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Bebop the Future

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Album Review

You've got to hand it to him. When David Essex wants a change in direction, he makes sure everybody sees him swerving. Recorded in 1981 with an all-star session band convened by Al Kooper, and highlighted by such names as John Bundrick, Herbie Flowers, and Jeff Baxter, Be Bop the Future is the sound of Essex embracing the electro-dance scene some months ahead of even his best-heeled contemporaries, and pulling it off with room to spare. Edgy dynamism is the motivating force, wrapped around some of Essex's gutsiest vocals in a while. The low-life crime epic "Sunday Papers," with its spectral flashbacks to the protagonist's childhood innocence, draws as much on his acting talents as his singing abilities, while "Life Support System" is layered in a gently futuristic vibe pervasive enough to survive even Baxter's classic rock guitar solo. The impressively Afro-charged "Silly Little Baby Running," meanwhile, gets a head start in the proto-world department, even if its simplicity has not dated well, while the strangely sinister "Showgirls" ricochets around old "Rock On" territory, without ever sounding like anything Essex has done before. The album's peak, however — and the performance that both named the LP and determined its mood — is "Be-Bop-A-Lula," reinvented as a turbulent duet for Linn Drum and sequencer, and bisected by some startling Kooper-played synths. Essex himself plays the vocal line straight, a trick that only amplifies the modernity shaping itself around him. Despite such, and so many, virtues, Be Bop the Future not only continued Essex's recent run of lousy luck chartwise, it actually fared even worse than usual, becoming his first album ever to miss the U.K. chart, and the first not to spark at least a minor hit single. Pop fans can be so mystifying, sometimes.


Born: 23 July 1947 in Plaistow, London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The mention of the name David Essex -- at least to Americans -- usually invokes a wave of '70s nostalgia, not just of his own monster hit "Rock On" and the movie That'll Be the Day, but also of such British pop/rock exports of the period such as Godspell, Rock Follies, color episodes of Doctor Who, and Rula Lenska. For most of that decade, Essex was a pop culture institution in England, and he produced the music and entertainment in enough different media to fulfill the role admirably. Born David...
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Bebop the Future, David Essex
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