Chronicles of Pop-archaeology: Romo

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God is dead – that’s nice! Sunglasses worn on head – that’s nice! (Minty, “That’s Nice”)

It’s official: the 1990s are back and Rediscovering Completely Forgotten Music phenomena (especially the Next Big Things which never became truly big) is about to become a fad. It’s quite probable that revival mania and pop-archaeology will eventually lead to finding a trace of Romantic Modernism, or Romo in short – one of the most ephemeral music movements of the past decade, which was born (and soon faded) in the UK circa 1995.

Said to be a stylish answer to Britpop’s penchant for sweatshirts, pubs and ‘lad culture’, Romo bands and their fandom tried to revive the glamorous spirit of 70s and 80s and merge it with ultra-modern, pre-millennium decadence. Japan, Roxy Music and Soft Cell were their model idols, but the early, eyeliner-and-leopard-print incarnation of Manic Street Preachers would be an equally appropriate reference.

The term (heavily promoted especially by Melody Maker‘s Simon Price) was an attempt to label a couple of bands which had little in common – except for ruffles, velvet and musical eclecticism pushed forward to the point of awkwardness. Most of these bands failed to release more than a single (those released are probably going to become rare collectibles very soon) and hence remained an obscure curiosity: Sexus, DexDexter, Plastic Fantastic, all of whom found themselves on the cover of Melody Maker before even recording anything. The Suede scenario definitely didn’t work in their case. Maybe because all of the aforementioned bands focused on their (honestly, amazing) looks rather than on writing good songs.

Two of the Romo bands were a bit more lucky – read about them after the jump.

Proclaimed to be the flagship of the movement, Orlando blended, more or less successfully, a Northern Soul feeling with a love of synthesizers. Their two EPs and one long-awaited full LP, Passive Soul, span a variety of influences from the oddest sources, yielding an eclectic incarnation of intelligent dance-pop.

Just For A Second, their most catchy single (accompanied by a very 90s  video, featuring guys singing in a field and lots of bird’s eye shots, of course), leaves the listener with a feeling they really could have been UK indie’s Take That. Another one of their songs is a successful combination of Carter USM and Shanice. In Orlando’s case, the musical incoherence seems to be an advantage, contrary to other Romo bands. Better songwriting skills saved them from becoming a mere mess of good, yet mismatched, influences.

Another example of a moderate success within the movement was a band that never actually belonged to the wave of ‘Next Big Things’ because they’d been around much earlier – but the media put the Romo label on them anyway. Minty, a music/performance act started by the unforgettable, infamous fashion visionary, Leigh Bowery, gained a certain notoriety in the UK after releasing the Useless Man single followed by a number of stage performances which owed as much to John Waters as they did to COUM Transmissions. British tabloids called Minty, to the band’s undisguised pleasure, ‘The sickest band in the world’. One can only wonder if then-10-year-old Lady Gaga hadn’t witnessed one of these transgressive moments on TV.

Minty continued their activity even after Bowery’s death in 1994: they released a number of singles including Plastic Bag and That’s Nice, one full-length album afterwards, and finally, Jarvis Cocker himself invited the band to tour with Pulp. ‘Minty are too much, a tumult. WICKED’, raved Simon Price. The band remained active until 1997, when the musicians decided to part ways.

There’s always a feeling of sadness that comes with thoughts of bands which should have made it, but never did. Here’s a whole forgotten movement. Whether we should expect a Romo revival soon is yet to be seen, but Orlando’s Dickon Edwards (later in Fosca, now recognized mostly as an independent blogger) has already called La Roux’s makeup “pure Romo”.

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