Music Reviews

Cowboys International



It’s not often you get the chance to rediscover a woefully obscure, long out-of-print album, let alone one that was once included at Number 11 on Melody Maker Magazine’s list of the Best Albums of 1979. It’s even more mind-blowing when you consider that list included now classic, highly influential albums and pop masterpieces like The Clash’s London Calling, Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces, XTC’s Drums and Wires, and Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. Talk about a trip in the ‘Way Back’ machine. The album is Cowboys International’s The Original Sin, a record that flew under the radar at the time of its release, maybe because it was so far ahead of its time. Unavailable for over two decades, Cowboys International’s singer/songwriter/visionary, Ken Lockie, has just reissued the album himself, as Cowboys International Revisited. This is a quality reissue, beautifully packaged with many additional B-sides, non-album singles and alternate mixes. For fans of the late ’70s post punk avante garde (think Gary Numan) and the more mainstream ’80s dance pop like Human League, this is quite the gem of an album.

Hailed at the time of its original release by Rolling Stone writer David Fricke as “combining the pop charm of Hunky Dory-era Bowie with the avant-garde strains of Bowie’s 1977 masterpiece, Heroes,” it’s amazing to hear how these songs have held up over time. Maybe it’s because I watch so much of VH1 Classic’s We Are The 80’s, but these songs still sound fresh and engaging despite the distinctive genre into which they are wedged. Backing up an aesthetically appealing visual image (cute guys in stylish suits with nice haircuts!) is strong songwriting, indelible melodies and lush arrangements. Cowboys International pull off a perfect marriage of organic and synthetic sounds over the course of 17 precisely executed, hook-laden pop compositions.

Ken Lockie’s songs have been referred to as the missing link between ’70s punk rock and ’80s New Romanticism. As progenitors of the New Romantic movement, Cowboys International stood apart from the legions of faceless synthesizer collectives that propelled New Wave Dance onto the mainstream, as they pioneered the sound that post-punk, Euro-dance bands like Heaven 17, Human League, Duran Duran, The Psychedelic Furs, ABC, Spandau Ballet and even one-hit wonders like Modern English, took to the bank. Anyone who enjoyed the NYC club scene of that era will surely recall dancing to the ultra rhythmic, syncopated groove of “Thrash” and “Pointy Shoes” – both of which were playlist staples of hotspots like Hurrah! and Danceteria.

As an added pop-cultural flashback, Revisited features the musical contributions of now-legendary punk icons like original Clash drummer, Terry Chimes and Public Image Limited co-founding member, Keith Levene on guitar. Revisited kinda feels like discovering a pre-“Let’s Dance”-era Bowie album. Squeal.

Cowboys International:

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