Rational Youth – Cold War Night Life

photo by Marc de Mouy (1982)

This December sees the release of a deluxe expanded edition of Cold War Night Life, the debut album of Canadian synth pop outfit Rational Youth. It is the second time the acclaimed album has had a fresh outing since its original unveiling and with rare memorabilia and photos, new extensive liner notes, and a host of extended remixes and singles related to the original full-length it provides nothing less than rich and thick pleasure.

Formed in 1981 by Tracy Howe and Bill Vorn, the Montreal hailing band was as notable as releasing one of the first all-synth pop albums released in Canada the following year with Cold War Night Life as they simply were for highly flavoursome songs. The following years only saw their music and releases find more success and further afield alongside arrivals and departures in personnel. Even so Rational Youth came to an end in 1986 but twice the band has returned, the first in 1999 seeing third album To the Goddess Electricity released with the 2009 re-uniting of Howe and Vorn leading to the extremely well-received Future Past Tense EP seven years later when Gaenor Howe stood alongside Tracy. It is fair to say though that throughout, Cold War Night Life has continued to be an inspirational moment for new fans and artists so it will be no surprise if its fresh return finds new appetites and plaudits feasting.

Kraftwerk was a major inspiration upon both Howe and Vorn and openly embraced within their early sound though still no more than a rich spicing to their own imagination as revealed across Cold War Night Life. The band’s second gig was supporting Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and it is easy to suggest they too provided a strong influence listening to the album, especially in moments like City Of Night, a track which dances with ears and imagination half way in to the release. Melodic hooks flirt like cousins to those found within the UK duo’s Enola Gay, luring and seducing with inevitable success such their infectious potency highlighting why the track was one of the bands most memorable and successful.

Before it within Cold War Night Life, opener Close To Nature sets the tone and electronic pop landscape, its dark air and alluring shadows draping the instinctive catchiness of the track’s enterprise and heart. The song has a certain Fad Gadget-esque breath to its breath and character which only adds to its swift beguiling of ears before Beware The Fly strolls in with a more Thomas Dolby meets Landscape like personality and infectiousness to match its success.

With both alone proving that good songs can be fresh and current to newcomers no matter when they were written Saturdays in Silesia soon joins the pair in casting synth pop contagion as melodies and nagging rhythmic enticement reign over ears and imagination. The track is pure virulence before drifting off to allow Just A Sound In The Night to share its richly emotive air and drama within a less urgent but just as magnetic pop embrace which lies somewhere between the John Foxx and Midge Ure fronted eras of Ultravox.

The likes of Le Meilleur Des Mondes with its darkly lit almost menacing instrumental and otherworldly laced intimation and the Visage evoking Ring The Bells further reveal the broadening landscape of Rational Youth’s emerging sound, its own fertile enterprise and suggestiveness an easy involving of the imagination while Dancing On The Berlin Wall, a song which only eclipsed its original success around Europe with its re-release as a single when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, breaths cold war drama and sinister intrigue within its infectious theatre.

For all its pop agility and prowess, the album is just as notable and potent in its instrumentals, Power Zone another almost sinisterly too easy to immerse within and have the imagination conjuring with its disquieting air and haunting electronics. We have many favourite moments within the release but this remains one of our big pleasures and soon rivalled by the equally ominous and haunting Coboloid Race. It too is soaked in a dark magnetism while suggesting a DAF like influence and only captivates from start to finish.

With the album offering Cité Phosphore, the French version of City Of Night, a Danse mix of City Of Night, and an extended versions of Saturdays in Silesia and City Of Night, as well as the crystalline radiance of the band’s debut single, I Want To See The Light, the ever thrilling Cold War Night Life only confirms itself as one of synth pop’s finest moments as it delights fans and newcomers to Rational Youth alike.

Cold War Night Life is released December 6th on CD and digitally via https://rationalyouth.bandcamp.com/album/cold-war-night-life-expanded-and-remastered with a vinyl version available to order via Music Vaultz.

https://rational-youth.com/   https://www.facebook.com/RationalYouth   https://twitter.com/tm_howe

Pete RingMaster 05/12/2019

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