Friday, June 12, 2009

Rockets - Plasteroid (1979)

This being the thirtieth anniversary of a pivotal year for music, 1979, and also my birth, what better than to showcase some classic synth albums from that year? First up, this cross-over album from French band "Rockets" (also known as "Les Rockets"). I found this album on vinyl in the late '90s, and was blown away by it. In Canada the band was dubbed "Silver Rockets," probably to distinguish them from another band called Rockets, which was made up of members of Crazy Horse and had nothing to do with this space-rock quintet with their glam outfits and silver body paint.

I happen to think the band's look fitted their music to a tee. Some will argue they just look silly (it's clear the audience in the first video clip didn't know what to make of them!). But once you look beyond that to the music, their catchy songs and solid musicianship shines through. Precision drumming and funky bass work sits alongside excellent guitar reminiscent of Dave Gilmour's style. Synthesizers make up a hefty part of their sound, with vocoder and talk-box put to good use as well. Christian Le Bartz's accent may be off-putting to those who prefer vocals delivered with Western enunciation, but I quite like the European charm. It is, after all, music from space, and who's to say aliens would sing in perfect English?

The band went through several line-up changes over the years. Sal Solo, of the band Classix Nouveaux, became their lead singer in the mid-80's. Nick Beggs of KajaGooGoo was even part of the line-up during that time. Plasteroid was made with their 'classic' line-up of Christian Le Bartz (vocals), Gerard L'Her (bass & vocals), Alain Maratrat (guitar & vocals), Alain Groetzinger (drums & percussion), and Fabrice Quagliotti (keyboards).

Synths & gadgets used on this album (according to Sennheiser VSM 201 vocoder, Electro Harmonix Golden Throat talk-box, Roland Jupiter 4. According to the liner notes, the rest of the synths are by Crumar.

The opening track, "Electric Delight," is a disco-inspired track, and probably what made this album appeal to the North American market at the time. It sits more in the realm of Giorgio Moroder's synth-driven disco than, say, Chic's patent strings and rhythm-section. There is vocoder throughout, a splendid synth-solo, and a breakdown for the dance-floor crowd.

Electric Delight, courtesy of hugobertin.

"Astral World," is another key track. Listen out for the guitar solo on this one. There's more vocoder work on show as well. Please note - the video is just the performance of Electric Delight with the audio for Astral World tacked on. At least you get to hear it :)

Astral World, courtesy of Pioggiasporca.

"Anastasis," an instrumental anthem that transports you into space with pure bombast. I rate this as one of the best synth instrumentals of all time.

Anastasis, courtesy of italotubo.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a link to the album version of my favourite song "Back To Your Planet." This live performance by Rockets in 2007 will have to suffice. Keyboard player Fabrice Quagliotti is the only original member still in the band, but the new members do a great job.

Back To Your Planet (live 2007), courtesy rocketsland.

For more info on Rockets, including their discography, clips and whatnot, check out The Silver Years Box Set, which includes Plasteroid and their other early albums, is well worth the investment. Another great source of info on the band is The Unofficial Rockets Home Page.