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The War on Drugs and the Rehabilitation of 80s Music

20/03/2014 14:49 GMT | Updated 19/05/2014 10:59 BST

It was perhaps the dazzling nature of the 1980s that ensured that, like the sun, looking back at it was deemed to be too dangerous for too long. Polished production and shining sonics would eventually leave a new generation craving a musical matt finish after an upbringing dipped in gloss. Yet The War On Drugs new record Lost In The Dream - released this week to universal praise - recalls and evokes much of it. How did we get back here and why did it take so long?

Oddly the chief offenders were seventies rock stars. Adult Orientated Rock (AOR) as a genre had been spawned by American radio towards the end of that decade and as the eighties began MTV would provide a visual platform for it's key players. New to hair and make-up however, AOR was visually difficult to stomach - a parade of aging millionaire rock stars struggling for relevance under the camera's glare. Phil Collins famously flew by Concorde to play Live Aid twice - he could easily have been mistaken for the pilot.

Sometimes they didn't even want to be there. Ex-Eagle Don Henley's Boys Of Summer saw him unwittingly create an eighties classic through wistfully looking back at the sixties. In 1989 he would try the same trick again with The End Of The Innocence a co-write with Bruce Hornsby that further lamented the death of the hippie dream but could just as easily have been referring to AOR's own time being up.

Quickly the dismantling began: A plaid-led purge saw Kurt Cobain on a mission to the rid the world of the overblown and for his finest hour - 1993's MTV Unplugged - present himself as the ultimate stripped-back rock star. In the UK, as Blur repositioned toward the zeitgeist, Damon Albarn would mysteriously wait another twenty years before citing Nik Kershaw as an influence.

Branded "the decade that taste forgot" the eighties were now mercilessly ridiculed and sneered at as bands went with Henley's rose-tinted view of a more distant past, albeit flipping his melancholy for celebration. Concorde hero Collins suffered perhaps the biggest fall from grace yet was about to prove an unlikely saviour.

AOR found a curious ally in young american hip hop and Collins in particular would benefit. Releases by both Tupac and Nas sampled In The Air Tonight stripped of vocals and - critically - images of the man himself. The association did no harm and when Grand Theft Auto's Vice City hit stores in 2002 a whole new generation of teen gamers were exposed to an eighties soundtrack - again, crucially - to a backdrop of junkyard drug deals rather than mulleted fist-clenching.

An early example of music synchronization's influence, the song structures stood up when liberated from their historical baggage. The same industry would go on to champion this era like no other over the coming years through the revival of original compositions and - more economically - cover versions of favourites strewn across ad campaigns.

The comeback was on for the much-maligned genre and by 2008 a path began to be cleared for Lost In The Dream through a new wave of young artists. Former War on Drugs member Kurt Vile dropped Freeway. Uptempo and sounding like an instant hit, its Petty-isms recalled more innocent times and the golden age of American radio. Kanye West led hiphop's dalliance to its ultimate conclusion with the experimental 808s and Heartbreaks and by 2011 the closing track on indie darling Bon Iver's eponymous album, Beth/Rest nodded so strongly to Peter Cetera's karaoke-only 1986 power-ballad The Glory Of Love that any veil of irony finally fell away.

Something about the release of Lost In The Dream seems to make the circle complete. This record is by no means an eighties pastiche (single Red Eyes nods to, if not current Arcade Fire, then certainly The Suburbs) and very much belongs to 2014. However, listen to the album's seven minute epic, An Ocean In between The Waves and its hard not to recall Henley's solo masterpiece. In rude health and dictating fashion, perhaps Adult Oriented Rock has finally been liberated from the one thing that was always holding it back - adults.