Costa Mesa musician Geoff Harrington first made his mark on the local scene in the psychedelic art-rock band filmstar. Next came the more anthemic Lomax Monk. Now he has made a complete about-face, lending his unique vocals to a captivating project called Gentlemen of Leisure. Performing under the name Deiter Mueller, Harrington and partner Curtis Mathewson (now Karl Heine) breathe new life into the clichs of 1980s synth pop—austerity, gender bending and Teutonism. Like Annie Lennox caught in flagrante delicto with members of Human League and Kraftwerk, Gentleman of Leisure spoof the androgyny and homoeroticism latent in the '80s pop they're channeling. On "Boy Toy" (from the duo's self-titled debut album), Mueller sings in a voice redolent of ennui and helium sips: "I want to be your boy toy/Won't you be my boy toy/sugarcoated boy toy/I want to be your [whispered] TOY."
The 1980s were ridiculous, to be sure, what with all the Nagels and cocaine, and Gentlemen of Leisure perfectly capture the sense of cloying narcissism that drove the decade. "You need me/You tease me/Why don't you please me/Tear down these walls that make me a man," Mueller vamps on "Look in My Eyes."
But while the lyrics and song titles ("Fashion Passion," for example) appear to be send-ups, the music is an expertly crafted valentine to the '80s. Synthetic-sounding but deft beats, expertly layered keyboards, and effects that beep and ping course through the album's 10 tracks, evoking all things stern, streamlined and Germanic in the 1980s—exaggerated, sexualized severity coupled with arty expressionism. Riefenstahl, anyone? Or, perhaps, Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live Sprockets skit?
Given that obsession, Gentlemen of Leisure manage to be thoroughly postmodern, invoking everything from Kajagoogoo to perfume ads. And yet you don't feel as if you're being yanked along on a tour of the commercial culture coughed up by the 1980s. There's nothing deceptive or overly nostalgic here; there's irony, yes, and substance, too.
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Gentlemen of Leisure play at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Thurs., Nov. 15, 9 p.m. Call for cover. 21+.