There’s always something really rewarding about finding something that’s old, but new to you, and relatively undiscovered. Manufactured Recordings seeks to bring you that exact feeling, their entire library consisting of reissued copies of the under appreciated yet somehow iconic. We’ve thrown a few of their recent reissues into our library here at KVCU, and they’re all treasures. Today I’m talking about one, so let’s dive in.
Kate Fagan’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool,” is a gem for several reasons. Musically, this EP is produced so masterfully — sharp, new-wave drum machine beats launch into agile bass riffs, leaving itself somewhere between synth-pop and post punk. But what makes it even more of a gem is the lyrical content, in which Fagan crafts witty jabs at her culture and at herself. Oscillating between obvious and indiscernible, her contemporary reflections on ’80s politics, society and underground culture remain as relevant as ever.
We hear this on the dreamy, heart-wrenching, crush anthem, “Come Over.” It’s generally poetic and certainly ironic, but to what degree? It seems to walk a thin line between an actual song about longing and desire on one side, and on the other, making fun of the girl who pines after the boy. It’s quite impossible to tell it apart from both Madonna and the more clearly biting work on this record. I presume that’s the point. It pulls you in with its contagious pop rhythm and sparkly flourishes, gets you hooked and then gently informs you that you’re being made fun of. When put that way, it sounds kind of sinister, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, this EP comes quite close to perfect, but it’s cloaked in a youthful sense of vulnerability and insecurity, unable to criticize anything without first criticizing itself. And that’s how she gets away with it. There isn’t an air of pretense so much as one of self-deprecation, and perhaps Fagan, through her cynicism, makes fun of the listener just as much as she does herself.
The title track, “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool,” is a subtle ode to the outsider, an anthem to self acceptance while tastefully supplying a sharp criticism of an emergent hyper-materialistic culture, pointing out all that’s “chemical” in the era of perms, shoppings malls, “Material Girl” and neon, and how she saw that toxicity slowly seeping into the punk subculture as well. Somewhere amongst an ’80s pop beat, a nimble, unassuming guitar riff and occasionally shrill vocals, she presents us with a casual set of words to live by “…I’m just not impressed / I know it’s only chemical / I know your cool is chemical / I know your hair is chemical /…that’s it, you’re chemical.” Somehow nagging but mostly just embracing the idea of not being cool, which I think is pretty cool.
“I Don’t Wanna Be To Cool” ended up doing incredibly well in the Chicago scene when it first came out in 1980. Local record stores and radio shows made sure that it became one of the most popular underground Chicago releases of its time. Fagan went on to found and front Heavy Manners, an influential ska band which opened for acts like The Clash, The Ramones and The Go Gos.
I hope you enjoyed this little piece of history. We’ve been playing a lot more ’70s punk and post punk over at 1190, if you’re into that. Check it out at 1190 AM 98.9 FM or radio1190.org.
Klefeker is Radio 1190’s music director. Read more reviews: coloradodaily.com/columnists