And if rock 'n' roll was in a holding pattern, at least it was productive. The year's best rock records were by relatively new, New Wave-grounded acts like the Jam, XTC, Squeeze, the dB's, and the revamped, 1980s King Crimson. Utopia still got nowhere, despite their use of tuneful New Wave packaging. Most of the rest was just as workmanlike, including efforts by 60s veterans like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Richard and Linda Thompson, Pete Townshend, and Steve Winwood - and Stevie Wonder slipped four fine new tracks onto a greatest-hits compilation.
On the down side, most of the major New Wave acts either didn't put out a record, like U2, or flopped with second-rate efforts - Blondie's was a total embarassment. Australian lightweights Men At Work sold a ton of records while real New Wave acts scrambled to imitate their sax-laden sound. The Clash put out a successful album that was pretty much the last hurrah for the original punk bands. Shallow, synth-reliant MTV stars like Duran Duran and Culture Club were starting to were starting to crop up, heralding pop music's artistic crisis in the mid-80s; but pedestrian American rockers like J Geils and John Cougar and were still popular. And established acts made some mistakes as well. Paul McCartney had a huge critical and commercial hit with a record that in reality verged on MOR. Roberta Flack and Dionne Warwick were floundering. Rick James was just about finished artistically, if not commercially, and Prince spin-offs like the Time and Vanity 6 were a let-down despite the master's successes. C'est la vie... (JA)