Russell Baillie 's Opinion

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Forward Thinking: Got sax on the brain

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It would appear that since the return of 80s-sounding synthesizers, that the great 80s saxophone revival is upon us, as proudly demonstrated by M83 in recent track 'Midnight City'. Photo / Supplied
It would appear that since the return of 80s-sounding synthesizers, that the great 80s saxophone revival is upon us, as proudly demonstrated by M83 in recent track 'Midnight City'. Photo / Supplied

Somewhere in the top of a hall cupboard lies a dark secret. It lies in a coffin-shaped case, the outside covered with stickers dating it to an era when something called "nukes" was clearly something to worry about.

Inside, it's all blue crushed velvet and brass that has seen better days and not a lot of polish.

The interior smells a bit funky too, which is ironic because it didn't often sound it.

Yes, it's a saxophone, the tenor horn I've had since I was a schoolboy and haven't played since sometime in the early 90s where a few notes from it ended up on a soundtrack to a movie that no one saw.

Though I once made a young woman of my acquaintance cry by playing it. True, that was after I had crept up behind her and blasted out a single low B-flat at foghorn levels, thinking it amusing. The relationship faltered soon after.

Bringing the saxophone out of storage is actually my wife's idea, though she might have been pondering a garage sale list at the time.

I replied by loudly humming the solo from Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street and threatening to attempt to learn it. Especially during Antiques Roadshow. It seemed to do the trick.

Still, I have been thinking of extracting it from its case, disinfecting a couple of decades of collected spittle, and seeing whether I can still get a tune out of it.

Especially as it would appear that since the return of 80s-sounding synthesizers, that the great 80s saxophone revival is upon us.

After all, Laneway headliners M83's hit Midnight City has the sort of saxophone solo that used to come with the default adjective of all 80s sax solos "searing".

There's a new Springsteen album upon us, which will be the final recordings of the late E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons, which is sad as he was rock 'n' roll's last great saxophone star.

He also featured on a couple of Lady Gaga tracks on Born This Way. Likewise, Katy Perry's 2011 hit Last Friday Night came with a saxophone solo, which in the accompanying video was mimed by Kenny G, the king of smooth jazz, though it sure doesn't sound like him on the record.

Clearly pop and rock and - in the case of M83, even French electro - has sax on the brain.

Especially sleazy cheesy breezy slightly queasy 80s sax - the sax of George Michael's Careless Whisper, the sax of Spandau Ballet's True, the sax of that guy in Tina Turner's band whose lung capacity somehow extended to pumping up his many muscles.

Somehow the invention of Belgian Adolphe Sax, which has had a long on-off relationship with rock 'n' roll, seems to be cool again. Or its very uncoolness has brought it back from the brink.

Sure, the saxophone has always had its brass section role in bands of a reggae/soul/funk ilk - especially locally - and apparently the instrument has proved quite useful in that music known as "jazz".

But big dumb 80s rock-pop solo sax is back. Having lived through the original period, worn the clothes, and confident I can still knock out the solos from UB40's Food for Thought (six or seven long notes max) and two songs off the first Psychedelic Furs album (even less notes, just louder), I feel my time has come again.

Just as soon as I remember where I put those keys to that case.

Or figure out who might have hidden them.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Russell Baillie has been writing about entertainment since shortly after entertainment was invented. His first music review was of five whalers singing around a piano which got him run out of the town of his upbringing, Whangarei. Along the way he discovered writing about moving pictures with sound was just as rewarding as his coverage of gramophone products and musical ensembles. Eventually he found a home at the Herald, as the founding editor of the TImeOut section, where has won prizes for editing, reviewing and feature writing.

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