If you made love or got married to Modern English’s post-punk classic “I Melt With You,” guess what: You were missing the point. Though it seems like a nice song about sex, frontman Robbie Grey reveals that it really has a darker meaning.
“It was initially written as an antinuclear song,” he said this week. “We were thinking of two people melting together as the world explodes. And that’s probably what you’d do if the world was ending, you’d want to be with the person you love. Everybody has their own interpretation, but it started out about making love as the bomb drops.” But he doesn’t mind if people have a softer interpretation. “I’m a sexual person, and I enjoy pursuing the art of sex with my wife,” he says. “And we’re not the kind of band that hates the fact that we had a very popular song. It makes the concerts more fun — I don’t even have to sing it, the crowd does it for me. And it pays all our bills.”
Having toured extensively in recent years, Modern English plays the Hawks and Reed Center in Greenfield on Saturday and Sonia in Central Square Sunday. The lineup is nearly the same quintet that made “I Melt With You” in 1982; only the drum slot has changed. “We’ve gotten to know each other so well that we can let things slide that we probably couldn’t have done in our 20’s, there would have been more arguing and fighting. But if you’ve heard us, you know there isn’t anything like Gary (McDowell)’s guitar work, or the atmospheric sounds Stephen (Walker) makes on his keyboards.”
Modern English was originally part of a vital post-punk scene in the UK, though they probably had stronger commercial instincts than peers like Killing Joke or Joy Division. “To my mind, one of the big differences is that American groups were better musicians; but people like us were more interested in sound textures — That’s why we used so many pedals. The craft of songwriting wasn’t high on the list for most post-punk bands, including us. If you listen to (Modern English’s debut) ‘Mesh & Lace’ it hasn’t got any songwriting at all, it’s just pieces of music stuck together — That’s why I like it. It was (producer) Hugh Jones who really introduced us to songwriting, and ‘I Melt With You’ was the first song I really sang on instead of just shouting.”
The band is about to release a new album, “1-2-3-4,” and the advance single “Long in the Tooth” is that rare thing in rock, a song that celebrates aging. “When I introduce it onstage, I say it’s about getting a little older and a little bolder. It’s about how I don’t want to just age and wither away, but keep some kind of spirit in my life.” This seems a far cry from the world-weary lyrics he wrote in younger days. “That hasn’t changed much, to be honest. I get confused as to why I feel the same way and haven’t grown more, but I think that’s true for everyone. We all feel displaced sometimes, and I like to put that into the songs.”