Rhythm of Youth, 1982 debut album from Men Without Hats, is an eccentric New Wave masterpiece. It is nearly impossible for any sane human being not to feel the incredible urge to dance to something that is so infectiously upbeat and motivational.
Men Without Hats
Rhythm of Youth
Sire Records; 1982
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With a cascade of singles (‘Living in China’, ‘I Got the Message’, ‘I Like’, and their most notable success, ‘Safety Dance’) Rhythm propelled the band to success in the early 1980’s, landing them a career that spanned several decades, with two separate decades between the previous two albums spent disbanded.
Strong synth instrumentation and rapid, quirky percussion present the album with an unapologetically contagious quality. Lyrically, there is heavy focus on themes of freedom of expression, and happiness. ‘Living in China’, the first single, focuses on the Chinese Communist Revolution, with frequent references to General Mao.
‘Safety Dance’ is a popular dance track that has provides an apt representation of much of the sound that dominated 80’s music. Driven with an upbeat tempo and energetic lyrics, it holds nothing back and feels perfectly executed. The lyrics are a reference to a dancing style that came about as a result of the rising popularity of New Wave dancing, in particular a style known as ‘pogoing’ which was comprised of jumping up and down with a rigid body, and the clash of this style versus the fading Disco. To the unaccustomed person, it would appear to look unsafe. Bouncers in clubs and halls attempted to put a stop to it, often removing participant’s altogether. The song is therefore a message about Freedom of Expression.
As a New Wave album, Rhythm of Youth is, as writer and lead singer Ivan Doroschuck himself has stated, a fusion of Disco and Punk, and it holds true to that virtue from beginning to end: that punk-like defiance and primal desire for freedom is nearly rooted in every hook and in every chorus.
There is little to hold back this accomplishment, and it is a solidly composed album, but through examination there are a few oddities: in ‘I Got the Message’, the chorus breaks into French suddenly, jumping back and forth to English and seemingly random intervals. The Immediately following track is almost entirely in French save for the last line, “This is the only way.”, and it seems like an odd inconsistency. This isn’t entirely random: the band originates from Quebec, Canada, a largely French-speaking province. Yet it seems an odd artistic choice to make an album that is 90% English with a song and a half written in a completely different language entirely.
Most remarkable is how efficiently Rhythm of Youth has aged 34 years after its initial release. Messages about expression serve as relevant anecdotes to modern times, and the lyrically defiant attitude certainly appeals to modern listeners, and it’s easy to see why.
Regardless of the use of separate languages, an artistic choice that hardly holds back what has established itself as a definitive New Wave classic; just as ‘Safety Dance‘ serves as a timeless anthem that people will continue to sing for decades to come.
Rhythm of Youth, debut album from Men Without Hats, is a definitive New Wave album chalk full of defiance and freedom of expression, matched with infectiously upbeat synth and percussion that is hard not to dance along to. Approximately a song and a half oddly transition into French, which is a strange artistic choice, but does not hold the album back.