The 10 best synthpop / electropop albums of all times (and 5 more)
Electropop is a hybrid music genre combining elements of electronic and pop genres. During the late 1970s bands such as the Human League, Kraftwerk, and later on Gary Numan, Soft Cell and John Foxx helped pioneer a new synth-pop style that drew more heavily from electronic music and emphasized primary usage of synthesizers. Developed in the late 1970s it has seen several revival periods up until now.
We picked out the best synthpop albums from the past 4 decades (!!!). Here’s our list.
The Human League – “Dare” (1981)
The Human League are ‘oldies’ when it comes to synthpop. Formed in Sheffield in 1977 and initially an experimental electronic outfit, the group attained widespread commercial success with their third album “Dare” in 1981. The album contained four hit singles, including the UK/US number one hit “Don’t You Want Me”. The band’s third studio album, it was recorded between March and September 1981 following the departure of founding members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, and saw the band shift direction from their prior avant-garde electronic style toward a more pop-friendly, commercial sound led by frontman Philip Oakey. A remix album based on “Dare”, “Love and Dancing”, was released in 1982.
Talk Talk – “It’s My Life” (1984)
Talk Talk were an English band formed in 1981, led by Mark Hollis (vocals, guitar, piano), Lee Harris (drums), and Paul Webb (bass). The group achieved early chart success with the synth-pop singles “Talk Talk” (1982), “It’s My Life”, and “Such a Shame” (both 1984) before moving towards a more experimental approach in the mid-1980s. Not surprisingly that our next pick is “It’s My Life”, the second studio album by Talk Talk, released in 1984. The album enjoyed an enormous succes thanks to the big international success of its singles (notably “Such a Shame”). We have a soft spot for the tracks “Dum Dum Girl”, “Such a Shame”, “Renée”, “It’s My Life” and “It’s You” although the entire album is just extremely enjoyable.
Alphaville – “Forever Young” (1984)
The German synth-pop band Alphaville, which formed in Münster in 1982, achieved chart success with the singles “Forever Young”, “Big in Japan”, “Sounds Like a Melody”. All these were taken from their 1984 debut album “Forever Young” which was produced by Colin Pearson, Wolfgang Loos and Andreas Budde. Despite the success of the album and its singles, the band did not tour as they felt more like ‘studio rats’. It remains the band’s best output to date.
a-ha – “Scoundrel Days” (1986)
The Norwegian synth-pop band a-ha was formed in Oslo in 1982 by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards and guitars), and Morten Harket (vocals). “Scoundrel Days” is the second studio album by the trio and offered a more mature sound compared to their debut “Hunting High and Low” (1985). “Scoundrel Days”, recorded in England in early 1986 and produced by Alan Tarney, sported such singles as “I’ve Been Losing You”, “Cry Wolf” and “Maybe, Maybe” which was released solely in Bolivia. “Manhattan Skyline” was the forth and final single released from the long-player.
Erasure – “Wonderland” (1986)
“Wonderland” is the debut studio album by the English synth-pop duo Erasure and was released in 1986. Although it was not an immediate success, the three singles released from it did become cult tracks overtime: “Who Needs Love Like That”, “Oh L’amour” and “Heavenly Action”. Although “Wonderland” was considered a failure, especially when comparing it to Clarke’s prior successes with Depeche Mode and Yazoo, the album became an all time favourite that laid the fundament of what was to follow in 1987 with the release of “The Circus”. The album was produced by Flood who would become a long-time collaborator.
Pet Shop Boys – “Actually” (1987)
Pet Shop Boys, the English synth-pop duo formed in London in 1981, broke all records when they released “Actually”, their second studio album, in 1987. It was pushed forward by such great tracks as “One More Chance”, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” (with Dusty Springfield), “Shopping”, “Rent”, “It Couldn’t Happen Here”, “It’s a Sin”, “Heart” and the majestic “King’s Cross”. In short an album filled with hits.
New Order – “Technique” (1989)
New Order was formed in 1980 by vocalist and guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris. The band formed after the demise of Joy Division, following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis and were joined by Gillian Gilbert on keyboards later that year. Their experience of the early 1980s New York club scene saw them increasingly incorporate dance rhythms and electronic instrumentation into their work which resulted in their 1983 hit “Blue Monday” becoming and absolute monster hit. However, we picked out “Technique”, their fifth studio album. Released in 1989 by Factory Records, the album incorporates Balearic beat and acid house influences into the group’s dance-rock sound. “Technique” was the first New Order album to reach the number one spot on the UK charts and had such excellent singles as “Fine Time”, “Round and Round” and “Run 2”.
Depeche Mode – “Violator” (1990)
“Violator” is the seventh studio album by England’s Depeche Mode. It was first released on 19 March 1990 through Mute Records internationally, and through Sire and Reprise Records in the United States. Preceded by the singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” (a top-10 entry in both the United Kingdom and the United States), the album propelled the band into international stardom, and also yielded the singles “Policy of Truth” and “World in My Eyes”. The album is generally considered as their most accomplisched electropop album before they encorporated more rock elements in the next album, “Songs of Faith and Devotion”. The role of Alan Wilder was crucial in “Violator”, you only have to compare the first and final version of “Enjoy The Silence” to notice the huge difference.
Bel Canto – “Birds of Passage” (1990)
Bel Canto is a Norwegian music duo, originally a trio, fronted by vocalist Anneli Drecker and musically powered by Geir Jenssen and Nils Johansen. Signed originally to Crammed Discs, their second album “Birds of Passage” is considered as an absolute pearl holding an excellent production (aided by Giles Martin) and a long list of guest musicians who added acoustic elements to the cold nordic synths Jenssen and multi-instrumentalist Johansen. It was also the last album featuring Geir Jenssen. It holds the hits “Intravenous”, “Birds of Passage”, “A Shoulder to the Wheel”, “Time Without End”, “Continuum” and “The Suffering”. The band remains an often well-hidden pearl in electropopland.
De/Vision – “Fairyland?” (1996)
De/Vision, a German synthpop act formed in 1988, was at the peak of its electropop stardom around the mid-nineties culiminating in the outstanding “Fairyland?” album which had such great tracks as “I Regret”, “Sweet Life”, “Today’s Life” or “Bleed Me White”. The band was fronting a new wave of electropop bands in Germany but was generally considered to be the most consistent one as far as quality and output. Sadly enough the release, and also the band’s earlier material, are no longer available on Spotify.
Wolfsheim – “Spectators” (1999)
Wolfsheim was a synthpop duo from Hamburg, Germany, that consisted of Markus Reinhardt and Peter Heppner. Their fourth studio album was “Spectators” (1999) preceeded by two ‘pre-release’ singles from the album. “Once in a Lifetime” was released on October 16, 1998 and “It’s Hurting For The First Time” followed on November 30th. The LP was produced by Wolfsheim and José Alvarez-Brill and held 11 new songs. To this day, “Spectators” is the best-selling album by Wolfsheim with over 250,000 copies sold. The third single, “Künstliche Welten”, was released in 1999.
Iris – “Disconnect” (2000)
“Disconnect” is the debut album by the electropop group Iris. Released in 2000 via the US label A Different Drum, the synthpop label by excellence, its success was guaranteed by the now cult synthpop jewels “Annie, Would I Lie to You?”, “Lose In Wanting” and “Danger Is The Shame”. Originally formed by Reagan Jones and Mat Morris in 1993, after the release of their first album “Disconnect”, Matthew Morris was replaced with Andrew Sega, who pushed the band’s sound in a more experimental electronic direction. Sadly enough the release, and also the band’s earlier material, are no longer available on Spotify.
Elegant Machinery – “A Soft Exchange” (2008)
The Swedish synthpop band Elegant Machinery defined the Swedish synthpop movement along with such bands as Page, S.P.O.C.K, Sista Mannen På Jorden and Kiethevez. Heavily influenced by acts like Yazoo, The Human League, Depeche Mode and Rational Youth, the trio Robert Enforsen, Richard Jomshof and Leslie Bayne started the band in 1988 under the name Pole Position. The band was very successful in Sweden, with a number of successful singles and various awards. But it is their 2008 album “A Soft Exchange” that earned them a place in our list. The album was extremely mature yet very melodic and features such pearls a “With Grace”, “Do You Know”, “Feel The Silence”, “Bleeding Words” and “Is This The Way”.
Electro Spectre – “Dangerous Game” (2012)
The Norwegian electronic music duo Electro Spectre fronts the 3rd electropop wave. Isak Rypdal (writer-producer) and Alexander Björneboe (writer-singer) debuted in 2009 with the album “Watch It All Turn” (which was later reproduced and re-released in 2010). The duo has secured us from a steady and consistent output ever since. In our list we picked the band’s 2012 release, which is their second studio album entitled “Dangerous Game”. Included are such pearls as “Love Thief”, “Dancing Girl”, “World Keeps Turning” and “Tokyo Shuffle”.
Mondträume – “Empty” (2014)
Mondträume is the creative outlet of 2 Spanish talented artists Pikotto Vond Mond and Damasius Venys. In only a few years, the duo rapidly caught the attention of concert organizers, released several songs on compilations, and secured a label contract with Belgium’s electronic label Alfa Matrix where they debuted with the album “Empty”. The hits “Life Is Short”, “Parasite” and especially the synth pop pearl “Far From Pain” showcase why this band became one of the strongholders in the 3rd electropop wave together with such bands as Electro Spectre, and more.
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