(taken from http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/entertainment/music/)
Even if it never sells a million copies, “45 RPM,” the debut single from a band called the Poppyfields, deserves a place in the history books – as a caustic commentary on the youth-worshiping state of current rock-and-roll.
The song, which last week reached No. 28 on a U.K. singles chart, was written and sung by Mike Peters, guitarist and lead singer of veteran Welsh rockers the Alarm. But in the accompanying video, 45-year-old Peters and his band mates, who have been making records since 1983, are nowhere to be seen. In their place are four strapping teenage post-punks with a talent for lip-syncing.
The Alarm hired the stand-ins, Peters explains, to circumvent a problem that has plagued them and other “heritage” rock artists.
Though they never stopped recording new music and have toured steadily, “we kept hearing we’re too old, that the Alarm isn’t doing the rock-and-roll that’s happening now,” Peters said the other day, barely able to contain his glee over the band’s first radio success in 15 years. “Guess this proves otherwise.”
The ruse started in the fall, shortly after Peters wrote “45 RPM,” while the Alarm was on a U.S. concert tour.
“We knew it was good when we finished it,” said Peters, on the road with the band in England. (They’ll play Philadelphia’s Hard Rock Cafe on March 24.) “And we knew if we’d taken it to [rock] radio as an Alarm record, it wouldn’t have a chance… .
“So we sent the record out with no identifying marks, just a white label, as the Poppyfields. We felt we had nothing to lose; it seemed to be the only way we could get a fair hearing.”
Several influential British radio DJs began spinning “45 RPM,” which has a ringing chorus and a driving, anthemic pulse reminiscent of such fervent, idealistic ’80s Alarm singles as “Sixty Eight Guns” and “Strength.” As interest grew, it became clear that the song could make it into regular rotation. But that meant the Alarm would need to assemble the other pieces of the promotional puzzle, including a video.
That’s when the subterfuge began. The Alarm invented the fictitious Poppyfields and wrote a faux bio for what they envisioned as a “young, credible punk band.”
The young men miming on the “45 RPM” video are an unknown English act called the Wayriders. Still, Peters says, the Alarm made no great attempt to hide the fact that they were the Poppyfields’ puppetmasters. Fans of the Alarm were alerted to the single on the band’s Web site. The band even took out a Poppyfields ad in the British music weekly NME and placed the Alarm logo near the title “45 RPM.”
Within a few weeks of the video’s debut, a DJ confirmed the source of the Poppyfields’ music.
“To be honest, I can’t believe we got away with it for that long,” Peters marvels. “We’ve been doing a series of Internet-only albums called In the Poppy Fields for the last few years, so that was a tip-off. Then there were the adverts. Really, most of the hard-core Alarm fans knew… .
“What mattered most to us was that, before people figured it out, before the story became how we’d duped the British music industry, people got behind the song on its merits.”
Mike Bacon, modern-rock director for the radio-industry publication FMQB, based in Cherry Hill, says the Alarm was clever to repackage itself, because many young bands, such as British phenoms the Darkness, are currently appropriating elements of ’80s rock. “It’s more fashionable to be a young band that sounds like an older band than to be an older band coming back from the grave.”
Peters characterizes himself as a disciple of rock-and-roll who loved American radio as a young musician because it offered so much diversity. He’s deeply disillusioned by how corporate broadcasting has become worldwide, and how hard it is for a veteran band to overcome the assumption that it’s over the hill. It’s harder for a rock act than a pop band to stay viable, he believes.
“In today’s climate, U2 would have been dropped on the second record,” Peters laments. “It’s like everyone’s obsessed with new music, and they assume it has to come from new artists,” particularly in Britain, where the charts seem to be populated by different acts every week.
“The audience is starting to see through that; I think people instinctively know that the music they’re hearing… isn’t as honestly presented as it once was. Gone are the days when a DJ can play a single, turn it over and play the B-side, and discover a song like ‘Maggie May.’ It’s all analyzed by focus groups and determined by dealmakers. It’s not about discoveries anymore – that’s why people who would be buying music are walking away.”
As for the Alarm, the band has been soliciting input from fans who have heard the In the Poppy Fields CDs, and soon plans to self-release a disc of the most popular selections. More tours are in the works, and whether or not “45 RPM” becomes a worldwide smash, Peters is determined to keep making music.
“I don’t subscribe to the prevalent view that you get worse as you get older,” he says. “Look at the great novelists: Some people don’t find a voice until they’ve been doing this for a long time… . I feel like we’re just starting to get to the best songs that have ever been made in the name of the Alarm.”
Contact music critic Tom Moon at 215-854-4965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author::Tom Moon : Inquirer Music Critic