Retro Review: Naked Eyes - "Burning Bridges"
Whenever I set foot in a record store, I am instinctively drawn to the “N”s for Naked Eyes. No one’s given a damn about Naked Eyes since 1982, and frankly, I only do on a subconscious and (strangely) animal level. Because sometimes, in silences, “When The Lights Go Out” will sneak up on me and snag me in a full-nelson grip. I start to go red, then purple, then blue: my vision goes white, scrubs itself clean, that overly-sanitized-‘80s-Billboard-breaker kind of clean. Then, I tap out, I sigh, and I enjoy the hooks.
It’s hard to call Naked Eyes’ 1982 debut album “Burning Bridges” a guilty pleasure, because I enjoy it without a hint of guilt. Synthpop is inherently great: anyone who denies that is either a poser or just really into grunge rock. If you suffer from the former, “Burning Bridges” might just be the prescription you’re looking for to turn you from an absolutely joyless hipster to what your ilk call “a poptimist.”
What “Burning Bridges” has on its side that its contemporaries didn’t have is the element of surprise. “Burning Bridges” has gone woefully undepicted in the annals of “good-but-dumb-good” ‘80s pop music. Despite having a charting single with “Always Something There To Remind Me,” you never hear critics namedrop Naked Eyes like they do with your Duran Durans or your Depeche Modes.
Yes, Naked Eyes has been ostracized from history for being too catchy, and unapologetically so.
It’s not the most consistent pop album I’ve ever heard, but it’s definitely leaps and bounds ahead of most of its contemporaries: the record only hits its first stumble with “Emotion in Motion,” but by then it has sunk seven other good-to-godlike hooks into your brain. And the hooks keep pulling. I usually don’t go back and replay tracks on my first run through an album, but all of the first four tracks of this album warranted back-to-back encores.
Musically, “Bridges” is simple, run-of-the-mill even. But it’s a well organized, lovingly crafted mill that Naked Eyes is running. The aggressive use of drum machine and Fairlight CMI synths on this album would make any other tracklist sound like the musical equivalent of a half-deflated bouncy castle: see my beloved Devo’s 1984 effort “Shout” for proof. But “Bridges” is so tight, so lacking in body fat that even the most kitschy equipment keeps it sounding fresh and, at times, effortlessly cool. There’s a peculiar hint of Japan in a lot of these tracks: swap out the vocals on “I Could Show You How” with a female Japanese singer, and it feels like something that could worm its way onto a Persona soundtrack, or one of those city pop songs that insists upon always taking up a spot in your Youtube related videos.
“Bridges” also shows restraint in its tracklist, saving its two big haymakers for last with “When The Lights Go Out” and “Promises, Promises,” the former being my personal favorite track on the album. The rest of the album is great, but “Lights” is everything synthpop stands for distilled into three minutes. Lovey lyrics any schlub could’ve written, the standard verse-chorus-verse structure -- sure, sure, I can understand the distaste toward all of that, regardless of the incredibly subjective charm of such cliches. But it’s got a chorus that soars and solid verses that help it land and take off accordingly.
At the end of the day, that’s what pop music’s all about, isn’t it? Just dumb fun. Thankfully, “Burning Bridges” is dumb fun that you can find for pretty cheap in a bargain bin. It might not be food for thought, but it’ll fill you up -- and, if you’re as into silly hooks as I am, keep you asking for more, even when you’re least expecting it.