Release Date: 1980
Record label: polygram
by: mark feldman
In this age of renewed interest in bringing elements of ambience, science fiction and space age vision into rock and roll, one might expect a rediscovery of the music that first tread upon those tracks. So far, the Buggles have not benefited much from this, but through no fault of their own, for their futuristic 1979 debut, still very much in print, was light years ahead of its time.
The Buggles were Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, two legendary studio noodlers and video pioneers of the '70s and '80s, who went on to join Yes for one album and later form Asia. One can't help but be skeptical about the ability of two future members of Asia to make a landmark new wave album, but it was precisely their penchant for overproduction that set the first Buggles album apart from the other British and German boys with weird hair trying both to capitalize on the sci-fi renaissance that was happening at the time ("Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and to sound hipper than E.L.O. Horn and Downes left no stone unturned, no note wasted, no space unfilled, and created a magic soundscape, full of noises and keyboard patches you swear must have come from Mars.
The alarmingly-prophetic "Video Killed the Radio Star" is here, of course, and still rings true today, perhaps even more so than it did when MTV decided to air it two years later as its first nationally-broadcast music video. Someone like Air (review) could cover this song and probably have a big hit with it today. But "Video" is just the beginning when it comes to the marvels of The Age of Plastic. The memorable "I Love You (Miss Robot)" plays like Kratfwerk drowning in a vat of flour, a computerized cry from the soul. The raucous "Kid Dynamo" foreshadows many an early '80s synth rock hit. "Clean Clean" brings a bit of a punk rock element into the mix. The title track is great too, one of the first rock anthems of the degeneration of society into reliance on machines, predating "Mr. Roboto" by four full years.
The Buggles did not invent space rock, nor did they ever record an album like this again, though their second and final release (1982's "Adventures in Modern Recording") holds its own. But The Age of Plastic is a fascinating listen, in that it bridges the gap between '70s progressive pioneers like Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Alan Parsons (and even E.L.O. perhaps), the synthesizer-driven rock of the '80s like A Flock of Seagulls and Thomas Dolby, and current artists like Air and Add N to X. It also suggests that the connection between these various generations of space rock is less tenuous than one may think.