Hating The Eighties: Frank Tovey and Fad Gadget

Published on May 30th, 2008 in: Issues, Music, Retrovirus |

By Emily Carney

frank tovey
Frank Tovey

During the first years of the 1980s, electronic music underwent a mutation into synth pop. In the United States, the new synth pop seemed to be represented by two imports from England, namely Gary Numan and the Human League. While Gary Numan specialized in overly serious songs about urban alienation (and aliens!), the Human League shifted their focus from overly serious songs about urban alienation to slick, well-produced hits about guy-girl relationships and “good times.” While both entities have been idolized by fans and musicians (particularly within the last decade), another pioneer of electronic music has been overlooked, even posthumously.

Fad Gadget—otherwise known as Frank Tovey—built up a catalogue of music more demanding in scope and more lyrically interesting than perhaps any other artist in the synth-pop canon around that time.

1982′s “Life on the Line,” while being a fantastically catchy pop song, defied all expectations of pop songs of the time, particularly when contrasted with something like “Love Action (I Believe in Love)” by the Human League. The song seems to revolve around a relationship (a marriage perhaps?) and carries little of the idealistic guy/girl exuberance apparent in much of its radio contemporaries. The most telling lyrics include:

Fortune built my homes in daydreams
Pages I’d never seen
I’m sorry you were so disappointed
The contract states quite fundamentally
The undersigned is you
Lay your life on the line

When Frank sings, “I’m sorry you were so disappointed,” he sounds anything but interested in the reaction of the person he addresses the lyrics to; in fact, his tone is very sarcastic and removed. Perhaps he meant to undermine the “poppiness” and corny idealism of the early 1980s with this song, whose instrumentation sounds like it could be a hit on a Human League album.

The song appears in the middle of an album titled Under the Flag, which directly addresses the Falklands War in its title track. The entire album seems to be an antidote to the decadent posturing of bands like Duran Duran, who probably used most of their budgets making videos of girls swimming in champagne on beaches.

fad gadget live

1985′s “Luxury” continues Frank Tovey’s theme about the Eighties being a time when people were lost in sheer greed, cocaine, and general madness. Tovey’s lyrics seem to champion the trappings of money—Luxury / Diamonds and pearls / Champagne and caviar / Cigars and girls / A private plane, and shining car—but the chorus of the song clearly underscores the “hunger and greed” of the era. Here Tovey even pokes fun at Heaven 17, a band with a “yuppie” image who made vaguely Socialist songs about money.

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One Response to “Hating The Eighties: Frank Tovey and Fad Gadget”

  1. Popshifter » Irish Folk With A Twist: Frank Tovey and The Pyros, Grand Union:
    January 30th, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    [...] Frank Tovey (also known as Fad Gadget, whose music and general adventures were chronicled in a past Popshifter article) departed from avant-garde synth-pop, and started making Irish folk records. While this [...]

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