself - everyone does it."

The two Neo songs 'Small Lives' and 'Tell Me the Truth' generated positive reviews and led to a couple of labels bidding for the right to sign Neo. Jet Records ultimately won releasing the 1978 single:
- 1978's 'Trans-sister' b/w 'Failed Pop Song' (Jet catalog number 130).

Undergoing an ongoing series of personnel changes, North managed to record an album's worth of material, but the Neo nameplate fell apart before the set was released. North put together another version of Neo recording additional material, but a planned album was shelved and Jet dropped North from it's recording roster. Adding to his problems, North was forced to return to the States when his work visa expired. The small UK Aura label subsequently released the album as 1979's "Neo".

Self-produced, "Neo" was a surprisingly impressive collection. Showcasing a dozen North originals, tracks like '', '' and '' served to underscore North's interest in melding power pop moves with a tougher new wave edge, and some very quirky lyrics. As a lead singer he wasn't any great shakes. I suspect he actually had a pretty good voice, but in an effort to underscore his new wave credentials, most of these performances saw him emphasize the 'screech' factor in his voice. The results weren't horrible, but stretched over an entire album it started to get a bit irritating. The funny thing was that North's affection for a strong commercial melody won out on nearly every one of these tracks and that served to overcome most of the album's other shortcomings. The fact the album was recorded amidst ongoing personnel problems only served to underscore North's talent and fortitude.

- 'If You Gotta Go' was a perfect example of North's attempts to meld pop moves with a jumpy new wave feel. The basic melody was quite commercial, with great jangle guitars, harmony vocals, and even handclaps kicking the track along. Would have sounded fine on late-1970s radio. rating: **** stars
- While hearing North screaming 'take off your clothes' and other equally sexist lyrics probably didn't win him any fans in the feminist community, 'She Kills Me' offered up one of the album's better rockers. rating: **** stars- Maybe it's just me, but I've always found it somewhat ironic that the pounding beat that kicked 'Don't Dance' along also made it a great song to dance to. (By the way, in spite of what he said, I suspect North actually had some Chuck Berry in his collection.) Maybe I've just become overly sensitive in my old age, but in today's politically correct environment, the lyrics came awfully close to being racist. rating: **** stars
- 'Heart' started out sounding like an also-ran teenage frustration composition until it hit the top-40-ish screaming refrain 'take it' !!! rating: *** stars
- 'I'm not sure why, but 'Trans-Sister' was tapped as the album's single. To my ears it sounded like a bad XTC cop, but what do I know. rating: *** stars
- 'Heaven On Earth' was apparently inspired by North's growing unhappiness with Neo version 4. This one actually sounded a bit like Neo-goes AOR, complete with a big-hair guitar solo. rating: ** stars
- As one of the album's more punk-oriented numbers, I'm guessing the audience sounds that opened 'The Robots' were added in post-production. Musically this one sounded flat and pedestrian. Forgettable. rating: ** stars
- Powered by a cool bass pattern, 'No Sound From 25' was a good example of North's weird lyrics - in this case the song's ominous feel was accompanied by a plotline apparently having something to do with a sexual predator living in an apartment building. Thoroughly disturbing. rating: ** stars
- With a reggae-influenced beat, 'Hollywood Babylon' found the band shifting to a more commercial extreme. Once again the bubbly beat was accompanied by a dark lyric - wanna be actress doesn't make the big time (?). Not sure why, but I can picture an act like Boney M covering this one. rating: ** stars
- Opening with strumming acoustic guitar, 'Girls In Gangs' suddenly morphed into a heavy metal rocker with some goofy lyrics that would have made Kim Fowley proud. One of my favorite tracks. rating: **** stars
- Texas Modern' was a stark, pretty ballad coupled with another dark tale of dysfunctional modern life. rating: *** stars
- A crunching, straight ahead rocker, 'Kamikaze' sounded like a Cheap Trick outtake, though I doubt that band would have ever recorded a song about a Japanese kamikaze pilot. Weird, but fascinating. rating: **** stars

Aura also tapped the album for a single:

- 1979's 'Hollywood Babylon' b/w 'No Sound From 25' (Aura catalog number AUS 115)

Not exactly power pop; not exactly new wave ... but should still be interesting to fans of either genre.

"Neo" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) If You Gotta Go (Ian North) -
2.) She Kills Me (Ian North) -
3.) Don't Dance (Ian North) -
4.) Heart (Ian North) -
5.) Trans-Sister (Ian North) -
6.) Heaven On Earth (Ian North) -
7.) The Robots (Ian North) -

(side 2)
1.) No Sound From 25 (Ian North) -
2.) Hollywood Babylon (Ian North) -
3.) Girls In Gangs (Ian North) -
4.) Texas Modern (Ian North) -
5.) Kamikaze (Ian North) -
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