If there is any merit in recording an album that differs only minimally from Simon Le Bon’s output, VHS or Beta gets a huge blue ribbon. Emulating the 1980s has become an overbearing Olympic-sized event, with competitors from all corners of the world. Only those who can truly swallow studio time by layering synths upon synths and Robert Smith vocals over the same drumbeat can truly prevail in this event. With Night on Fire, VHS or Beta takes it.
Night on Fire is the Louisville, Kentucky-based band’s first album for Astralwerks but second proper full-length. During the two years since their instrumental disco-esque Le Funk came out, VHS or Beta has apparently locked themselves in closets with Depeche Mode records and circa-1984 teen magazines. These must have been pretty cramped closets, considering that one out of every three kids with a drum machine these days is developing the same ’80s beat on it. The vocals are passionate and considerably close to those from the period the band is emulating, but the album just reminds me of bad haircuts and Iran-Contra. Some bands have found a way to incorporate this period into ideas of their own and have gotten away unscathed. Night on Fire misses most of the target, though, falling short of being another great Astralwerks release.
VHS or Beta has gone down the crooked (circular?) path to glorifying a decade that I lose sleep trying to forget. Not only is VH1 creating entire weekly programs about cracked coke mirrors and Don Johnson, but I can’t get the shrieking lipstick-wearing contingent that is trying to outdo the Thompson Twins out of my head at night. I’m haunted by faded 1980s photos of myself as a toddler with a Pac-Man T-shirt and a Fudgesicle.
VHS or Beta is capable of doing something more interesting than Night on Fire, but I don’t think I want to hear it. I heard it a long time ago. I was wearing a Pac-Man T-shirt and eating a Fudgesicle.