July 6, 2018 A Flock of Seagulls – Ascension (Album Review)
Back at the dawn of the 1980s, there was a fresh sound on the music scene, a new wave if you will. Carrying over from the late 1970s, when pioneering Electronic bands such as Kraftwerk emerged, New Wave had a broad umbrella. Varied in approach, sometimes with synthesizers, sometimes with guitars, and sometimes with both, that is where A Flock of Seagulls came in.
Begun by former hairdresser Mike Score in Liverpool, England, A Flock of Seagulls would be known for there unique hairstyles and attire, but beyond appearance, their sound was honestly the highlight. In a January 2018 interview with CrypticRock, Score himself stated, “In my opinion, the sound of the band is like flying. We wanted to be very “sonic” with great highs and lows, be rocky, yet robotic.”
A hybrid of atmospheric synthesizers and irresistible guitar melodies, in truth, A Flock of Seagulls’ style could best be described as decade defining; see their 1982 single “Space Age Love Song” as a fitting example. Then, of course their was the international hit from the same year, “I Ran (So Far Away),” one that still has a place in popular culture to this day.
Now over 36 years after their self-titled debut record, A Flock of Seagulls are still soaring high thanks to Mike Score touring regularly and keeping the music alive. For Score, it is all about the songs, and he even has kept active writing and recording, last releasing a solo album, entitled Zeebratta, in 2014. A record that many, including Score himself, could see put out as a A Flock of Seagulls release, it has not been since 1995’s The Light at the End of the World that any new album has been put out under the band’s name. That was until Friday, July 6, 2018 when Ascension emerged via UK/US based record label August Day.
A pleasant surprise, even more shocking, the album finds all four original members – Mike Score, Ali Score, Frank Maudsley, and Paul Reynolds – reunited in the studio together for the first time since 1984. Wow, what a treat! Perfect timing, considering there has been a high demand for ’80s acts over the past few years, A Flock of Seagulls reunion should create quite a buzz as more uncover the news. In fact, it was just in May the announcement of the album was made, and in June, the band teased it with a music video for a new recording of “Space Age Love Song.” Not just a typical re-recording, it featured The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, making for a grand, full sound.
A prelude of what to expect from Ascension, the new record consists of twelve tracks, eleven which are re-recorded orchestral versions of classics plus one brand new piece. A tactful approach at easing listeners back into the world of A Flock of Seagulls, Ascension acts as a re-introduction to some, but also an introduction to potential new following. As mentioned, the ’80s revival is in full swing, with many young acts finding influence in Synthpop from yesteryear and often emulating their sounds. That is why there is very much a place for originals like A Flock of Seagulls in the here and now. So, what does Ascension sound like?
To put it simple, it is a grand production that is wonderfully recorded, produced, and mastered. Featuring the production of John Bryan and Sare Havlicek, the album’s sound retains the magic of the original tunes, but while interjecting new dynamics thanks to The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Very much playing out like epic soundtrack pieces, songs like “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Telecommunication” never sounded better. The instrumentation is as sharp as the original recordings, and Mike Score’s voice equally as strong.
Heavy-handed with songs from their debut, including a haunting rendition of “Modern Love is Automatic,” there is also the aforementioned “Space Age Love Song,” dream-like instrumentation of “DNA,” and “Man Made,” yet there is still so much more. There is a breathtaking version of the unforgettable “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You),” as well as others off 1983’s Listen such as “Electrics,” and “Transfer Affection.” All potent and fresh, perhaps one of the most beautifully reworked songs comes in the form of “The More You Live, the More You Love,” originally on 1984’s The Story of a Young Heart. Always a touching piece, it is taken to the next level with the addition of the string section, making you feel like you are living each note.
Amidst the journey is the short, but sweet, new song “Ascension,” an orchestral instrumental piece acting almost as a bridge between “Space Age Love Song” and “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You).” Delightful to hear, could it be a taste-test for an album of completely new songs by A Flock of Seagulls? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, Ascension is a gift most fans did not expect.
Overall, Ascension is like a greatest hits album, but with a twist. Mike Score, Ali Score, Frank Maudsley, and Paul Reynolds manage to take songs that are over three decades old and make them sound new. A testament to the innovative approach they had back in the day, the new recordings are far from dull. Rich, crisp, and engaging, these songs could easily be mistaken for something that was originally written and recorded in the present day. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Ascension 5 out of 5 stars.