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Bow Wow Wow barks up the right tree
By Fred Shuster, Music Writer


Cute clothes! Asymmetrical hairstyles! New-wave sushi bars! Gas at $1.30 a gallon! The '80s are looking better every day. The skinny-tie years were all about one-hit wonders like Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen," Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" and Bow Wow Wow's ear mite "I Want Candy" — songs that still show up on radio and VH1.

One of those acts — Bow Wow Wow, which also scored with the equally kinetic "C30, C60, C90, Go" and "W.O.R.K." — is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance, despite an initial life span of just four years. The reunited group, now gearing up for a Greek Theatre date this fall, is remembered for unforgettably goofy tunes that were actually deceptively clever pop gems.

Those tracks are collected on the just-issued anthology "We Are the 80's: Bow Wow Wow" (Sony Legacy; $11.98). Other bands in the VH1-associated series include the Romantics, the Bangles, Scandal, Rick Springfield, Eddie Money, Loverboy and A Flock of Seagulls.

The U.K.'s Bow Wow Wow was born in tabloid heaven, conceived by manager Malcolm McLaren (mastermind of the Sex Pistols), who discovered 14-year-old Burmese singer Annabella Lwin (pronounced Lu-win) while she was working at a North London dry cleaners. The first release, the percussive "C30, C60, C90, Go," was the world's first cassette single, but the label refused to promote the so-called "cassingle" because the song was a subversive ode to home taping; its B-side was blank.

The wacked-out title of Bow Wow Wow's debut album summed up its spirit: "See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy." The cover shot, a re-creation of the Manet painting "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" ("Luncheon on the Grass"), showing Lwin in the buff but turned away from the camera, sparked much media froth and an attempt by the teen's mum to stop release of the cover. McLaren prevailed.

After splitting with the band in '83 at age 17, Lwin eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music, remaking Bow Wow Wow eight years ago with original bassist Leigh Gorman and No Doubt's Adrian Young on drums.

The lineup is booked for a Halloween date at the Greek Theatre with Devo and A Flock of Seagulls. A couple of the band's tracks — "I Want Candy" and "Fools Rush In" — have just been remixed by Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) for Sofia Coppola's forthcoming punk-rock period piece, "Marie Antoinette," which also includes a third Bow Wow Wow track, "Aphrodisiac."

We reached Annabella at home in Hollywood.

Q: There were a lot of myths about you.

A: The most ridiculous one they invented was that I escaped to England as a stowaway on a freighter. The one that's actually true is, yeah, I was discovered while I was working in a dry cleaners — until McLaren got me fired.

Q: Bow Wow Wow's music is played on the radio today more than it was 22 years ago.

A: It has to do with people wanting something that seems more exciting than what they've got. People today are spoiled for choice, but they're aware of what's good and not. They see through the acts that are getting tons of airplay because they have a flashy video. We were a band that started out slogging around the clubs trying to win over people who didn't know what on earth we were trying to do. That made us sure of ourselves — and it made us rely on ourselves and not a big industry push.