Kevin Dunn | No Great Lost: Songs 1979-1985
Most Likely To: invoke nostalgia for a future that never quite happened.
The great sage Yogi Berra once observed that the future ain’t what it used to be, and nothing demonstrates futures that ain’t quite as well as the music which erupted nearly everywhere at the turn of the decade from the 1970s to the ’80s. A generation of musicians had been freed from the past by the punk revolution and suddenly had an uncharted path ahead of them at roughly the same time affordable versions of musical instruments that had as much in common with C-3PO as Chuck Berry became available. Latching onto new technologies, the post-punk generation set out to create a new future to replace the one Johnny Rotten had rendered non-existent.
One of the earliest hotbeds of post-punk was the unlikely state of Georgia. After having provided the country with an actual decent and honorable man for president, the Peach State continued to show its patriotic leadership by belching forth a wave of bands who were further ahead than most at trying to figure out exactly how to rebuild rock & roll after the punks smashed it. There were the abrasive Method Actors and Pylon, who combined mutant funk with scratchy minimalism, and The B-52s, who grafted that minimalism onto gloriously goofy ’60s-style dance pop.
Probably the least known of the Georgians and heretofore most unfairly forgotten was Kevin Dunn, who initially attempted to hide the fact that he was a one-man operation by creating the fictitious band The Regiment of Women to accompany him. While No Great Lost, a long overdue compilation of Dunn’s music, shows that he definitely shared attributes with the rest of the Georgia bunch, he ultimately embraced new technologies much more enthusiastically than the rest–his songs bear the same herky-jerky rhythms and abrasive but catchy guitar riffs as a band like The Method Actors, but his heavy reliance on synthesizers and drum machines often made him sound more at home amongst English post-punkers like The Human League than with his kudzu-encrusted neighbors.
In fact, the artist Dunn most resembles is Bill Nelson, the former mastermind of Be Bop Deluxe who had a string of great albums in the ’80s before he decided to begin releasing material at a rate that makes Robert Pollard look lazy, causing even his most dedicated fans to throw up their hands in surrender. Dunn shares Nelson’s ease in blending heavily processed guitar hooks with robotic rhythms and a sardonic, jaundiced outlook on human behavior. Dunn generally seems to be a bemused outsider, commenting on society from a safe distance. He’s like a more frantic Hal 9000 if Dr. Chandra had taught him more songs to sing besides “Daisy.”
But in addition to his observation on the future, the aforementioned Yogi Berra also wisely recommended “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And although Kevin Dunn was able to knock out totally ace songs like “Private Sector,” “20,000 Years in Sing Sing,” “Giovinezza” and “Nam” (as well as a kick-ass instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow), his version of the future of rock music was a fork in the road that was ultimately not taken.
Sure, it looked like this sort of stuff might be around for the long haul in 1981 and there’s never a shortage of small populations of revivalists mining it for inspiration, but elsewhere in Georgia there were four guys living in an abandoned church who were about to drag rock music as a whole into their version of the future by revisiting the past. Once R.E.M. trotted out the Byrds-style Rickenbacker chimes, the days were numbered for people like Dunn and likeminded contemporaries like Wall of Voodoo and Polyrock. They’d seen a future, but turns out it wasn’t the future, and none of them made it out of the ’80s.
Still, No Great Lost demonstrates that while Dunn’s brand of futuristic pop music is now something of a museum piece, it’s definitely worth hearing. We may not be living in quite the future Dunn’s music attempted to map out, but it’s a future that’s fun to visit.