Sunday, June 8, 2008

ROBIN LANE AND THE CHARTBUSTERS - Self-Titled and Imitation Life

In the same recent vinyl haul that scored me records by Laurie and the Sighs, 3-D, Tom Dickie and the Desires and Sue Saad and the Next, I was able to grab the only two records released by Boston-based power pop group Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, 1980's self-titled release and its 1981 follow up, Imitation Life.

The band, led by husky-voiced singer-songwriter Robin Lane, specialized in melodic, guitar driven pop/rock, sometimes more straightforward along the lines of early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and sometimes infused with the distinct new wave and power pop sounds of its time. While the material was definitely radio-ready, the Chartbusters didn't exactly live up to their name, and the two records remain quite obscure.

The self-titled debut starts off with the band's most well-known song, When Things Go Wrong, which is a mid-tempo, smoky atmosphered number that perfectly ushers in Lane's expressive, distinct vocal style. Although it and the album's second single, Why Do You Tell Lies? - another mid-tempo lite rocker - received extensive airplay, the debut garnered little commercial success. The music video for When Things Go Wrong, though, holds the distinction of being one of the videos played on MTV's first day on air. The video was the 11th shown on the channel on August 1, 1981.

Other highlights on the debut record include the manic, Sid Vicious-inspired I Don't Want to Know, the peppy Don't Cry and Kathy Lee, which plays an upbeat melody against downcast lyrics. The record stands out from many other power pop releases of its time in that it explores darker subject matter throughout without sacrificing hooks and melody.

1981's follow up, Imitation Life, is arguably even more interesting. Kicking off with Send Me an Angel, which sounds more than a bit like Patti Smith, the LP takes on more elements of early 80s new wave. While a few of the tracks on the debut sound very similar, each track on Imitation Life has its own personality. What the People are Doing is plodding and myterious, No Control is power pop on a sugar high and Idiot is a tongue-in-cheek nod to 60s pop. The crowning jewel on the record, though, is Solid Rock, a pop song of truly epic proportions. Its impeccable girl group melody, soaring vocals, chiming guitar and thoughtful lyrics mesh together to create sonic bliss. This is one of the best "lost" pop songs I've discovered.

Once again receiving limited commercial success, the Chartbusters called it a day in 1983, and Lane went on to release various recordings throughout the 80s and 90s.

The band reunited in 2001 and released a new CD, Piece of Mind, in 2003.

Only in recent years have the Chartbusters records been released outside of vinyl. The debut LP was reissued on CD by Collector's Choice, and is available to sample and purchase here. Imitation Life has yet to see a CD release, but is available digitally here. Both records are likely to be a pleasing discovery for any power pop fan.

- Robin Lane - Guitar and lead vocals
- Tim Jackson - Drums
- Leroy Radcliffe - Guitar
- Asa Brebner - Guitar
- Scott Baerenwald - Bass

When Things Go Wrong, Kathy Lee, Why Do You Tell Lies?, I Don't Want to Know, Solid Rock, Idiot

The Pretenders, The Byrds, early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dwight Twilley


Uncle E said...

Welcome Back!

hfs fan said...

Robin Lane's first album is great. "When Things Go Wrong'' a terrific single, too.

Anonymous said...

I heard "Send Me an Angel", the opening track of Imitation Life, on a college radio station soon after it was released, and was so knocked out I bought the album the next day. That was a long time ago, and it still remains one of my favorite albums.

Alan said...

The band also had a live EP "5 Live" including When things go wrong, Lost my mind, When you compromise, 8.3, and Shakin' All Over.