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Steve Peake

This Week's Forgotten Gem of the '80s - Ups & Downs - "The Living Kind"

By November 21, 2013

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upsanddowns.pngNo matter how many '80s guitar bands I discover that deliver tight melodies and punchy jangle pop delights, I somehow believe there's always room for one more in my personal, ever-growing college rock/post-punk hall of fame. As you might suspect, I've come across another group this week that fits such a description. And though I'm looking for ways to expand the '80s genres I spotlight in this space, I can't restrain myself from sharing this one with you. Australian band Ups & Downs, led ably by frontman Greg Atkinson, is one of those bands that should clearly have become huge on the early alternative music scene of the mid '80s but somehow stayed far below the radar, especially in North America. That's not to say that music lovers in the thick of things during that era were incapable of learning about the band; rather, the sad truth is most audiences that would have responded enthusiastically to Atkinson's melodic songwriting and his soaring vocal style often remained cruelly in the dark as to the group's mere existence, much less its sparkling songcraft. So if you'll indulge my affinity for chiming guitars and nimble single-note riffs for another week, let's take a look at one of Australia's unheralded great rock bands of the '80s.

A recently released compilation album, Out of the Darkness, deftly chronicles the rise and fall of this quintessentially indie band that couldn't quite find the right path to ensure longevity or widespread notice. That, of course, doesn't take away from the impact of many of the tracks on this compilation, which often resemble (but never seem to mimic) more successful contemporary Down Under bands like The Church or Hoodoo Gurus. No, Ups & Downs certainly created its own distinct if constantly evolving sound, and any exploration of the band's sonic history translates into time well spent. At the risk of ignoring other worthy tracks, I zero in today on the punchy yet polished rocker "The Living Kind," a tune that illuminates the pleasing, reaching tenor of Atkinson and the band's devotion to jangly guitar goodness. There's plenty of rootsy emotional grit here to go along with an undeniable power pop sheen, and I can't for the life of me imagine how a song like this didn't reach more ears appreciative of early R.E.M. and other Athens-based sounds of the era. No matter, though, because this stuff still sounds phenomenal even two full decades removed from the last gasps of Ups & Downs. Atkinson would go on to front the better-known '90s band Big Heavy Stuff, but Ups & Downs is where it all started for this fine '80s guitar rock craftsman.

Compilation Album Cover Image Courtesy of As Is/Fuse

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