VHS or Beta – Diamonds and Death (2011)

I don’t know how fair it would be to even call this a review. A ‘plea’ would be a much more accurate description. I listened to Diamonds and Death by the band, VHS or Beta (the name seemed humorous enough for me to check them out), a band described as combining the elements of electronic music, disco and rock to create a retro yet one-of-a-kind sound. Sufficed to say, I was pretty disappointed with the result. The sound is anything but one-of-a-kind, it actually sounds like virtually anything you would hear if you went to the Sirius 80s station during the graveyard hours when they don’t think anyone is driving. I understand that the 80s style of music is having a bit of a resurgence, but this is like a cover band’s version of interpretation that flirts with parody throughout.

I was initially just annoyed at the endless array of six-plus minute long songs that might as well have been Flock of Seagulls, Wham!, or Starship (I don’t care either way), but it dawned on me that this is actually just a piece of a much larger problem. There is just an absolute obsession and infatuation with 1980s culture from the rapidly aging members of Generation X. This is why I blame Hollywood (suddenly filling up with people this age) for insisting upon reboots and remakes of every single movie that came out in the 1980s (did we really need another Arthur? How many parodies of Star Wars are we gonna do? The fucking A-Team?). Yes, I’m talking to you, Kevin Smith, Seth MacFarlane and, subsequently, VHS or Beta. I’m sure you all had wonderful childhoods and love to relive the glory days as much as anyone, but you are all smart enough to produce something original. Unfortunately, Diamonds and Death is not.

The title track drags on and on and on for nearly seven minutes of the same Casio keyboard laser notes over and over again. It concludes with what feels like forty consecutive minutes of Craig Pfunder (doing his best but failing miserably to sound like Simon Le Bon) stating “Diamonds and Death.” Every song pretty much goes the same way. They spew out some sort of “yeah it’s awful but doesn’t it sound like the 80’s” house beat while adding a few incoherent verses before overselling their refrains (at least sixty times a song!). In “I Found a Reason,” I promise that you will get two straight minutes of them belting “I Found a Reason” before the song mercifully stops. On “Watch Out,” it’s basically the same trick only with the mantra of “I’ve been waiting for something right!” I think all of the lyrics of the album could have been comfortably fit on the clean side of a napkin.

The most telling thing about VHS or Beta is that they have established themselves as an opening act for Duran Duran (whenever they tour?), which is probably about all they are hoping to achieve. To produce good music, there needs to be some degree of ambition and a willingness to try something new. Whether that results in visionary art or experimental shit, I can’t say. But I do know that nestling into a niche of music that was popular twenty years ago and still sucked is not a way of doing that.

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