T-4-2 - Desire
Synthpop seems to experience a renaissance every few years, but of the many revivals, my favorite is the one that seems to have been most quickly forgotten. The early 90s were, to my mind, the apex of the genre. Information Society’s dark and snarky Peace & Love Inc., the moody clarity of Cause & Effect’s Trip, singles like Machine In Motion’s “World In Fascination” and, yes, T-4-2’s “Desire” are all favorites of mine to this day. (Indeed, much of this scene revolved around an Information Society fanzine-turned-loose collective of artists in Houston called CTRL-ALT-DEL, which also issued a couple of compilation CDs during that scene’s heyday, which I’d love to get a hold of).
Meanwhile, at around the same time across the pond, somewhere at the intersection of the dying Madchester/Baggy scene and the burgeoning rave scene, a sweet spot gave birth to albums like The Lightning Seeds’ buoyant Cloudcuckooland and Sense, Happyhead’s playful Give, and EMF’s damn-near-perfect discography (Depeche Mode pretty clearly influenced most of the American bands as well, though it’s a little tough for me to lump DM into this group; their popularity certainly outstripped all of these bands at the time, and more importantly there was nothing to be “revived” in their case. Though they were on the waning side of their commercial dominance, Depeche Mode’s commercial peak came in the late 80s after most of their first-wave synthpop peers had all but disappeared. That said, 1993’s Songs Of Faith And Devotion certainly fits in with the darker stuff from above.)
Alas, it was not to be; none of the above had more than minor success (minus EMF, who are to my mind the one band most unfairly remembered as a one hit wonder), and by the middle of the decade all had slipped off the radar (though The Lightning Seeds had continued success in the UK). Grunge may have famously killed hair metal, but it also did in pretty much anything involving a keyboard for much of the 90s.
Which, frankly, makes it a little weird that any of this music made its way to me. I’ve written here before about Planet B, the weekly alternative/modern rock music hour (Sundays, 11 to midnight following Casey Kasem’s countdown!) on Allentown’s pop radio station B104 in the early 90s. Planet B disappeared somewhere around the end of 1993, done in by the alternative explosion — suddenly, what had been a quirky way to fill an hour of late-night air was a commercially viable format for an entire station — but from when I started listening in 1990 until at least late 92, when grunge began to really dominate, synthpop was a big part of what made up “alternative” music. Out of an hour long show, it was a good bet there would be at least two or three synthpop tunes each week on the playlist.
From when I first started listening to Planet B, I would record each week’s episode to cassette so I could listen to it for the rest of the week in my Walkman on my way to school and back. Of course, tapes back then were expensive, especially for a 7th grader, so I would reuse the same handful of tapes. (I would kill to be able to get a hold of full episodes somewhere now, but I suspect that even if there were archived recordings they’ve long since been discarded.) I kept one tape, titled The Best Of B (clever eh?), and each week would dub whatever really stood out from my full episode onto that tape. (Believe it or not, i still have that tape, though I don’t have any way of playing it and suspect the magnetic coating would flake off if I tried.)
I don’t remember everything that was on that tape, but I know there were tracks ranging from the Tom Tom Club (“Sunshine & Ecstasy”) to LA Style (“I’m Raving”) to My Life WIth The Thrill Kill Kult (“Sex On Wheels”) to the B-52s (“Good Stuff”) to Cracker (“Teen Angst”) to, finally at the very end, Nirvana’s “Lithium”, a knowing concession on my part that alternative music was now mainstream for better or worse, and that I no longer needed to be making tapes off the radio if I wanted to hear it. (I was a weirdly self-aware 12 year old. See also: using the aforementioned Cracker’s “Teen Angst” as my introductory music at my Bar Mitzvah party).
And then there was this track, that only aired once. Thanks to some shoddy editing on my part, the intro where the DJ announced the artist and title was cut off. For LITERALLY 20 YEARS I tried unsuccessfully to track it down. Nobody I spoke to knew it. Googling the lyrics was a dead end. I left questions in random music-nerd forums — nothing. Finally, last week I gave googling the lyrics another crack, and hit the jackpot with a band name, which I followed across the interwebs gathering as much info as possible, until I hit on not just the song but a music video for it, uploaded to YouTube a few years ago.
From what I managed to find online, T-4-2 aka T42 were from Dallas in the early 90s, cut a handful of tracks — a CD/cassette of demos, and two songs that got an official release, including this one — and were produced by Paul Robb of Information Society, which vocalist Will Loconto eventually joined following T42’s demise. (I found a copy of the CD on a torrent site, and the influence of “Hack”-era InSoc is pretty clear). Further, the duo has apparently reunited for a handful of local gigs in the last year or two.
Having never seen the video, I have to admit that not in a million years did I imagine the guys who made this song looked like THIS. I imagined some sleek Dave Gahan-looking Euros in black, not a big dude with flowy Fabio hair and outfits that must have looked like a crime against fashion even in 1992, overemoting in the most hilarious way possible. All I can say is, if you really want to get how good this track is, don’t actually watch the video while you’re listening, or I can’t imagine you’ll ever be able to hear it without cracking up and/or choking back vomit. Just close your eyes, and enjoy a bit of the synthpop revolution that wasn’t.