Where do all the old rockers go? Assuming they don’t destroy themselves with pills and liquor and other excesses, recent studies have shown that even the blandest of FM dullards can look forward to fruitful second-stage careers at county fairs, classic-rock bars and similar places where not writing a new song in 20 years is not to perish but to prosper. Strange as it may seem, the likes of Korn and the Backstreet Boys will one day be part of this club: Where once were screaming groupies and Faustian record deals, now there is only the robust smell of the 4H petting zoo drifting through the August night. The same decadent contract riders that once called for a bushel of Thai sticks and 12 teenage girls must now be redrafted to accept tater pigs and ride tickets as partial payment—past glory sold for pennies on the dollar.
The sun will always shine on KISS and the Rolling Stones, both undeniably set for life. If a Scottish castle or Italian piazza needs refinancing, they need only set the wheels in motion and their time investment in alternating “farewell” and “reunion” tours will be paid back a thousandfold.
But how about a band like Modern English? Pretty quick here it’ll be 20 years since “I Melt With You” first tore up the British and Yank charts. Modern English had minor subsequent hits like “Hands Across the Water” and “Rainbow’s End,” but nothing took root with American audiences quite like that dazzling gem, from the band’s sophomore album After the Snow. The video, with its mind-sticking club imagery became one of the more welcome sights on a young and adventurous MTV, years before anything soft and British was forcibly herded into the “120 Minutes” concentration camp. Back before “alternative” with regards to MTV meant crowding around the TV for two hours every Sunday to see what was happening beyond the American FM wasteland, back when “alternative” really was an alternative, but way before there was such a genre as “alternative.” “I Melt With You” was and still is an excellent song: insanely catchy New Wave keyboard hooks, insinuating lines like “Making love to you was never second best,” (young pups like me at the time thought making love was, like, hugging and kissing), the melodic hum-along and the stirring bridge that ends with “The future’s open wide.” The whole package, really.
For your average FM fan and his optional low-level daily dose of ’80s nostalgia, “I Melt With You” is all he really needs to hear of Modern English. New album? Yes, they have one. And will anyone but the most die-hard fan or the most insatiably curious splash out for it? Probably not.
Which brings us back to their reunion tour, nearly 20 years after falling off American radar. Does it really matter why they’re back? They could just play “I Melt With You” 20 times and we’d all go home happy. Because now, see, we understand—not least what making love really means.
Modern English plays the Ritz on Saturday, July 22 at 10 PM. Tickets $7 advance, $9 at the door.