The brief interest in cool, painfully hip jazz-pop in the UK was a curious thing. It was the child of New Romantic fashion hounds, smooth jazz dilettantes, Big 80s superstars, and retro-minded soul boys in thrall to Burt Bacharach, Dusty Springfield and Chet Baker. And in 1985, when Sade’s Diamond Life became a cross-format smash, and Sting assembled a coterie of jazz and R&B musicians for his triple-platinum The Dream of the Blue Turtles, “sophisti-pop” — to quote an obtuse term employed by allmusic.com — entered the Zeitgeist.
This stuff wasn’t popular with critics. Paul Weller, who arguably kick-started the trend with his Style Council project, was lambasted for inserting leftist analyses into his music. Sting, who had entered his socially conscious, save-the-rainforests phase, got called out for being pretentious. And even Sade, perhaps the most important group to emerge from this era, was dismissed at the time as make-out music for supermodels. But before it faded back into the adult contemporary ghetto, the jazz-pop fad yielded some memorable singles.
This playlist not only includes great tracks like Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout” and The Blow Monkeys’ “Digging Your Scene,” but also songs with similar sensibilities, like British pop darling Prefab Sprout’s incandescent “Appetite,” and David Sylvian’s brilliant “Red Guitar.” Dive in, and don’t be afraid of the sexy saxophone solos.
Recently released U.K. film Ill Manors is an orgy of heroin shooting galleries, illegal immigrant women enslaved by Russian mobsters, a young bwoy doing his first murders, a cracked-out prostitute pimped for a cell phone, and an infant baby sold for cash and, in a climactic scene, thrown out an apartment window. What caused all this madness? These lost souls are products of broken homes and refugees of foster care. What they need, apparently, are responsible mummies and daddies.
Rapper/producer Ben Drew not only directed and wrote the screenplay for this East London council estate drama, but recorded its soundtrack under his alias, Plan B. Despite achieving two No. 1 albums in his native Britain (including this one), he hasn’t inspired the sort of American cult following that Mike “the Streets” Skinner engendered with his 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material. Skinner was as much a satirist as social commentator, evinced by the idle-youth anthem “Geezers Need Excitement”; by comparison, Plan B is deadly serious. On “Sick 2 Def” from the 2006 grime compilation Run the Road II, he banged on an acoustic guitar while angrily rhyming that he’s “Had it up to here, had it up to here / I’m hafta do it Reservoir Dog-style, slice off their ear.” For his second album, 2010’s The Defamation of Strickland Banks, he adopted a soul-boy persona, singing in a light, wavering croon about an obsessed fan who falsely accuses him of rape after a one-night stand.